buzz feiten tuning system

Guitar Hardware School: Nuts II - Compensated Nuts

Most nuts have a pretty simple design. The strings sit in slots and 'take off' from the front edge of the nut. This marks what is effectively the 'zero-fret' position and each string 'starts' at that same zero location. 

It doesn't have to, though.  

It's possible to move the starting point for each string slightly back towards the headstock or forwards towards the bridge.  

Why would you do such a thing? 

Well, in a similar way to that in which your bridge saddles are compensated to intonate the guitar and help provide some tuning consistency all over the neck, the nut can also be compensated to help a guitar play more in tune. 

I should note that, when talking about playing in tune or tuning consistency here, I'm not discussing the way a guitar slip out of tune. I'm talking about the way each note (open and fretted) should be neither too sharp or too flat compared to what it should be. For instance, if I play fret the third fret of the fifth string, I want to hear an in-tune C note. 

Compensation

Compensation is the adjustment of a string's length so that it plays as closely as possible in tune at each fret position. Generally, on a guitar, we compensate (or intonate) by moving the position of the bridge saddles. On an acoustic guitar, you'll have noticed the saddle is generally installed at a slight angle—so the sixth string is a little longer than the first. It's possible to further compensate the acoustic saddle itself.

Even the best setup guitar can still have some fret positions where a sensitive ear can hear some inconsistencies. In many cases, this hangs around the first few positions.  

How to address this? 

The Compensated Nut

A compensated nut on your guitar or bass moves the 'take-off' point for the string back or forwards in an effort to improve overall tuning consistency. It's essentially the same process as for the bridge.

Music Man compensated nuts at back. Buzz Feiten shelf-nut blanks in front

Some manufacturers, such as Music Man, fit compensated nuts to their instruments as standard. Each string slot has a shifted 'edge' or take-off point.

It's also possible to have a compensated nut retro-fitted to your guitar or bass.  

The big players on the retro-fit scene are mostly Buzz Feiten and Earvana. These take slightly different approaches to address similar problems. Earvana's nut is similar to the Music Man nuts pictured above (and, in fact, I seem to recall a lawsuit between those two companies on the subject). Earvana adjusts each string by a different amount and the instrument is then set-up and tuned as normal. 

The Buzz Feiten system uses a 'shelf' nut that moves the string's take-off point closer to the bridge by a particular distance (calculated based on a number of factors including string-gauge, scale-length and fret-width). Each string is moved by the same amount but the instrument is intonated differently to 'sweeten' the tunings. When tuning the guitar, you tune to the 'E' note on each string rather than tuning the open strings (or just simply use a Feiten-approved tuner). 

Both approaches can make for very good results. Personally, I prefer the Buzz Feiten as I think it looks and sounds better (it's a bone nut) and more 'musically correct'. Full disclosure: I do have a dog in this race, though, as I'm an authorised Buzz Feiten fitter

The Bottom Line: Is It Worth Upgrading?

It depends. Most of us are happily hammering away on our guitars without being bugged too badly by intonation and tuning issues and, even with a standard nut, a good setup can go a long way towards addressing most problems for most people. 

However, if you're constantly on edge that some of your chords just refuse to sound right; if you're playing with a pianist/keyboardist and are plagued by tuning issues on certain notes, it might be worth considering.  

Don't be surprised, though, if a good tech advises you to consider a fret level/re-crown at the same time though. Worn frets can bring their own intonation issues and it's generally a good idea to address these at the same time so you'll get the full benefit.  

Also, remember that these aren't magic. While a compensated nut can improve things, there are limitations inherent in any fretted instrument with equal temperament. That's probably a discussion for another day but keep in mind that we can never achieve perfection (we can get close, though).  


Buzz Feiten Tuning System at Haze Guitars

Haze Guitars offers Buzz Feiten Tuning System

I'm really pleased that Haze Guitars can now offer the Buzz Feiten Tuning System. Odds are, unless you've been living in a small cave in the mountains, you'll have heard about the Buzz Feiten system and you'll probably know something of what it can do.

Even a guitarist with the tinnest of tin-ears will know that his or her perfectly tuned guitar won't sound completely in-tune all over the fretboard. Different positions and different chord shapes can give that unpleasant out-of-tune wobble that's really irritating. And, if you're heading to the studio with this going on, it can get well beyond irritating.

Intonation is the means by which we tweak the sounding length of each string to improve these tuning issues but, for some people, it doesn't get close enough.

It wasn't close enough for Buzz Feiten. So he did something about it. Now you can too.

Fitting the Buzz Feiten Tuning System on your guitar

The Buzz Feiten Tuning System can be retrofitted onto pretty much any electric guitar or bass. Most installations do not need to make any permanent modifications to the instrument. The existing nut is replaced with a BFTS 'shelf' nut which is custom cut to each particular guitar during installation and the intonation is modified based on the system's sweetened tunings.

The result is an instrument that sounds much more in tune all over the neck and across all chord shapes. It'll work with capos, and altered tunings too.

Buzz Feiten retrofit ireland

The only visual indication that your guitar has been modified is that the nut appears very slightly wider than normal (about 1mm or even less). That, and a tiny, serial-numbered, sticker indicating that the BFTS has been properly installed by an authorised fitter Note: you don't have to stick this to your guitar if you don't want but keep it in the case as confirmation in case you ever sell on the instrument. The BFTS system is tightly controlled and the sticker is sort of like your 'certificate of authentication'.

As far as I know, Haze Guitars is the only place in Ireland that you can have the Buzz Feiten system retrofitted to your electric guitar or bass. If you've struggled to get your guitar sounding properly in tune, the BFTS might be just what the doctor ordered.

The BFTS is something that—I think—many people know about without completely understanding so feel free to shout out in the comments if you've questions about the system. Of course, you can also drop me a line if you'd like to arrange an appointment to discuss.