The saddle of your guitar is often overlooked, but it is one of the most important pivotal points for your instrument to play at its best. Since every neck is slightly different, you can’t just buy a nut and expect it to fit – it has to be made from scratch every time. We make a lot of nuts here at Strange Guitarworks – most of them from bone, but occasionally we make them from fossilized mammoth tusks, water buffalo horn, and brass. Cutting a saddle from a blank is more art than science, and we’re a bit of OCD at creating a saddle that will perfectly fit any guitar. Recently our friend Robert brought a Fender P-Bass from the 1970s and asked us to make a brass nut for it. We thought this would be an easy job, but when we got into it we realized that nothing is easy in our industry.
We often joke that we offer guitar repairs. No, this is not a typo: we are constantly correcting other people’s work. Someone along the way really messed up this bass:
The saddle was a disaster: the string spacing was wobbly, it did not fit properly in the saddle slot, and it was broken and “fixed” with gorilla glue. Worse still, someone had mutilated the nut slot:
The nut was no longer square, so any new nut would roll forward under tension. In addition, the rosewood was cut down to the maple below. This era of Fender instruments originally had a saddle slot that followed the radius of the fingerboard. Maybe someone thought it would be easier to make a flat bottom saddle instead of carving the bottom to match the curve. That didn’t go well with me so I decided to rebuild the nut slot before making the new brass nut.
First, I re-carved and cleaned the nut slot to make it perfectly square:
Then I made a block of rosewood and maple to fill the nut slot. Since the rosewood fingerboard was cut deep into the maple neck, adding some maple to the bottom would make the repair a little less obvious.
I test the rosewood block, cut it off, glued it in, and then carved it to match the curvature of the fingerboard:
The new rosewood didn’t quite match the old wood, but that didn’t matter: I planned to cut away almost all of my new block anyway. Since the original nut slot was so mangled, I needed fresh wood there to cut perfectly square so that the new brass nut wouldn’t roll forward under string tension.
Then I loaded the bass into our PLEK machine and programmed it to cut a new groove slot out of the block that was just installed. To reset the neck to its previous specification, I programmed the PLEK to cut the groove slot according to the fingerboard radius. This would take more work carving the brass nut for me, but anything worth doing is worth doing right.
All of this works for just a quarter of a millimeter of wood! Absolutely worth it – the nut slot was absolutely perfect and finally ready for the nut.
Making the brass nut was a fairly straightforward affair compared to any prep work on the slot. We adjust the nut on all four sides using a series of files and then sandpaper so that it fits seamlessly into the neck. Once the blank is fitted, we program our PLEK machine to cut the string slots using a hybrid string spacing scheme and precisely set the depth based on the first fret height. This ensures that the strings feel comfortable in the hand and that it requires minimal effort to push the strings in the first position, but still keep them high enough not to hum when playing open strings.
Very shiny! Another guitar repair is complete, and this brass nut will last much longer than a plastic or bone nut. As for the tone of a brass nut compared to other materials, who can say? We say it looks great and leave the subjective sound debate to you.