You are currently viewing Different Nut Materials and Types Explained & Compared

Last Updated on March 6, 2024 by Teemu Suomala

Displays Tyler Connaghan - guitar player and writer

Author: Tyler Connaghan

Tyler Connaghan is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Tyler has been playing the guitar since 2007. In between writing for guitar publications, he produces music for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster.

Expertise: music industry, producing, acoustic & electric guitars, songwriting

Bachelor of Science in Music Industry Studies, Music Industry

photo reveals owner of guitaristnextdoor.com

Editing & Research: Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.

I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as SongsterrMusicnotesGuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.

I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).


Today, we’re going to talk about guitar nuts! And no, we’re not talking about those crazed guitar fans. We’re talking about the small but mighty component that affects the playability and tone of your guitar, sitting right between the neck and the headstock.

Nuts are made from a wide range of materials, and with so many different types of nuts out there, it can be a bit nuts to try and keep track of which ones are best for what. Picking the right nut for your guitar can make a major difference in the way it sounds, and today, we’re going to give you all you need to know about finding the perfect one.

Learn what guitar nut width means here.

Different Nut Types Explained

Standard Nut

displays Standard guitar Nut

Let’s begin with a nut we are all familiar with — the standard nut. 

This is the trusty sidekick of the guitar world, and while it isn’t flashy in the slightest, it certainly gets the job done. You can think of it as the Samwise Gangee to your Frodo Baggins, or the Robin to your Batman.

While there are other nuts that use fancier designs or materials and may be made with higher-quality designs, standard nuts are consistent and reliable. Of course, the difference between a cheap plastic nut and one made with graphite, bone, or TUSQ can be quite substantial, and we’ll get into that in a bit. 

Pros

  • Simple nuts found in most guitars
  • Very easy and inexpensive to fix or replace
  • Limited setup issues

Cons

  • Less flexibility or unique features
  • Does not provide the same level of tuning stability compared to other nuts

Compensated Nut

displays Compensated guitar Nut

Compensated nuts are much like standard nuts, though better! This is because each string has its own personal space, and the distance between the nut and the first fret can be adjusted individually. 

You can think of it as each string having its own little VIP section, rather than standing together as a unified front. 

The compensated nut improves intonation and stability, which is, as we know, a major goal of any guitarist. 

Pros

  • Better intonation than a standard nut
  • Better tuning stability than a standard nut

Cons

  • Are relatively expensive compared to standard nuts
  • Rare

Locking nut

displays Locking Guitar nut

If you want to shred like Eddie Van Halen, you’ll probably want to get yourself a Floyd Rose Tremolo system. And if you do, you’ll end up with what’s called a ‘locking nut.’ This nut isn’t just made to hold your strings in place in the grooves or ruts, it actually uses a series of clamps to keep them locked in place.

Find the cream of the crop guitars with Floyd Rose here.

All you need is a trusty allen key to adjust the clamps to their various positions. The beauty of the locking nut is that you don’t have to deal with pesky tuning issues, especially if you’re someone who likes to go ham on the whammy bar. 

Pros

  • Provides plenty of tuning stability
  • Best for performing heavy-handed guitar tricks like tremolo or dive bombs

Cons

  • Can be difficult to change the strings
  • The standard setup process becomes more difficult
  • Changing tunings is slower
  • Changing strings can be a longer and more complex ordeal

Roller Nut

displays Roller Nut Guitar nut

The roller nut is also much like your standard nut, though it comes with ball bearings. These ball bearings are there so that the strings move more smoothly atop the nut, massaging them through from the fretboard to the tuning pegs. 

You’ll often find roller nuts on guitars that have tremolo bridge systems, which are the whammy bar-style bridges that allow you to wail away like Hendrix. The advantage of the ball bearings is that they keep your strings moving freely, even when you’re hammering down on the whammy bar. 

Plus, when you don’t have nut slots to deal with, you don’t gave to worry about your strings getting caught in the nut grooves.

When Fender first started employing roller nuts on their guitars back in the 1980s, it was a huge success. They were found on just about all of their top-tier guitars. However, now they’ve become a bit like 80s parachute pants — not so popular anymore. 

