Stay in tune vol #4
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
Hello again all you fellow musicians! I hope the past few weeks have served you well, with no playability issues to speak of. I have had a few repairs this past week that I would like to share with you.One of them pertains to the nut of the guitar. Many times I will get a guitar or mandolin in the shop and the customer is complaining of a buzz on one or more of the strings. Well the first thing that I do is try to narrow it down to which string it is and then try to figure out where on that string it seems to be buzzing. I check this by fretting each note to determine which fret it is buzzing. If I find that the buzz is happening on the string when I play it in the open position, that tells me that it is the groove that guides the string is too deep and is fretting out on the first fret, therefore causing a buzz. This is a common problem on instruments that use plastic for the nut material. It seems that the steel string is much harder than the plastic and over time will eventually wear a deeper groove than is needed in the plastic. Although I have come across many different types of plastic, some harder than others, it always seems to be a problem. Generally on more expensive instruments the nut material will be made of bone . This is my choice of material but, there also many other types that are also very good alternatives. Some of these might include “Micarta”, a very hard man made product, similar to bone in density. Another man made substance, “Corian”, generally used in kitchen counter tops, and also graphite, a very hard and dense material that is known to have self lubricating properties. I have come across nuts that are made of brass, which to me, makes the sound a little too bright. I like the warm and natural tone that comes from a nut made from a good quality piece of bone.
Bone nut blanks can be purchased from many places including some music stores but, I caution anyone that would try to take on the task of “cutting” one to fit your own instrument. I’m not saying it can’t be done I just feel that it is probably better suited to the more experienced craftsman. Another good point to know is that the hardest part of the cow bone comes from the forearm of the cow. I actually get my bone material from my local butcher and boil the fat and oils from it several times and cut my bone nut blanks on my bandsaw. It takes a little more work to do this but, I find that I have much more control of the quality and sizes that I may choose for any particular instrument that I might come across. I also use this bone for the saddle material on the bridge. I have used it on inlays too.
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings