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Nut materials - pros/cons in function and aesthetic


JacksonMaberry
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Hello folks,

Just replaced a missing (!) nut on a local instrument lending library violin. Rather than order a blank, I cut my own from a decent chunk of macassar ebony I was given by a neighbor. Not perfectly black, but I found a nice dark section and went from there. 

 

It got me thinking about other types of materials - I've certainly seen bone and ivory, and I know guitar luthiers use things like micarta, occasionally mother of pearl, and the like. I generally prefer that the nut be the same or similar in color to the fingerboard, so I thought maybe water buffalo horn might be a possibility.

 

I came to the the violin world through harpsichords, and we use a delightful little plastic called delrin/celcon (I see Don Noon has experimented with it a bit) for the plectra due in part to its durability and self-lubricating properties. It can be had in white or black and cuts pretty nicely so long as your tools are very sharp, but as I've only used in for tiny plectra i have no idea how it polishes up. Of course gluing it to the fingerboard with hide would be impossible, and so that more or less blows that idea, though you'd never have to lube the string grooves with graphite again! 

 

What are your thoughts? I'm sure many of you have experimented with all sorts of things and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on tone, workability, and the like. In a world where certain woods that we rely on are becoming more difficult to find or use legally, options are always good!

 

Thanks,

Jackson 

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I have used buffalo bone for nuts on four of my violins. It is a bit harder to work with than ebony. Takes me about twice as long

to make one. I have not noticed it affecting the sound in any way, better or worse. i have always liked the look of the white nut 

on Paganini's Cannone and thought I would try one. One of these violins has been strung up and played for over four years and

the string grooves have not been worn down a bit. 

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I picked up a stock of corozo nuts years ago, and also liking the ivory nut:saddle look, used it on a few violins. It seems to work quite well, have self-lubricating qualities, and so far seems to stand up to steel e-strings fine. I stopped using it on my own fiddles a little while ago as it gave them a "look at me, I'm different!" quality that I decided I didn't want my violins to have.

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Delrin is very interesting stuff, very tough and slippery, and would be perfect (from a function perspective) for bridge inserts or nuts... except it's horrid to glue and cut.  From a tradition perspective, it's also on the deplorable list.  I'm still thinking about some way to use it that is less visible.

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My now departed violin making friend Francis Cox also made his nuts from hard white plastic dominoes.

Shaped properly they were both workable and very durable.

 

I've gone with rosewood and ebony (both macassar and plain) - but I believe that I prefer standard black ebony, since it is extremely affordable and commonly available in such sizes cheap enough - even today, in a somewhat ebony starved world.

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And - as far as "function and aesthetics" goes - well - the "function" aspect of the thing is (my opinion ONLY now) the paramount aspect.

The 'aesthetics' aspect is extremely individual.

As long as whatever material used, will work in the place of ebony? Well many many such materials are out there - I'm sort of surprised that no one has come up with a steel or aluminum nut with the claim that it has extraordinary tonal power...!

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I picked up a stock of corozo nuts years ago, and also liking the ivory nut:saddle look, used it on a few violins. It seems to work quite well, have self-lubricating qualities, and so far seems to stand up to steel e-strings fine. I stopped using it on my own fiddles a little while ago as it gave them a "look at me, I'm different!" quality that I decided I didn't want my violins to have.

Corozo - the "ivory nut"! What a splendid idea! Another thing I'll have to try.

Delrin is very interesting stuff, very tough and slippery, and would be perfect (from a function perspective) for bridge inserts or nuts... except it's horrid to glue and cut. From a tradition perspective, it's also on the deplorable list. I'm still thinking about some way to use it that is less visible.

Hey Don, I've read that the loctite 'go 2' gel can bond delrin to delrin. I have some and I will try gluing a few harpsichord plectra (all I've got delrin wise) to some ebony and some maple and report back. Deplorable or not it's a pretty innocuous looking material, and since one generally uses pva glue to do a bridge parchment I don't see why you couldn't use some small amount of a wacky adhesive for a delrin bridge inlay.

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Let me know if you want to try some of santas rein deer antlers aswell, and I'll send you some free chunks.

