Vintage Gretsch Guitars

Why Brass Nuts??

1

What's with the brass nuts on 50s 6120s? What was Gretsch trying to achieve? Supposedly brass is softer than bone. Were they intending to darken up the sound of the guitar?

I saw brass nut blanks at the luthier supply guy I go to and it made me wonder if I wanted to try one.

Now you can make brass nut jokes

2

In fact, nuts were in aluminium. I think this came as the "Bigsby" package. Paul Bigsby provided the tremolo unit, the bridge and the nut for Gretsch, as this was installed on his own guitars.

3

I think the brass was for looks.

4

I think the bar bridge, trestle bracing and metal nut were all part of Chet's "more sustain from a hollowbody!" package. I don't think it adds much, if anything.

5

I used to own a Korean mahogany plywood dreadnought 12-string which had a brass nut and a nicely compensated brass saddle. The saddle compensation was done by George Peacock. The plywood and brass gave the guitar a nice sustain and though the volume was not very loud the intonation was really good. The guitar recorded really nicely. It is heard on the Chris Wilson six-song CD "Back on the Barbary Coast", recorded by ex-Flamin' Groovies Chris Wilson, Mike Wilhelm, James Ferrell and Danny Mihm.

The link is a sample of the sound of the guitar: If Wishes Were Horses Chris plays his part in DADGAD tuning and I play in standard tuning dropped one whole tone. At about 2:15 the instrumental break featuring the two acoustic 12-string parts kicks in and you can hear them clearly. I wish I had kept that guitar just for recording, it records better than any other acoustic twelve I've had.

6

My '69 Eko Ranger 12-string has an aluminum nut and I find it has a nice soft tone. Not as loud as some 12's I've played but very nice and well balanced. Years ago I used it accompany vocals in non-amplified settings and it was perfect, as being on the quieter side, there was no issue of it drowning out the singer, be it myself or others.

7

Thanks to density and, I suppose, molecular arrangement, any material imparts a different tonal spectrum and envelope (attack-decay-sustain) to the combination of guitar material, construction, and strings.

I haven't done any remotely scientific testing to know whether changes at the nut end make as much difference as changes at the bridge end - but a change to a different material at the bridge end can make a dramatic difference. (Or a more subtle one.)

Any combination of bridge material, nut material, pickups, strings, and construction will yield a distinctive character. Whether these differences are for the better or worse is open to individual judgment; mostly, the availability of alternate materials provides another way to tweak or tune the tone and response of a guitar to a player's preferences. (Kinda in the same domain as swapping pickups. Not as dramatic as going from, say, HiloTrons to Filter'Trons - but easily as significant as changing Filter'Tron varieties.)

It's my impression that changes at the nut end are not as obvious as at the bridge, maybe because the nut is further from where the pickups do their thing. I don't think brass at the nut diminishes sustain, though.

8

My '61 Danelectro Convertible has an aluminum nut as well. With a Dano, it's likely a cost saving idea. As always with a Dano, it sounds far better than you'd expect.

9

I'm aware that different materials will impart different sonic qualities, in an electric guitar maybe less so and some areas more than others.

What I was wondering about was why Gretsch did it. Was it just the 6120s? I could see it being a Chet sustain thing, he was into gadgets and really keen on sustain.

I probably won't try it, I like zero frets and bone on the ones that don't have zero frets. I was just very curious I hear it was also big in the 70s, like bell bottoms and the Bee gees.

10

I'm aware that different materials will impart different sonic qualities

Oh man, I didn't mean to imply that you didn't. I know you do. Mine was more of a general background post on the topic for innocent bystanders who might happen by.

I don't have any specific information about Gretsch's intentions or motivations. Could have been a Jimmie Webster notion, I suppose, along the line of doing something different that could be marketed.

As far as I know, it showed up first (and maybe only) on the 6120. Maybe Ed Ball would have some background on it.

11

In fact, nuts were in aluminium. I think this came as the "Bigsby" package. Paul Bigsby provided the tremolo unit, the bridge and the nut for Gretsch, as this was installed on his own guitars.

– Hepkat67

I can't speak to all of them, but the nut on my '56 (which appeared to be original) was brass. Nickel plated and could have passed for aluminum, but there was some plating wear and it was definitely brass.

12

I'm aware that different materials will impart different sonic qualities

Oh man, I didn't mean to imply that you didn't. I know you do. Mine was more of a general background post on the topic for innocent bystanders who might happen by.

I don't have any specific information about Gretsch's intentions or motivations. Could have been a Jimmie Webster notion, I suppose, along the line of doing something different that could be marketed.

As far as I know, it showed up first (and maybe only) on the 6120. Maybe Ed Ball would have some background on it.

– Proteus

All is well, I wasn't offended, just clarifying. Your posts are always very thorough and interesting.

13

I experimented with 3 different nut materials on my Duo Jet. The stock plastic nut had a low cut nut slot on the G or B string, I can't remember which anymore. I put a brass nut on there and it did affect the tone in a positive way on that guitar. The brass nut seemed to allow more of the high and low end overtones to come through. Out of curiosity I tried a bone nut and the high and low end overtones were gone again and I missed them. I put the brass nut back on. Pairing up the aluminum Tru-Arc Serpentune with a brass nut gives my Duo Jet a really good sonic combination for where the strings and the guitar meet. The hardest thing about working with brass is it's harder to file to make it fit but once it's good it's good for life. I had to file the bottom to get the nut height just right. It's way harder to file than bone. It's not a soft material at all.

Thinking brass must be the nut material for me I put a brass nut on a parts Strat I built and those high end overtones weren't as pleasing on that guitar so I ended up with a bone nut on that one.

The lesson I learned is that yes, nut material makes a difference in feel and sound but what works on one guitar may not work on another. Every guitar is different.


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