bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Discussions relating to the classical guitar which don't fit elsewhere.
Jeffrey Armbruster
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bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by Jeffrey Armbruster » Mon Dec 11, 2017 2:49 am

My Takemine seems to have a plastic nut and saddle. It was suggested on a recent thread that replacing plastic for bone will improve the tone of the guitar. True? And then, how can you really tell bone from plastic on an older guitar (1983)? Thanks in advance.
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Alytw
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by Alytw » Mon Dec 11, 2017 3:05 am

A friend of mine that works at a good local guitar store suggested that I replace the nut and saddle on an old La Patrie classical. He said that it makes a big difference on those guitars.
I took his advice, and it was quite a noticeable improvement. I also compensated the g at the nut which really helped the intonation.
It really opened the sound up to me.

montana
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by montana » Mon Dec 11, 2017 5:33 am

How do you compensate the G at the nut? I've seen compensated saddles only.

Euan Hannah
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by Euan Hannah » Mon Dec 11, 2017 10:45 am

I've always preferred bone to plastic, I think it improves sound quality but obviously it is very difficult to measure something which is so subjective. I don't think I've ever heard of a guitar which sounded poorer for having its plastic nut and saddle changed to athat of bone provided it was done properly. There are other synthetic materials available such as tusq.

OldPotter
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Duplicate

Post by OldPotter » Mon Dec 11, 2017 10:49 am

How do you tell for sure on a very old guitar?
A soldering iron or hot needle will melt plastic but not bone,, This is usual quoted method. Heat a needle in a candle flame?? I would have guessed it's bone, but who knows until you try. Bone can be polished until it looks like plastic.

I have a feeling that I prefer bone but can't say its a huge change. I definitely prefer a proper set up in terms of action at nut and saddle
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eno
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by eno » Mon Dec 11, 2017 3:22 pm

Vanilla plastic is poor but TUSK is actually quite good, it makes the sound a little mellower compared to bone. On some very sensitive guitars bone can make the sound too zingy and clacky and tusk may actually sound better
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Jeffrey Armbruster
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by Jeffrey Armbruster » Mon Dec 11, 2017 5:00 pm

"I definitely prefer a proper set up in terms of action at nut and saddle"

Yes I had this done for my Takemine and it's made a world of difference--much easier to play. It took all of five minutes for the local luthier to do this. He didn't mention anything about the material of the saddle, so maybe it's bone after all. Or he didn't think to mention it. Guess I'll try the hot needle.
Paul Weaver spruce 2014
Takamine C132S

simonm
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by simonm » Mon Dec 11, 2017 5:54 pm

OldPotter wrote:
Mon Dec 11, 2017 10:49 am
How do you tell for sure on a very old guitar?
A soldering iron or hot needle will melt plastic but not bone,, This is usual quoted method. Heat a needle in a candle flame?? I would have guessed it's bone, but who knows until you try. Bone can be polished until it looks like plastic.

I have a feeling that I prefer bone but can't say its a huge change. I definitely prefer a proper set up in terms of action at nut and saddle

Ivory rather than bone is also possible. Apparently it came from off-cuts from comb making and piano makers used it a long time as well. Today you can buy mammoth ivory (but using the word tusk of course). I believe it is quite popular in the steel string market.

Bone has an unmistakeable smell when sanded.

amezcua
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by amezcua » Tue Dec 12, 2017 12:45 am

I changed a bone nut for ebony once because the bone nut had sharp V shaped grooves which kept scraping the nylon off the strings . I just happened to have some ebony in the house . Come to think of it most violins have ebony nuts and the bridge is maple. What would a guitar sound like with a strip of maple on the bridge and ebony on the nut .
The question about compensating the G at the nut from montana --Cut the new nut so it overhangs the fretboard and then gradually cut it back till the lower frets come in tune . Much easier to use a korg tuner or similar .Guessing the adjustment would be like tossing a coin . I replaced one plastic nut and when I took it off it was also Hollow ! How mad is that ? You would think a factory would have more knowledge and self respect . Saying you hear an improvement always gets the jibe that it`s subjective and "How do you know?" That question would only make sense if we were all stone deaf .
Last edited by amezcua on Tue Dec 12, 2017 11:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

SteveL123
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by SteveL123 » Tue Dec 12, 2017 1:48 am

Has anyone tried water buffalo horn for a nut and saddle? I may give it a try next time I change strings.