Pros

  • You never have to lubricate the nut when using a trem system
  • Roller nuts eliminate tuning issues after serious bends
  • Does not require an allen key or wrench to make adjustments like a Floyd Rose locking system

Cons

  • Can impact your guitar’s intonation
  • You can’t file or cut these nuts
  • Really rare nowadays

Zero Fret

displays Zero Fret of guitar

​​The zero fret nut is a bit of a misnomer, as it isn’t really a nut, but an extra fret that sits directly before the nut. Essentially, the nut only acts as a spacer for the strings, meaning it doesn’t have any physical impact on the action or the tone of the guitar. 

The zero fret provides a really distinct guitar tone. To me, it almost sounds as if you’re fretting the strings when you’re playing open notes. It’s become very popular in modern guitar design, though manufacturers still often list it as a special feature if you find a guitar with one of these on it.

Pros

  • Strings never rub on the nut grooves
  • You get a unique fretted tone on the open strings
  • Allows for string gauge changes without having to file, cut, or replace the nut

Cons

  • A worn zero fret can affect the bend of the string
  • Can be expensive and difficult to replace

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Different Nut Materials Explained

Bone

displays Bone Guitar nut

Bone nuts are certainly the rockstars of the nut world, known for their incredible tuning stability and tone. You’ll find them on some of the best guitars around. 

However, the one disadvantage of bone is that it is very difficult to work with. It’s also important to note that because bone is a natural material, you can’t count on each piece being exactly the same. You really have to love it for the sweet sound and sustain that it produces. 

Pros

  • Produces incredible tone and sustain
  • Provides solid intonation
  • One of the best sounding materials

Cons

  • Relatively expensive
  • Harder to work with than plastic

Plastic

plastic Guitar nut of Ibanez GRX70QA
Plastic nut of Ibanez GRX70QA.

Plastic nuts have become the go-to for low-end and mid-level axes. However, don’t let this fool you, as not all plastic nuts are created equal. Sofer plastic nuts, for example, can negatively impact your guitar’s tuning stability.

On the other hand, harder and well-cut plastic nuts can make you feel as if you’re living the high life, offering better intonation, tonality, and stability. 

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Easy to adjust
  • Decent stability

Cons

  • Does not provide the best tone and sustain (especially the soft plastic nuts)

Synthetic Bone

displays Synthetic bone guitar nut of Squier Bullet Stratocaster HSS
Synthetic bone nut of Squier Bullet Stratocaster HSS.

Synthetic bone guitar nuts are made from some of the highest-quality plastics around, giving you a tone that mimics that of traditional bone nuts. However, these types of nuts provide more tonal consistency, thanks to their manufacturing standards. 

Plus, because they aren’t sourced from actual bones, they are a more sustainable and ethical option, perfect for the environmentally conscious guitarist. 

Pros

  • More consistent design than standard bone
  • Made from high-quality plastic 
  • More ethically sourced

Cons

  • Can be more expensive than plastic 
  • Some synthetic bone nuts can still be really poor in quality

Urea

displays Urea guitar nut of Yamaha Pacifica 112V
Urea guitar nut of Yamaha Pacifica 112V.

While urea nuts might have somewhat of a smelly reputation, due to the fact that they are made from a synthetic compound called formaldehyde resin, they’re actually pretty awesome. In fact, urea nuts are some of the more durable nuts out there, perfect for any guitarist who prioritizes wear-resistance. 

Plus, they can also help to improve the resonance and sustain of your guitar.  

Pros

  • Urea is highly resistant to wear and tear
  • Very consistent in their synthetic manufacturing
  • Can improve sustain and resonance of guitar

Cons

  • Doesn’t quite match the richness and warmth of bone
  • The resin isn’t very sustainable 

Ivory

displays Ivory Guitar nut

Ivory nuts are just about as old-school as it gets. In fact, back in the day, ivory was the go-to choice for guitarists that wanted the best-possible sound and intonation. 

The material is very dense, giving you a bright and powerful tone with an incredible amount of sustain. However, as we all probably know, ivory is not the most sustainable or ethical choice around. There are many countries that have banned the trade of ivory, which is why many guitar manufacturers had to look for alternatives. 

