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Thread: Cutting and shaping bone to make a nut

  1. #1
    Regular Fretter navvid's Avatar
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    Default Cutting and shaping bone to make a nut

    So i decided to change the nut on my Fender dreadnought some time ago because my action was just too high, and preferring 13s, the thing was just plain difficult to play. I had already sanded down the saddle, tightened the truss rod to what i believed at the time to be its limit, and had shown it to a guitar teacher and gigging player who agreed it was an egg cutter. So i figure, lower nut, maybe a little tightening of the truss, and see what happens. After wasting the original plastic nut by sanding it down too far, i decided to try carbon. The carbon nut looked and sounded ok, but this nut too was a little low to begin with. The low e buzzed tolerably when in e standard, but tuned down to e flat it started to get annoying.

    Since i had recently had a luthier replace the nut on my Strat with ivory, i wanted to try bone. Although the work of the guy i gave my Strat to was good, it occurred to my that it was nothing special. Some of my friends who i ask for advice had given me the impression that it was not something i should try myself, and in fact most referred me to the local false idol of guitar repair who shall go nameless. So I says to myself, i sez "i'm a lot smarter than many of these guys i'm asking for advice, i'm gonna make me my own damn nut."

    I bought a bone blank from the music store where i work now, and using a broken off hack saw blade and nail file, i'm getting very good results so far. I used the old carbon nut as a rough template, making adjustments to compensate for my particular setup. It is shaped, and now needs to be slotted. I have to go to work now, so i figured i'd put it out there and ask for any input you guys may have. I want to transfer over the slot positions from the carbon nut, since i liked the way it played very much. Any suggestions on how to do this accurately?

    nrn

  2. #2
    Luke Skyrawker Spudman's Avatar
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    I think it might be a 'seat of your pants' sort of thing. You might get close with the spacing but it might be hard to get exact.

    Idea: Take a little carbon paper and rub the top of the existing nut then take a blank piece of paper and lay it on top of the now inked nut - hold paper firmly in place without moving it - press down over the paper on top of the nut to get an ink transfer of the old nut onto the paper.

    You should be able then to match that to your new blank and get things pretty close.

    If you file the slots too deep a mixture of bone dust and super glue can be used to re-fill the slot and you can start again.

    Also, if you have a saw etc. you can just go to your local butcher shop and get bones for free to make nuts with.

    No Tele For you. - The Tele Nazi

    Guitars: A bunch of Strats, Epiphone LPs, Agile AL2500, Peavey Falcons, Generation Tele, Mystic, Tracer, Ibanez Rg 450, 470, 520QS, S470, SA220, SCR220, ST200, SA160QM, Roadstar II, SZ520QM, M340TV, Rogue PRS, Tele Special, 51, Samick AV4, Musicman Luke, Mahogany & Spruce Acoustic, Classical, Accordion, Hagstrom Viking DLX

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  3. #3
    Regular Fretter luvmyshiner's Avatar
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    Default

    Navvid, to get the spacing right, you could try one of these:

    http://www.stewmac.com/cgi-bin/hazel...talog/sku.html

    Additionally, your string slots really need to be rounded at the bottom, as opposed to the V slot you're going to get if you use a regular file to make the slots, to properly seat the strings, and avoid problems with string breakage, wear, intonation, tuning and such. Stewmac also sells nut files which leave a proper, rounded seat for the strings. Now, if you want to get the whole thing, they sell an essential nut making kit which has everything you need:

    http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Sp..._Tool_Kit.html

    Having said all that, if you're just trying it out at this point and you don't want to sink $200 in the thing, then line your old nut up with the new nut (snicker, sorry, my inner 14 year old came out ) use a pencil to trace the location of the slots, and give it a shot with whatever you have. If you're pleased with the results, you can get the files and give it another try.

    One other suggestion for us "do it yourself" kinda folks (though I've never tried it). I have a friend who actually buys his "bone" (snicker, sorry, more 14 year old stuff) at petsmart. He buys the big cow bones, which are pre-cured and cleaned for dogs, cuts them down, and makes his own nuts.

  4. #4
    Regular Fretter just strum's Avatar
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    I've never done this with my guitars, but I always heard to do it properly, you need to have the proper files and my opinion, not cheap.

