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14 June 2015

How to make a Banjo Nut

I know... I've been absent for a while. I've been up to all sorts of things; some of which might make it into this blog. Today I'm going to take it slow and ease myself back into writing with a short article on making instrument nuts...

Here's a picture of my Windsor Whirle 5-string banjo. If you look really close, you'll see a problem with the nut. Yes, I've only gone and knocked the instrument over in its stand. This old bone nut has begun to crumble. You can see that the hole for the 4th string (furthest to the left in this photo) has collapsed and is now flush with the fretboard. I could have built it back up again with superglue, but in this instance I opted for a new nut. My feeling was that it would only be a matter of time before I'd be patching it up again, and anyway, making a new nut is way more fun ;-)

You can make instrument nuts out off all sorts of materials, including plastic. I've tried a whole heap of different materials in the past, but this time I decided to stick to the more traditional bone. This picture of some Rummikub tiles is simply to show you their shape. There is something about Rummikub tiles that makes them lovely to hold. The size, weight and shape combine for a pleasing experience. I wanted to experiment a little with the nut shape along these lines. 

Check out the old nut. It looks like it has been varnished over. Either that or the previous owner of my banjo played some real smokey joints! It's bone and very tall and square. Note that the holes appear to be all the same gauge. There are lots of things for you to be worrying about when making a nut, but slot width isn't one of them. Trust me.

I used the existing nut as a guide for modeling a new one. For some reason (probably dust), I don't have any work in progress shots, but suffice to say that there was a little bit of cutting and a lot of filing and sanding. The trick here was to keep checking back to the original to make sure that I was keeping true to it.

I don't know if it is only me, but I hate working on bone; The dust is horrible and I really, really don't like the smell. Facemask!

Having got the nut close to where I wanted it, the next job was to pull out the old one. Just as I suspected... it broke into bits as I pulled it out; The bone had become very fragile over the years.

What followed next was some finessing of the new nut. I worked it so that it was a tight fit in the slot and then took the slots down to be the equivalent of about a fret's height above the fretboard.

On fitting the nut steady in the hole: you may find a small nail or "bump" fitted underneath your old nut in the neck. This is there to help to hold the nut where it needs to be (stopping it from sliding from side to side). There will be a matching hole in the bottom of the nut which rests over it. If you have one and your new nut isn't going to fit tight, then you might want to consider leaving the nail there and drilling a small hole in your new nut.

And here I am pointing out the new nut fitted with the strings back in place. Everything is working just as it should! Woohoo! 

And this is where I'm going to leave things today. Next week I might just share some pictures from a recent trip to Dublin! Oooh!

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