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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where greatness lies in the smalls …

The guitar nut and saddle are often regarded as two functional parts that hold all the strings in their place. In the acoustic field, the nut and saddle also perform the role of a transmitter of acoustic energy from the strings vibration to the top wood of the guitar. The other widely discussed topic regarding guitar nut and saddle are the materials of their make. In fact, this topic is saturated with comments, views, opinions, claims, scientific theories, etc. It seems usual to leave the guitar nut and saddle as they are when no anomaly is detected, i.e. if they look fine and don’t move, they can be left alone to perform their role in silence and with faith.

Some adventurous guitar lovers often make modifications on their guitars, all in the name of enhancement. Of course the outcomes are varied. By paying attention to small areas, it is possible to achieve great outcomes. In this article, I would like to illuminate the “smalls” within the guitar nut where greatness lurks.

Recently, I received a request to reset a parlor guitar. The owner found that pressing the guitar strings within the first three frets required more effort than usual.. After a quick evaluation, one of the identified areas to be modified was the nut. It was evident that string relief created by the guitar nut can be altered to improve the playability. This functional aspect was not too tough to rectify. My observations are, I noticed that the nut slots are unusually deep. It was indicative of excessive crown height of the nut. The slots’ width were also wider than the string gauge which indicated the tools used during its making may not be suitable. See pictures below.

While these observations may seem to suggest a lesser quality of this guitar, it is not entirely true. For guitars that are targeted at the entry level tier's market, putting extra attentions to those mentioned attributes are usually not the priority. Speed and quantity are probably on the top of the list. Therefore when put into context, this guitar is what it should be and the owner simply wished to enhance it further. That is why the guitar restoration market is alive thus keeping me alive too. Paradoxically, I may be indirectly blessed by the existence of such manufacturing processes.

Original Bone Nut View 1
Original Bone Nut View 2
Original Bone Nut View 3

Rectifications needed; reduce the crown height so that each string is seated partially into each nut slot, round the corners of the nut, re-cut deeper slots with suitable files, sand the nut to buffing finish, buff the nut to hi-shine. These suggested jobs are not going to take away big chunks of materials from this guitar nut. After all, it was considered a finished guitar nut; therefore big take away was not possible. Instead, attention to detail must be given to perform those mentioned jobs in order to achieve noticeable enhancements on the original guitar nut. With some delicate touches and strokes, the guitar nut was transformed. See pictures below.

Transformed Bone Nut View 1
Transformed Bone Nut View 2

These aren’t difficult jobs to execute but they do require certain hours of practices to get them right. The adventurous ones would have tried it before. Well I hope the enhancements are noticeable to you as they are to me. This is where greatness lies in the smalls …

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