How to Fix a Broken Guitar Nut With Baking Soda In Nine Steps

This a guest post by my father. Six months ago I left my acoustic guitar out and Alex and Conner broke it during a game of "Tag You're It". Just as the year was approaching when I'd get around to thinking about possibly asking someone if they knew anything about repairing a guitar, my dad liberated it from my house and worked his magic. He does cool stuff like this a lot.

Through repeated harassment, my brother and I convinced him to start writing down how he does this stuff so that future generations won't have to go 6 months without a working guitar nut.

This post has a little of everything; humor, economics, music, profanity, and even a material density chart!
So without further adieu.

How to Fix a Broken Guitar Nut With Baking Soda In Nine Steps

By James Russell

But first, what is a guitar nut? Lets start with what it is not.

A guitar nut is not a nut that you eat like, for example, pistachio or a walnut or a peanut.

It is also not a piece of metal that you put on the end of a bolt and tighten down.

It is not Reza. Well, Reza is a guitar nut but just not that kind of nut.

A guitar nut is a piece of rigid material (originally Ivory but now often plastic) that sits at the top of the neck of the guitar and supports the strings. It is about 1/4" by 1/4" by 1 3/4 inches with little slots in which the strings sit.

The strings are supported on the other end by a device called a bridge. So basically, the nut and the bridge form a fixed distance between which the strings are constrained to vibrate. By selecting string of different thicknesses and adjusting the tension on the string, each string can be made to play a specific note. But why am I telling you this? It seemed to me that any reasonably rigid material that
  1. will support the string without being compressed as the string is tensioned and
  2. not absorb the vibrations of the string and thereby create a dampening effect should do.
Satisfying those two criteria, the nut should establish an acceptable end point for the string and the physics of a vibrating string should apply and, in the hands of someone who knows what to do with the vibrating strings (this is were Reza comes in), music should emanate. But what do I know?

Step one: Go to the nearest music store that has guitar parts and purchase the only guitar nut they have for the outrageous price of $10.50 plus tax. An important part of this step is to muse over my expectation that there would be a lot of different guitar nuts of different sizes to pick from and wondering whether this store owner was a marketing genius who knew the one and only guitar nut to stock. My original inclination was to walk away and go somewhere else but since I live in the boondocks of Massachusetts, there really isn't a “somewhere else”. So I forked over the $10.50 for the bridge whose package promised improvement to my sustain and bass response. (See my comments above on the attributes of a guitar nut.) I also stopped to by a lottery ticket under the assumption that if this guitar nut actually fit, then my stars must be in alignment and I should jump on the opportunity and make millions on the lottery.

Step two: Return home and remove the broken guitar nut and compare it to the sustain and bass improving $10.50 guitar nut. Not even close. The store owner is not a marketing genius and my lottery ticket isn't worth the paper used to print it. A vitally important part of this step is to put the guitar nut in your pocket and not back on the guitar. The importance of this step will become obvious below.

Step three: Go on the Internet and find that there are a plethora of guitar nuts of varying sizes and made of a variety of materials all offering some amazing level of improvement regarding tone, sustain, response and other things. (See my comments above on the attributes of a guitar bridge and the physics of a vibrating string.) One even promised to take three strokes off my golf game. The price of a particular nut in the Internet seems to be associated with the complexity of the spelling of the material making up the nut. It should be noted that I could not find a nut for anything near $10.50. The prices were much cheaper for even the most exotic material. However, when shipping and handling was added the price jumped to $43.29, which, if I am not mistaken, is more than the guitar cost.

Step three point five: Start thinking about carving a nut out of ebony. As a woodworker, I have some ebony (a really hard African wood) and the tools to do it. An important part of this step is to muse about whether ebony is sufficiently hard to meet criteria one of my two part criteria for a suitable nut (see above). It should be noted that I do not know how long this step takes since I was still in my muse state when I finished fixing the nut.

Step four: Go shopping for Thanksgiving stuff with your wife really far away from where you live and stop at a liquor store to buy some Jack Daniels and Jameson and note that there is a music store next to the liquor store.

Step five: Go into the music store, reach into your pocket (see Step Two above), take out the broken guitar nut and say, “Do you have one of these?” At this point, the guitar fixer guy takes out a box full of many different sizes and types of guitar nuts. Things are looking up. After comparing many different nuts the guitar fixer guy declares, “This one is pretty close.” It was in fact close but not exact. My opinion is that this is definitely close enough and the price of “two bucks” sounded pretty good. Then the guitar fixer guy says, “Ya know ya can fix the one you have with Super Glue and baking soda. Ya need the thick Super Glue and ya mix in some baking soda. Put it on the part that is missing and it gets as hard as a bastard.” I quickly took out my Pocket Reference for Materials Management (which I have with me at all times), looked up “hard as a bastard” and was impressed. (See an extract of the Pocket Reference at the end of this document). Now “hard as a bastard” is pretty hard and at least as hard as both criteria one and two above. I really like the idea of fixing the guitar nut with baking soda because nobody wants to fix anything any more. Just trow it out and get a new one. So I bought the “two buck” nut as an insurance policy and finished buying the Jack Daniels and Jameson.

For everyone who slept through your materials engineering classes on the Brinell Hardness Measures of particular materials:

As a woodworker, I am very familiar with cyanoacrylate glue. It is the real name for Super Glue only it comes in much larger bottles and in different thicknesses. I always have the thick stuff on hand so I was eager to get into the shop and try it out.
Step six: On the way home, stop at the original music store and return the $10.50 guitar nut and watch as the store owner puts the nut back on the wall in its lonely place and wonder how many times it has been through this process.

Step seven: Get about 1/8 of a teaspoon of baking soda and a few drops of thick cyanoacrylate glue. Mix them together. Put the paste on the part of the guitar nut that is missing. Spray on some accelerator (so it gets as hard as a bastard faster). Repeat until the missing part is more than filled in. File down the excess glue/baking soda mound to the exact shape of the guitar nut. File in a new track for the string.
Step eight: Put the repaired guitar nut on the guitar and tighten all the strings (fully expecting the pressure of the string to fracture the glue/baking soda mix). Be amazed that it holds together and that the string that is sitting on the repair has improved sustain and improved bass response.

Step nine: Play the guitar.