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Old January 1st, 2009, 04:01 PM   #1 (permalink)
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bone or plastic nut?

How can I tell if the nut has been changed to bone? My 2004 MIM tele I bought used appears to have been professionally setup by the previous owner or his tech. It was setup with super low action, the lowest I'd ever seen on any guitar and yet there was no string buzz anywhere. The nut is a dirty white color and I can't tell if it is plastic or if its been upgraded to bone. How can I tell?

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Old January 1st, 2009, 04:20 PM   #2 (permalink)
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If it looks and feels like plastic it's plastic. In my experience the stock plastic MiM nuts look very yellowish (and a bit glossy) and frequently have poorly cut (e.g. too deep, irregular) string slots. Could be something else entirely like TUSQ or corian, too.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 04:23 PM   #3 (permalink)
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this doesn't have any yellow tint to it at all, like I said, dirty white, if anything its white with a touch of gray mixed in. It's also very well cut, string spacing, depth all perfect.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 04:29 PM   #4 (permalink)
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sounds like bone. Picture please
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Old January 1st, 2009, 04:35 PM   #5 (permalink)
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If it's good, it doesn't matter what it is.
If you're really curious, you could file a bit off (you could take it off the top...strings don't need to be deeper than about 3/4 their diameter) and, while you're filing, smell for that smell you get when the dentist is drilling your teeth.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 05:30 PM   #6 (permalink)
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You could do the Antiques Road Show approach and use a red hot straight pin to poke into the nut. If it smells like burning hair (protein) then it is bone.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 05:49 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Yep, bone smells like getting a tooth drilled when heated or sanded. I found that out making the saddle for my acoustic. Most of the bone I've seen wasn't shiny unless it's been polished.

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Old January 1st, 2009, 09:19 PM   #8 (permalink)
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if anything its white with a touch of gray mixed in. .
From that description, my first guess would be Tusq, but certainly doesn't rule out it being stock Fender or something else.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 10:17 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Could also be Corian.
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 01:15 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Its very easy to smell the difference , when working on it....You can also use the soldering iron , or similar. Real bone wont be affected , plastic will....Never tried heat on a Tusq nut , will it react like plastic ?
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 07:20 AM   #11 (permalink)
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AllParts sells pre-cut bone nuts in both flat and curved bottom that I've used with good results. Slots can be deepended to get the best set-up. As one of the earliers posts suggested, a set of nut files is required but they'll pay for themselves many times over if you're a project guy.

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Old January 2nd, 2009, 07:48 AM   #12 (permalink)
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As already mentioned the ONLY way to tell if it's bone is to lightly sand one side edge with perhaps 220 or 320 grit and sniff - you'll know immediately if it's bone, or if it's not. I polish bone nuts and saddles to a 12000 grit near mirror shine that can easily be mistaken for plastic.

FWIW ... There are only three materials I prefer for making nuts and saddles - unbleached cow or water buffalo bone (bleaching removes resin and makes the bone brittle), horn (black water buffalo, deer, cow, etc), Corian counter top plastic (created under enormous pressure, this plastic is way hard and very uniform in density and comes in a huge array of vintage cool colors - pick up some 1/4" x 2" samples for free at yer local Home Despot!).
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 08:39 AM   #13 (permalink)
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As already mentioned the ONLY way to tell if it's bone is to lightly sand one side edge with perhaps 220 or 320 grit and sniff - you'll know immediately if it's bone, or if it's not. I polish bone nuts and saddles to a 12000 grit near mirror shine that can easily be mistaken for plastic.

FWIW ... There are only three materials I prefer for making nuts and saddles - unbleached cow or water buffalo bone (bleaching removes resin and makes the bone brittle), horn (black water buffalo, deer, cow, etc), Corian counter top plastic (created under enormous pressure, this plastic is way hard and very uniform in density and comes in a huge array of vintage cool colors - pick up some 1/4" x 2" samples for free at yer local Home Despot!).
+1 on what Rob said.

I only use bone or corian and can micro-mesh them pretty dam shiny. Hard to tell from plastic just by looking.
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 06:18 PM   #14 (permalink)
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It's the "touch of gray" that makes it likely to be Tusq, because I notice that when looking at a new tusq nut or saddle.

And by Tusq, I mean the synthetic stuff with that exact name. Someone on another forum recently said they had used "fossilized Tusq".

Maybe he was from WAAAY in the future. LOL !
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 10:12 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Somewhere I read about a luthier who uses bones from his backyard to make nuts. These are the ones that his dog has left for dead and have been sunbleached forever. He saws them into shape and files them to fit the guitar he is working on.

Free guitar parts, (grin).

I need to replace the nut on my new Squire Butterscotch Blonde Tele. Several strings sound dead even after replacement. The same strings sound nice and live when fretted. I'm thinking bone. Any other suggestions?
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 10:30 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Somewhere I read about a luthier who uses bones from his backyard to make nuts. These are the ones that his dog has left for dead and have been sunbleached forever. He saws them into shape and files them to fit the guitar he is working on.

Free guitar parts, (grin).
Been there, done that.

I was doing a project and was under the gun to get it done and realized I was out of bone blanks. It was going to take a week or so to order one in from my usual supplier so I got one of the dog's old bones from the back yard and cut a few nut blanks from it. I know a couple other people with similar stories.
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 11:06 AM   #17 (permalink)
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I may find out that what I did is really unacceptable in the guitar world, but here goes....
I used some deer antler to fabricate a few nuts for my guitars. Since I never get very big antlered deer, there is less chance of getting the soffter inner core if you make sure to use the tips of the antlers. Larger antlers could be much easier to work on, I may never know.
Anyway, it's a way to personalise my instuments and I look at it as a tribute to the deer and a way to honor him (and they sound good too).
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 11:17 AM   #18 (permalink)
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From what I've heard antler makes pretty good nuts and saddles BUT there are some pretty strict laws about its use and how it is obtained. You should check with your local authorities about the situation where you live. I have heard that in some places it is illegal to pickup shedded antler that you may find laying on the ground in the bush.
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 01:11 PM   #19 (permalink)
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easy way to tell bone from plastic. put your finger on the edge and try to pull your finger back. If your finger has resistance or there feels like some grip then its bone. Plastic nuts usually just let your finger slide right off.
Other composite materials will kind of be in between. Tusq is a good example of that as well graphite
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Old May 8th, 2010, 11:52 AM   #20 (permalink)
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This is an old thread, but I wanted to chime in that I have made many a superb guitar nut from Stag and Deer antler as suggested above. I actually prefer it to camel or cow bone.

Great sound, increased sustain, helps keep strings in tune, and they have all held up VERY well in the wear and tear department as well. Plus, this material is easy to find in my neck of the woods.
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