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Making a Nylon Nut for a Vintage Gibson



This article originally appeared in Guitarmaker magazine, the trade journal of the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans.


Click Images to Enlarge


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1. A 1951 Gibson ES-175.  This model came stock with a Nylon nut as did many classic Gibson guitars of the era.  Nylon is a great material for a guitar nut; it resists ware and is very slippery.  These same properties also make Nylon resistent to cutting and shaping with conventional nut making tools. 2. A Nylon Nut.  Making a Nylon nut doesn’t need to be a drawn out and frustrating experience.  With some common tools and an approach geared specifically toward this tough material, making a Nylon nut is actually pretty fun!
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3. Removal.  I loosen the original nut with a block of hardwood and some light mallet taps. 4. Pushing the Nut out sideways is safe for the black lacquered headstock.
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5. Nylon 6/6 is available through McMaster Carr.  For a typical Gibson nut, I use a partial sheet of 1/4” thick by 2 1/2” wide Nylon.  I square the end of the partial sheet on the disc-sander. 6. Trace.  I trace the outline of the original nut on the sheet with a fine-tip sharpie.
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7. Bandsaw.  I cut out the blank with the bandsaw. 8. De-Burring during the bandsawing process is par for the course.  I use a sharp chisel as needed.
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9. Thicknessing.  I hand plane the Nylon to rough thickness with a block plane then sand away the remaining waste with the Luthier’s Friend mounted on an oscillating spindle sander.  I can’t sand too much in one pass on the spindle sander or else the Nylon will get too hot and warp rendering the nut blank useless. 10. More Layout.  I trace the plane of the frets onto the face of the nut with a half pencill then hand sand the ends of the nut with 180, 400, 600, 1000 and 2000 grit sandpaper on a flat granite slab.
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11. Shaping.  I sand the top of the nut with the disc sander to the sharpie line. 12. Sanding.  A quick hand-sanding with a cork lined sanding block and the same grits I used on the ends of the nut give the Nylon a satin sheen which I can machine buff to a high gloss when appropriate.  I glue the nut to the guitar with original tite-bond.
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13. Slotting the E Strings.  I transfer the location of the E-strings from the old nut to the new one with the sharpie then create a faint notch at each E-string with a narrow nut slotting file.  A .010” kerfed nut slotting saw slightly enlarges the notches. 14. Slot Layout.  The Stew Mac nut slot layout tool locates the rest of the nut slots.  I start each slot with a narrow slotting file, then open them up to rough width and depth with a nut slotting saw of appropriate kerf for each string.  A Japanese pull saw with a .035” kerf works well for the 6th string.
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15.  Fine Tuning the nut slots with the guitar tuned to pitch. I fine tune each slot with the appropriate nut slotting file.  This part is slow going and I switch back and forth between the saws and files, as necessary, until each slot is of the appropriate depth in relation to the first fret. 16. More Deburring.  I clean up the burr at the top, front and back of each slot with a sharp chisel.
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17. Abrasive Cord cleans up the file marks. 18. Lubricating Nylon nut slots if of questionable utility but I do it anyway with a dental tool and some “guitar grease” from Stew Mac.
19. A Hand-Made Nylon Nut takes a little longer to make than a bone nut, but it’s a good option for this collectible vintage Gibson.