Pros

  • Classic, vintage vibe and tone
  • Provides plenty of projection and sustain
  • Found on high-end guitars

Cons

  • Can be unethically sourced

Micarta

displays Micarta Guitar nut
Fender Micarta nut for bass guitar.

Micarta has become a very popular synthetic alternative to ivory, though it’s somewhat of a hybrid in terms of tone, mimicking the sound of ivory, bone, and tortoise shell. This material is made from layers of resin and paper or cloth, and is highly wear and tear-resistant. 

Because it is a synthetic material, it is one of the more sustainable options on the market. Plus, one of the unique benefits of micarta is that you can dye it to any color you want, adding a bit of personality to your guitar. 

Pros

  • More durable than most materials
  • Synthetic production makes it more consistent
  • Gives you the ability to customize

Cons

  • More expensive than other synthetic nuts

Corian

displays Corian Guitar nut
Corian nut of Martin guitar.

Corian is made from a blend of natural minerals and acrylic polymer, offering a strong and wear and tear-resistant design. However, it’s also surprisingly versatile in terms of tone. Many players swear by its bright and snappy tone, while others say it has a warmer, rounded tonal quality. I suppose it’s subjective. 

The good thing is, it’s one of the easiest materials to sand and shape. 

Pros

  • Very resistant to wear and tear
  • Versatile tonal quality
  • Can be easily sanded and shaped

Cons

  • Not the most environmentally friendly option

Nubone

displays Nubone Guitar nut
Nubone nut of a bass guitar.

Nubone is tough as nails, yet still provides a natural feel. This nut material s made from a proprietary blend of resins and polymers, and is designed to mimic the look and feel of natural bone. Unlike bone, it provides superior consistency and durability, and like Corian, it is easy to sand and shape. 

Pros

  • Cruelty-free bone alternative
  • Easy to sand and shape 
  • Very consistent design

Cons

  • More expensive than other synthetic options

Tusq

displays Tusq Guitar nut

TUSQ is as durable as it is tonally versatile. This material is made from a high-density polymer that was specifically designed to mimic the beloved tonal properties of natural bone. Not only does it provide excellent clarity and sustain, but it is also very easy to sand and shape. Of couse, it’s also completely synthetic, making it “cruelty-free”. 

Pros

  • Designed to mimic the tonal properties of bone
  • Very consistent and durable design
  • Sustainable

Cons

  • Synthetic appearance may be less appealing

Graphite

displays Graphite Guitar nut

Graphite is perfect for guitarists who want a strong and sleek nut. These nuts are made from durable and lightweight composite materials, which are designed to provide excellent sustain and tuning stability. Plus, these environmentally-friendly nuts have a smooth and consistent surface to reduce string friction.

Pros

  • Provides excellent tuning stability 
  • Bright and powerful tone
  • Environmentally-friendly 

Cons

  • Not very easy to sand or shape

Steel

displays Roller Nut Guitar nut
Roller nut is one example of a steel nut.

If you want to add a little bit of edge to your playing, I recommend checking out steel nuts. These offer unparalleled strength and durability, allowing you to play in tune, even when under the most intense conditions. Plus, the tone is way brighter and punchier than any other nut material. 

Pros

  • One of the most durable nut materials
  • Provides excellent tuning stability
  • Sleek and industrial look

Cons

  • Can cause the strings to wear faster
  • Difficult to install

Brass

displays Brass guitar nut
Fender brass nut.

Opposite from steel, if you want to add a bit of richness and warmth to your guitar tone, I recommend a brass nut. They have a distinctive tone and a birght and shiny appearance, which can catch the eye of any discerning guitarist. Plus, as a relatively soft material, it’s easier to work with than steel.

Pros

  • Warm and rich tone
  • Relatively soft material
  • Bright and shiny appearance

Cons

  • You have to worry about oxidation

Ebony

displays Ebony Guitar nut

Ebony nuts are somewhat of the dark knights of the guitar world, as you don’t often see them on standard guitars. In fact, I’ve only seen them on classical guitars. The beauty of these nuts is that they can add a uniquely rich warmth and depth to your tone, which can be especially desirable for fingerstyle. While they have an elegant look and exceptional tuning stability, they can get quite brittle over time, making them prone to cracking.

