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Thread: Bone nuts & saddles

  1. #1
    Regular Fretter tot_Ou_tard's Avatar
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    Default Bone nuts & saddles

    In another thread Mark said that a certain guitar would benefit from a bone saddle.

    I've seen many reviews where the benefits of a bone nut & saddle on an acoustic are discussed.

    What are Fretter's opinions about changing a nut & saddle to bone?

    1) Always make the change: it does wonders.
    2) Do it if you have extra cash: it'll help but it's not necessary.
    3) It's a preference thing: It has it's advantages & disadvantages.
    4) It depends on the composition of the current nut or saddle.
    5) Only do it if you are having issues.
    6) Don't do it. It's expensive & doesn't give you anything.
    7) Bone sucks.

    or something else?

  2. #2
    Regular Fretter markb's Avatar
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    Default

    In my (small) experience of this, replacing plastic with bone or one of the better synthetics really opens up an acoustic. I first did this on a Sigma DR28 which was nice but a bit dark. I replaced both the saddle and nut as the nut had some tuning issues as well. The increase in volume and tonal detail was marked. I'd really recommend it but it depends on the guitar and bear in mind that the fit and finish of the saddle will probably have more impact than the material used. The nut material only affects the tone of the open strings so is more important if you live mostly in "country and western corner". I see no disadvantages to having a factory saddle replaced by a good repair guy by hand, the fit will always exceed the factory fitting.

  3. #3
    Regular Fretter wingsdad's Avatar
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    Default

    Mark's summed it up nicely. :

    I've never felt the need to replace a nut or saddle on an acoustic, because I've only bought guitars that I fell in love with, and part of that affinity was/is how they sounded. Why fix what's not broken?

    But, your point #5, tot, eventually popped up on my 37-year old Guild D-40. The nut slots had worn too wide & the saddle had worn away to the point of causing intonation issues. Since I liked how the guitar sounded, I replaced them with the same original stuff: good 'ol Ivoroid. Plastic.

    IMO, changing a nut on an acoustic is a pointless excercise of Type A personality : But, as Mark says, saddle material can make a big difference.

    Ah....but then there's the bridge pins : Plastic ones will bend & wear out fairly quickly, leading to string breakage at the ball end, or intonation issues from slipping upwards, not holding tight. These I'll change to tusq or ebony, if not right out of the gate, when the originals croak. They're much more durable than plastic and make a little bit of a difference in tone, but not a whole lot. Unless you want to really brighten up the tone of a 'dark-toned' or dead-toned acoustic...then try brass bridge pins for a dramatic change in tone.

  4. #4

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    Not a lot to add but as a "acoustic guy" I feel obliged to jump in.

    Like wingsdad I replaced a nut on a old Guild. In my case the mid 70's D35 in my sig. Replaced it with Tusq and it made a big difference. Much better mid range, bit of a improvement in the bass and better volume. But, the existing nut had been messed with. On my Martin D2R the previous owner had goofed the saddle up. I called Martin and they sent me (no charge) the spec micarta saddle. Again a big difference.

    My experience is replacing even a good fitting plastic saddle with proper bone or Tusq will be an improvement. Bridge pins and nuts less so.

    A interesting test is to drop a plastic saddle or bridge pin on a hard table top, then do the same with Tusq or bone. Plastic will make a thawp kind of sound, the Tusq or bone will ping like a bell. Gives you a sense of the sonic difference.

  5. #5
    Regular Fretter tot_Ou_tard's Avatar
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    Default

    Thanks for the replies!

    You've brought up a question that I had.

    What if the nut is Tusq?

    In that case would the answer be leave it unless there are issues?

    The opinion seems to be that Tusq is as good as bone.

    How about rosewood saddles vs bone saddles on an archtop?

  6. #6

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    In my experience, Tusq is brighter than bone. YMMV.
    Archtop bridges are entirely different animals. They are floating, not glued, and very few have a bone insert on top.
    Usually, archtops have a more focused sound, good for solo or comping work, with little sustain to muddy up single notes runs.
    In comparison, flatops sustain forever, more so with Tusq or bone, way less with ebony, rosewood or any wood saddle.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by tot_Ou_tard
    Thanks for the replies!

    You've brought up a question that I had.

    What if the nut is Tusq?

    In that case would the answer be leave it unless there are issues?

    The opinion seems to be that Tusq is as good as bone.