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Michael.N.
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by Michael.N. » Tue Dec 12, 2017 9:20 am

amezcua wrote:
Tue Dec 12, 2017 12:45 am
I changed a bone nut for ebony once because the bone nut had sharp V shaped grooves which kept scraping the nylon off the strings . I just happened to have some ebony in the house . Come to think of it most violins have ebony nuts and the bridge is maple. What would a guitar sound like with a strip of maple on the bridge and ebony on the nut .
The question about compensating the G at the nut from montana --Cut the new nut so it overhangs the fretboard and then gradually cut it back till the lower frets come in tune . Much easier to use a korg tuner or similar .Guessing the adjustment would be like tossing a coin . I replaced one plastic nut and when I took it off it was also Hollow ! How mad is that ? You would think a factory would have more knowledge and self respect . Saying you hear an improvement always gets the jibe that it`s sunjective and "How do you know?" That question would only make sense if we were all stone deaf .
I've done a number of ebony nuts coupled with ebony saddles. Sounded perfectly good to my ears. I did them on Panormo copies. I can't say that I've ever done any direct A-B comparisons with bone though and IMO it's completely pointless and invalid trying to do the comparison between different guitars (one guitar with bone, the other with ebony) or with a time lapse of any more that an hour or so. You can say the same for plastic of course. If there is any difference between bone and ebony it isn't obvious to my ears so the direct A-B comparison would have to be done.
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Alytw
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by Alytw » Tue Dec 12, 2017 2:31 pm

montana wrote:
Mon Dec 11, 2017 5:33 am
How do you compensate the G at the nut? I've seen compensated saddles only.
There are different ways, but essentially the goal is getting the proper string length from nut to saddle for each string. Sometimes, the g is off by more than the amount of saddle thickness, so you can’t compensate it enough at the saddle end. I made the new nut about a mm closer on the g string (so that it sticks out over the fretboard), the rest of the strings intonated reasonably well so i left them in line. It’s not too noticeable unless you are looking for it.

You can also move the whole nut slightly forward and file back to the correct break point. This is more elegant, but for a cheap guitar, a bit too time consuming.

amezcua
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by amezcua » Wed Dec 13, 2017 12:06 am

Oh go on .Treat yourself to a little razor saw and a good file . It`s not that hard . The main thing is that all the frets are subdividing the vibrating string . If the division is not precise the ears will notice if there is a clash of 2 notes . Noticing a clash of notes is more about the automatic hearing mechanism in our heads rather than a good musical education . Education is a wonderful thing but not as clever as ears . A lot of people don`t believe that these small changes at the nut can affect the whole guitar .It can make it sound sweeter all the way up the neck . It`s all down to subdivision and some clever automatic mathematics in our ears .

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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by Andrew Pohlman » Wed Dec 13, 2017 5:58 pm

Bone versus plastic versus any other materials comes down to frequency response passed from saddle to top and nut to neck, and the efficiency of energy transfer. Cheap plastic causes high energy losses and also alters the frequency response rather undesirably. As someone alluded to above, bone transfers all frequencies with low losses such that harsh highs may result. That's is not the fault of the bone! And plastic colors the frequency response more than bone, which can be useful.

If you pay attention to the vibrations of the guitar, you will realize that the neck vibrates a lot more than people think. So the nut material is important too because all those resonances go somewhere and affect the overall sound and tone.

Whatever works! It reminds of the the old vinyl days. The entire system was designed for high fidelity. Each component had deficiencies, but when put together produced good sound. The same could be said of guitars, strings and saddle/nut materials. Nut and saddle materials are by no means the only considerations for tonal quality. :D
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Peter Frary
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Re: bone vs. plastic nut and saddle

Post by Peter Frary » Thu Dec 14, 2017 1:48 pm

Our wee shop sold Takamine classicals since the late 1980s and all of them had bone saddles and nuts (and still do if the Japan made line). Only the G-series shipped with plastic nuts and saddles.
I play a Cordoba Mini so I look taller on stage!

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