Stay in Tune vol #16
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
I always seem to wait till the last minute to do the things I know that I’m supposed to do. The thing that bothers me about that is that I cannot for the life of me figure out why I do that? I don’t like working under pressure. I enjoy pondering my next move. Maybe I’m taking to long to ponder. Or maybe there really isn’t enough hours in the day. I don’t know. I just know that I have to “Get “r” Done”.
I want to tell you a little bit about some of my favorite types of repair. If I had to pick one I would say that making and adjusting the “nut” on the guitar is on top of the list (at least this week). It was one of the first things that I learned how to do. It is a very common repair that can make a huge difference in the playability of the guitar. I use bone as my material of choice. It has all of the characteristics that I look for regarding tonal abilities. It is hard enough to sustain a note, and it easy enough to cut and shape, either by hand or machine, and it is “All Natural ”.It also ,by mine and many other accounts , has a very warm , but precise feel and tone.
Many new suppliers are claiming that the new “man made “ materials such as “Micarta”, Corian” , “Tusc”, or “Graphite” are manufactured to have more consistent density to be able to transfer tones better than the natural bone because the bone can have natural defects that can effect tonal responses. In my opinion, that is a bunch of crap! Yea that’s right, I said it, “a bunch of crap”. It’s true that there is a bit (although extremely small, and hardly audible) of a tonal difference between the different materials, I Just don’t’ like the idea of taking some chemicals, mixing them up and compressing them into a semi-hard substance, very akin to many other types of “plastic”, (all the time polluting the environment) and claiming they perform better than bone, ivory, or any other natural materials. Musical instruments have been built for many generations using these natural materials. It’s true that was all that was available at the time, but I feel that with all of our new technology that as of the present time, we have not yet produced a material that is “over the top” better than what is naturally available, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly. I’m sure that I haven’t heard or worked with all of the products that are out there, but I still believe that bone is the better choice. I’m sure there will be many that disagree with me, (and I due hope that you respond so that we can carry this discussion further) but, I like using it.
I didn’t want to expand so much upon my choice of nut material as I would like to try to explain the process of actually making one. Of course I always start out with a blank piece, not the pre-shaped kind that already has the string slots cut for a particular string spacing. I find that each guitar has certain features about the headstock and fingerboard that dictates where the 1st and 6th string should lie in reference to the fingerboard, You never want to be too close to either edge because it’s easy to push or pull the string right off the edge. The distance is approximately 1/8” from either side ,but can be adjusted slightly due to customer preference. I always start by asking the customer if he or she is comfortable with the “feel” of the current string spacing of the nut I’m about to replace. You never want to drastically change that “feel” (unless it’s completely wrong in the first place) because you don’t want your customer to spend weeks trying to get comfortable again playing the instrument that you just repaired .
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings