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The situation:

I'm about to widen the slots in a new nut for a 12-string guitar. I'm using .015 strings (up from .011 or so), and tuning the guitar down significantly; my test-run with .014 strings is very promising, and the guitar has a much fuller, richer sound (although that's only with six strings).

The existing nut isn't appropriate for strings of this gauge, however, and the three thickest strings are not staying in tune well. I expected this, and I ordered a new Tusq nut, intending to widen the slots.

The question:

Does changing the angle of the strings above the headstock affect tone and stability? I understand that a sharper angle increases sustain, and that's a desirable change. However, assuming the string slots in the nuts are of appropriate width, will increasing the angle cause the guitar to go out of tune faster or slower? (This would be mostly done by winding the strings top-to-bottom on the posts.)

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You might want to take a look at this question for some tips on tuning stability. With the gauge of string that you're talking about I presume that it is an acoustic guitar so won't have the trem unit mentioned in that page, but if you bend the strings much, the same sort of issues of the string sticking in the nut could occur, albeit to a lesser extent. Remember also that a high action will mean that you're bending the strings a fair bit each time you fret a note. –  eviltobz Mar 30 '11 at 8:51
    
If it's more about playing chords and strumming, which seems like a fair assumption for a 12 string, it would probably not make a significant difference though. –  eviltobz Mar 30 '11 at 8:51
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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A greater string angle helps the string to seat in the nut slot, which can increase sustain and resonance. A properly cut nut will keep the string in place but not "pinch" it. As you have found, a "tight nut" binds the string, causing tuning problems.

If you get a Tusq nut and have it properly slotted, you should be fine.

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A greater string angle doesn't necessarily increase sustain. What is increased is downward pressure on the nut (or the bridge if that is where you've increased the angle), and it also increases string tension a bit. A steep angle makes things a bit brighter also. Increased string angle at the nut has it's most effect on the OPEN NOTES, and this is because the open note is the one that has - as it's endpoints - the bridge saddle , and the nut. As soon as you fret a note, the endpoints are the bridge saddle and the fret you are fretting on! If you want to affect string tone, you should notice that changing the string angle at the bridge has a greater effect. However, increasing string angle at the bridge saddle does NOT automatically increase sustain. You'll notice more effect on tone, with the steeper angle making the tone brighter. Sometimes, making things brighter actually decreases sustain. Try this on guitars that have a tune-a-matic bridge and a stop bar tailpiece behind it - raise the stop bar tailpiece up quite a bit so that the strings angle over the tuneamatic is lessened, and listen to the tone. Next, lower the stop bar tailpiece down quite low, so that the strings angle over the tuneamatic saddle is increased, and listen to how the strings sound then. Gibson put their stopbar behind the tuneamatic for a purpose - it is adjustable, which allows the player to adjust it to their preferences. I've seen some guitarists put the stop bar tailpiece all the way down because they had READ that would give the best sustain, and it was so low that the strings would come off the saddle at such a steep angle that the string also rested on the back edge of the bridge! This is not good for tone, sustain, and especially not good for the bridge! I used to see Gibson SG's that had a tuneamatic bridge that had mounting studs that had worked loose over years of this lousy set up. Cranking the stop bar tailpiece down as far as it will go for the sake of sustain is an example of a myth being created by people hearing or reading something and assuming it to be true without ever actually experimenting themselves to FIND OUT.

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