Pros

  • Rich and warm tone
  • Very hard and dense wood
  • Natural material with an elegant appearance

Cons

  • Can be prone to cracking or chipping

What Is The Best Nut Material?

There is no one “best” nut material. As you can see, different nut materials have their own advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, you have to consider your playing style, tonal preferences, and budget. 


How to Choose The Right Nut Material for You?

Choosing the right nut for your needs means considering your tonal preferences, playing style, and budget. I highly recommend experimenting with different nuts to see how they impact your guitar’s playability and tone, or seeking advice from experienced luthiers based on the guitar you have.  Here are some guidelines for you:

  • Tonal Characteristics – As you now know, the nut material you choose can have a significant impact on your guitar’s tone. For example, brass nuts are much warmer and more rounded than bone nuts.
  • Durability  – The nut is one of the most important components of your guitar. If you want a nut that will withstand the wear and tear of consistent playing, consider stronger materials like bone over plastic.
  • Cost – What’s your budget? Nut materials like ivory or bone can be quite expensive compared to plastic and synthetic materials.

Here are a couple of tips for you:

  • If you are after an articulate tone and great sustain, TUSQ, Graphite, or bone nut would most likely be the best option for you.
  • If you want something cheap, then plastic, synthetic bone, nubone, or urea nut might be a great option.
  • If you are after a clear tone and excellent tuning stability, a locking nut might be for you.
  • If you use your tremolo like crazy, check roller nuts out.

This video reveals how different guitar nuts sound head-to-head:

Personally, I think that plastic nut offered by far the worst tones. Damp, muddy, and bad sustain. Bone was my personal favorite. Snappy, articulate, and crisp. Reveal which you liked the most in the comments down below!


FAQ

What Is The Best Guitar Nut for Tuning Stability?

While most guitar nut materials provide pretty decent tuning stability, TUSQ, bone, and graphite are often hailed as the best nuts in this regard.

Does Nut Material Affect The Sound of A Guitar?

Absolutely! The nut can have a significant impact on the sound of your guitar, as different materials have different levels of hardness, density, and resonance.

What is The Most Common Guitar Nut Material?

Plastic and synthetic materials, such as synthetic bone, TUSQ, Nubone, and Micarta, are the most common guitar nut materials. 

What Kind of Nuts Does Gibson Use?

Gibson has used a wide range of nuts over the years, including TUSQ, bone, Corian, and plastic, and the types of materials depend on the model or years of production.

Check our picks for the best Gibson electric guitars here and best Gibson acoustic guitars here.

What Kind of Nuts Does Fender Use?

Fender ofen uses nuts made from Micarta, TUSQ, or bone on its higher-end guitars, though some special editions have come with brass and bone. The cheapest Fender and Squier guitars usually have synthetic bone nuts.

Check our picks for the best Fender acoustic guitars here.

What Kind of Nuts Does Martin Use?

Martin typically uses bone for its guitar nuts, though some models have TUSQ and Corian nuts.

Check our picks for the best Martin guitars here.

What Kind of Nuts Does Taylor Use?

Most Taylor guitars use the proprietary nut material known as TUSQ, which is a synthetic material made from plastic and other components. 

Check our picks for the best Taylor guitars here.


Conclusion

Whether you’re just stepping into the world of guitar or are a seasoned pro, it’s easy to see that the choice of nut material can have a major impact on the sound and playability of your guitar. Every material has unique tonal and performance characteristics, and now that you have an understanding of their different personalities, I hope you feel better suited to make the right decision for your preferred tone and budget! 

I hope this article helped you out, if you have any questions, just leave a comment down below, we are here for you!

Keep rocking!

Tyler Connaghan

Tyler Connaghan is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Tyler has been playing the guitar since 2007. In between writing for guitar publications, he produces music for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster. You can connect with Tyler on LinkedIn or just email him.
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