    /http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Nuts,_saddles/Special_tools_for:_Nuts_and_saddles/Double-edge_Nut_Files.html

    There is a debate on what value changing out the nut has. In your case, due to action, there certainly is reason to consider a nut change. Material on the other hand really makes minimal difference other than bone, tusq and some of the harder materials hold up better to wear caused by tuning. Since you are fretting most of the time, the material has little or no impact on tone/sound. The saddle plays a much bigger role in changing tone/sound.

    I don't know if you ever used this site, but I found it to be a treasure of information.

    http://frets.com/FRETSPages/pagelist.html

    If you haven't used or read this site, scroll down to Instrument Setup and check out the two sections regarding guitar nut.

    Edit: I see Shiner posted as I was writing (interupted by the Indians game), but some of the same points are made.

  5. #5
    Regular Fretter navvid's Avatar
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    Thanks everybody. Further suggestions welcome. Indeed, I do not have $200 to spend on a gauged file set, however I have a cheap set of needle files, one of which is a tapered round file. I had to redo the slots on the ivory nut I recently had made for my Strat, and the round needle file worked very well. Believe it or not, after some minor reshaping and as I said redoing the slots, I believe I was able to get to within thousands of the target slot diameter. Also, I was able to cut the slots not only round, but so that the strings seated only half way in the nut slot. This is my preference, and I believe it agrees with nut slot lore.

  6. #6
    Regular Fretter just strum's Avatar
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    Well, it certainly sounds like you did your homework and you know what to do and how to do it. I agree with you about the string being halfway down the slot - funny how very few stock guitars (at least in my price range) are ever found that way.

    I'm not familiar with the needle files you referred to, I'll try a Google search.

  7. #7
    Luke Skyrawker Spudman's Avatar
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    The tech at the Ibanez importer uses a wound string to run back and forth through the nut slots to get the bottoms round and shaped the way he likes. All those wraps sort of act like a file.

    No Tele For you. - The Tele Nazi

    Guitars: A bunch of Strats, Epiphone LPs, Agile AL2500, Peavey Falcons, Generation Tele, Mystic, Tracer, Ibanez Rg 450, 470, 520QS, S470, SA220, SCR220, ST200, SA160QM, Roadstar II, SZ520QM, M340TV, Rogue PRS, Tele Special, 51, Samick AV4, Musicman Luke, Mahogany & Spruce Acoustic, Classical, Accordion, Hagstrom Viking DLX

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  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by just strum

    There is a debate on what value changing out the nut has.
    To my novice ears, I think changing out a plastic nut is definitely worth it. I have noticed an improvement in tone using a bone nut compared to a stock plastic nut.

    I've never tried to shape my own bone nut, but have either bought a preshaped nut or taken it in to a local music store and have the tech do it. I don't have the proper nut files and for now, it is cheaper fo me to pay someone else to do it than to buy the nut files and do it myself. However, as my guitar family continues to grow....I most likely will save $$ in the long run by doing it myself

    GG

  9. #9
    Regular Fretter just strum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guitar Gal
    To my novice ears, I think changing out a plastic nut is definitely worth it. I have noticed an improvement in tone using a bone nut compared to a stock plastic nut.

    GG
    I guess I should clarify or reword my comment: the changing of the nut produces minimal change in sound/tone. One thing many do is change out the nut and saddle, or pins and saddle, then state changing the nut or the pin change made a big difference, when in fact it was probably 90%+ the result of the saddle change.

    IMHO the best return on investment is a change in saddle. Again, if you are changing a nut because the slots are cut wrong, or the nut is too low, by all means it will make a difference, however I think you could change it with a proper plastic nut and get damn near the same results.

    In the end, it's up to ones own ears and eyes. If you feel it sounds different or better, than it does. If you feel that it looks better, than it does.

    I'm not telling anyone they are wrong, because I think you can get people to line up on both sides of the fence on this one.

  10. #10
    Regular Fretter Katastrophe's Avatar
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    This thread is of great interest to my. My ESP (somewhere around 13 years old) has had the strings saw through the original graphite nut, leaving the action way too low at the first fret, and causing the strings to bind.

    Thanks for the good info!

  11. #11
    Regular Fretter just strum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Katastrophe
    This thread is of great interest to my. My ESP (somewhere around 13 years old) has had the strings saw through the original graphite nut, leaving the action way too low at the first fret, and causing the strings to bind.

    Thanks for the good info!
    Kat,

    If you haven't already read it, I recommend you look at frets.com - It is really a helpful website that seems to help people at all levels. As a beginner, I found it an excellent source for understanding the guitar and the maintenance that goes into acoustics.