Is it a similar process to collecting buffalo horns? I find you have to saw quickly, because the buffalo don't like this very much. They tend to rough you up after the first saw stroke or two.

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Is it a similar process to collecting buffalo horns? I find you have to saw quickly, because the buffalo don't like this very much. They tend to rough you up after the first saw stroke or two.

Nah... we shoot them first... ;)

 

No, not really. Not these ones at least. :)

They actually shed them themselfs every year, by rubbing against the rocks untill they fall of. So if you go to high enough altitudes in rein deer areas, you find them laying around in the nature. A great resourse I make all kinds of stuff out off, on the lathe mostly. 

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My now departed violin making friend Francis Cox also made his nuts from hard white plastic dominoes.

Shaped properly they were both workable and very durable.

 

I've gone with rosewood and ebony (both macassar and plain) - but I believe that I prefer standard black ebony, since it is extremely affordable and commonly available in such sizes cheap enough - even today, in a somewhat ebony starved world.

Hey Craig,

The domino notion is an interesting one. I believe the most common domino plastic is melamine resin, which strikes me as very hard. Did he have to do all the shaping with files or was he able to carve it a bit?

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Hey Craig,

The domino notion is an interesting one. I believe the most common domino plastic is melamine resin, which strikes me as very hard. Did he have to do all the shaping with files or was he able to carve it a bit?

 

I believe that he simply sawed out the basic rectangular shape, and then simply formed it as you would form an ebony nut. Filing, sanding sand then polishing.

 

I must say that they were very durable and always struck me as an extremely workable and simple solution.

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Hey Craig,

The domino notion is an interesting one. I believe the most common domino plastic is melamine resin, which strikes me as very hard. Did he have to do all the shaping with files or was he able to carve it a bit?

 

Well, for "work-ability" I'll put this material up against "ebony" any day.

Easily.

Without compromise - if that's saying much.

So then - I wonder if melamine is available on-line, and at the proper dimensions, in black?

 

Anyone?

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I've just been making a bone nut for the 1/2 scale Strad guitar I'm finishing up.  May be great for sustain, but it is really slow work. Do violins need sustain?  Had to drop it down, 1 mm, and filed the slot deeper!  My Iwasaki half round file seems to work best.  I hardly ever use flat files anymore. Now, I'll have to tackle the saddle.

 

 I have used some kind of hard ivory plastic, could have been Delrin, I have some pieces labeled that.  Worked fine.  Much easier to carve than the bone.  Gluing?  Where's it going to go? Put a big drop on it, tighten the strings; done.  I had some fake ivory for woodwind ferrules; that stuff looks good, works easy, but is way to soft.  For pegs it is perfect.  

 

Wood is easy.  What's wrong with easy?

 

Ken

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Ken,

Absolutely nothing wrong with wood. Easy as pie to work compared to most things, especially bone. I need some of those iwasaki files, heard nothing but good things.

You make a good point about delrin for nuts. As long as the glue bond has enough strength to just hold it in place it shouldn't be an issue. Players generally change strings one at a time anyhow, and the others would keep it in place by virtue of tension.

It goes back to Don's (correct) assertion that the stuff just doesn't look traditional enough. I haven't ever seen it in an ivory hue, just stark white or black.

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I believe that he simply sawed out the basic rectangular shape, and then simply formed it as you would form an ebony nut. Filing, sanding sand then polishing.

 

I must say that they were very durable and always struck me as an extremely workable and simple solution.

I use a lot of single-edged cutting tools when making upper nuts, from gouges to knives to planes to scrapers. I'd want a material which can be worked this way, since I don't see a a good way to get the sort of shape and fit I like with files and sandpaper.

 

I wouldn't have any problem with the appearance of black Delrin,

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Has anyone tried Bell brass for that "glam" look?

Pair with adjustable brass inserts in the bridge (a la tune-o-matic) for endless sustain! XD heck, might as well try a brass nut but I'm not enthusiastic about working it. I, like Mr Burgess above, prefer to cut and carve, minimizing filing.

Well that settles it - if Ken and David say 'give delrin a chance' I'm going to do it. Gotta order some stock. Gonna get some "ivory nut" while I'm at it.

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