The first consideration is nut width. The two most common nut widths are 1 11/16” and 1 ¾” on steel string guitars. You wouldn’t think that only 1/16” difference would make all that much difference but it truly does. For better than 150 years, Martin guitars were made with nuts that measured 1 11/16” (with a few early exceptions) and even today most standard Martin models come through with that nut width. Things are changing a bit at this venerable company however – about two years ago they began building their classic D-18 with a 1 ¾” nut and many of the limited edition models come with nuts at that width. Likewise, the vast majority of the “boutique” makers use 1 ¾” as their standard nut width.
Taylor guitars started with the 1 11/16” nut width but quickly went over to 1 ¾” combined with a very shallow, almost flat neck profile (more on that in the next installment) for the vast majority of their guitars. Gibson acoustics mostly have 1 11/16” nuts but some, especially their modern jumbo size instruments show a width that is just a hair wider, perhaps 1 23/32”. Some imported guitars are narrower at the nut, similar to many electric guitars, with a measurement of just 1 5/8” – in my opinion this is too narrow for many people on an acoustic guitar, which of course uses strings that are heavier and wider than those used on an electric in most cases.
In the other direction, some steel string guitars (12-strings in particular) have nut widths of 1 7/8” or even slightly wider. This is necessary to facilitate fingering of the doubled up strings on a 12-string. On nylon string guitars the standard measurements are usually given in millimeters. The two most common on pure classical guitars are 50mm and 52mm. Wider necks are common on classical guitars to compensate for the increased movement of nylon strings and to allow for better separation of the strings at the bridge for better accuracy when playing individual strings with the fingers. The new “crossover” nylon string guitars used by many jazz and bossa nova players have narrower nuts, usually 1 7/8”. If you’re primarily a steel string player looking to get into nylon, this type of guitar will most likely be easier to play.
So which one is right for you? It comes down to your finger width. I am blessed with fairly narrow but (sadly!) fairly short fingers. Because of this I find the 1 11/16” nut width to be perfect most of the time. However, I believe that most men who have wider fingers will find it easier to get a good sound, i.e., no buzzes or muffled notes due to touching adjacent strings when fingering chords and single note passages, with a guitar that has a 1 ¾” nut. Most women or children will do better with the 1 11/16” nut as a 1 ¾” requires more of a “reach” and that requires more finger strength. Not to say women and kids cannot play the wider neck but the learning curve for a beginner will be more severe.
Next time I’ll get into neck shapes. This is a much more complicated and subjective issue, so as always, remember that everything you read here in my ramblings is opinion only. “Your mileage may vary.”
Peace & good music,