  12. #12
    Regular Fretter navvid's Avatar
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    So i finished slotting it the other night using my cheap radioshack clearance priced needle files and some 600 grit sand paper. Using the carbon nut actually worked well, given a lot of time and care to make the new slots accurately line up. I simply took a mechanical pencil, lined up first the front of the now shaped bone blank, made very small marks, then turned it around and marked the back. This was necessary because the headstock is a 3 and 3, so the slots are all slightly angled. Next I made a line indicating the slot using an exacto, and then my trusty butterfly knife, since it has a wide, thick blade which made a deeper score. this helped quite a bit. I was then able to seat the edge of a file into the fine groove left by the blades, and then gently begin deepening the channel. Once I had a nice thin groove for the round file, I finished the slots with the round tapered needle file. One thing to be careful of is the front edge of the nut (closest to the bridge). A slight slip of the hand, and you can ruin the front edge of the slot, causing the string to pivot inside the nut channel when under shear (bending of the string). This happened a few times, and I had to file the top down and rework the slot. I almost ended up with it being too low again. Once the slots look good, I take a dial caliper, and measure the slot width to make sure it is appropriate for the intended string gauge.

    The process was time consuming, and I'm sure it can be done faster with the right tools, but I am very pleased with the result. It sounds and feels great, and the strings move better that ever when tuning with no binding or pinging. I will take some pics and post them today, after I have played it a little more.

  13. #13
    Regular Fretter navvid's Avatar
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    Oh yeah, thanks to all the people who supplied links and suggestions. All were considered, and no doubt helped refine my technique.

  14. #14

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    here are some other fret files I have this set they seem very high quality

    http://cgi.ebay.com/Norman-Guitar-Nu...QQcmdZViewItem

    Also the bone nuts stewmac stock are cowbone

  15. #15

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    I once replaced the nut on one of my classical guitars by superglueing two pieces of bone saddle material together to get close to the correct thickness and then slotting it with a set of tip "cleaners" for an acetylene cutting torch, which are literally about 2" long rod shaped files of various gauges. B/C the cleaning files are so small, it was slow going, but that was OK b/c I would fit the nut in place, holding it down with the strings, in order to check the progress as I went.

    It worked for me, but I'm sure the fancy, schmancy correct files would do a better job and more quickly.

    As it is, the guitar is still in play and happens to have the best tone of any of my classical guitars. I don't necessarily credit the nut; it was just the only option I had in this little, podunk TX town where nobody had ever heard of a bone nut, but they had some bone saddle blanks in a drawer that hadn't been opened for 20 years, somewhere in the back room.

    Dugly

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  17. #17
    Regular Fretter navvid's Avatar
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    Sorry for the delay. I didn't know anything about posting images online, and I have been preoccupied. Here it is. Plays and sounds great. Seems a bit louder, definitely brighter. I will make a sound clip and post that as well. I am very self conscious, but will do my best. I hope to do one for my Strat too. Put an ivory nut on her.

  18. #18
    Regular Fretter navvid's Avatar
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    I have also included a picture of the needle files I used. One is triangular, with a taper at the end, the other round. I kept the pile of bone dust. I would have liked to get a better polish on it, but looks were never my priority. I just used 600 grit then rough cotton then my t-shirt.

  19. #19
    Luke Skyrawker Spudman's Avatar
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    Nice job. I'm going to email you one of my guitars for you to do next.

    No Tele For you. - The Tele Nazi

    Guitars: A bunch of Strats, Epiphone LPs, Agile AL2500, Peavey Falcons, Generation Tele, Mystic, Tracer, Ibanez Rg 450, 470, 520QS, S470, SA220, SCR220, ST200, SA160QM, Roadstar II, SZ520QM, M340TV, Rogue PRS, Tele Special, 51, Samick AV4, Musicman Luke, Mahogany & Spruce Acoustic, Classical, Accordion, Hagstrom Viking DLX

    Amps: Hot Rod Deluxe, Power Block, Marshall JMP50 combo, Peavey Mace, Delta, Bugera V22, V Amp Pro, Blackheart Little Giant, Lopo Cab, Drive cab
    Pedals: Fulldrive 2, TS9, FL9, CP9, AD9, BD2, Bad Monkey, Tone Driver, Rat, Thomas Organ Wah, JH1, 535Q, DD5, PB100, UT100, MXR Flanger, Boss Loop Station, EX7, Line6 M13, Digitech Vocalist 4
    http://www.soundclick.com/spudman
    Phat Bone

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