    How about rosewood saddles vs bone saddles on an archtop?
    Tusq vs. bone??? Hard to say, sort of Beatles vs. Stones. Both great but different. I've never done a side by side by side evaluation. People with better ears than mine would agree with spt. I think they are very close.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by tot_Ou_tard
    1) Always make the change: it does wonders.
    2) Do it if you have extra cash: it'll help but it's not necessary.
    3) It's a preference thing: It has it's advantages & disadvantages.
    4) It depends on the composition of the current nut or saddle.
    5) Only do it if you are having issues.
    6) Don't do it. It's expensive & doesn't give you anything.
    7) Bone sucks.
    I'd point out that changing the saddle will be free fost most guitars; that is, it will cost whatever the new saddle costs. Current production Martin guitars, for example, have a drop-in saddle that you can just pull out with your fingers or some pliers with a rag wrapped around the sharp bits - then you just drop the new one in, and adjust it by removing whatever you need from the bottom with sandpaper on a flat surface, then re-stringing the guitar and check the new height.

    In my humble experience, it almost never pays off to replace the nut if it's working right, but it always pays off to replace the saddle with Tusq or bone if it's something else. Corian is also OK for most guitars (Martin used to use Corian a lot, and Gibson keeps using it for nuts). It makes sense if you think about it: a major open A chord uses 5 strings, of which 3 strings go over the 2nd fret, not the nut. The nut never comes into the equation for anything other than open chords, and even then it tends to influence only at most half the strings in a chord, if it influences much anything at all.

    But the saddle always comes into the equation. I've also found, reading William Cumpiano's fine book on acoustic guitars, that the saddle height (and in part, the material the saddle's made of) has a big influence on how loud the guitar is: a higher saddle means that the volume knob is turned up, with a lower saddle you turn it down.

    So - don't replace the nut unless it's broken or you can have it done for free; replace the saddle if it's too low, and not made of either bone or Tusq - and think about it twice if it's Corian and you don't hate the sound of your guitar. I believe that with guitars, just as with people, unnecessary surgery should be avoided.

  9. #9
    Regular Fretter just strum's Avatar
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    Default

    I'm going to jump in with my opinion.

    The changes in order of bang for the buck

    1) Saddle

    2) Pins

    3) Nut

    If you change two or all three at once, you will never know which one made the real difference. I hear people that changed the saddle and nut say what a big difference it made, but I believe it is the saddle that made 98% of the difference. The bone nut does add some aesthetics to it, but if it's white or off white you can't really tell the difference between it and a plastic nut. However, most bone nuts will hold up better to wear versus a plastic nut.

    Bone pins help the strings resonate and can offer aesthetics with some nice inlay.

    This is IMHO, but I am just plain right in what I say.

    Oh, and here is a guy that makes some very good product.

    http://www.guitarsaddles.com/

  10. #10
    Contributing Member sunvalleylaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by just strum
    This is IMHO, but I am just plain right in what I say.
    LOL! Gotta luv ya Strum. You crack me up.
    Steve Thompson
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  11. #11
    Regular Fretter street music's Avatar
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    Default

    Strum, man of truth. I vote Strum for President.
    I've been tinkering with the idea of changing my the saddle and pins on my Takamine. I have 2 strings G& B that resonate much longer than the others and can sometimes interfer with my next notes as I play. I just have this desire to change something to see if it helps.


  12. #12
    Regular Fretter wingsdad's Avatar
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by street music
    ....I've been tinkering with the idea of changing my the saddle and pins on my Takamine. I have 2 strings G& B that resonate much longer than the others and can sometimes interfer with my next notes as I play. ...
    If the pins are plastic, which they probably are if stock Tak pins (c/b tusq or like that if a Japanese Tak), try wood ones for softer, more sound-absorbent string achoring...ebony would be harder, more durable, but you can get rosewood pins.

    Or you could try lighter gauge B & G strings to yield a bit less volume on those 2 culprits.

  13. #13

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    1 and 4.
    I've changed nut/saddle on around 20 acoustics - all improved volume and sustain. When tone is too bright I prefer to dampen it with ebony saddle. I use heavy guage strings which also mellows tone. I guess option 4 is a reality because there is no reason to change nut or saddle when they are already bone or ivory and in good shape etc. Most consumer priced accoustics come new with plastic components. That is when option 1 is the deal.

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