I picked up my banjo today and found that the left half of the 5th string nut had broken off in the night, and the 5th string was now curling around the side of the banjo.
so, I loosened the string, pulled it around the remaining half of the nut, and tightened it up to see if I could jury rig it. before I got it up to G, the remaining half of the nut popped off. Now it's got no 5th string nut at all, and the nut is broken off so that the white base of the nut is flush with the fretboard.
I'm using a pen cap capo to keep it playable for the moment, but I guess I need to go to a local luthier to get a new one put on. A potential problem with that is that I live in Vietnam, where they make lots of guitars (some quite high quality, these are the luthiers I know) but no banjos.
So, my question: If I bring my banjo to an experienced non-banjo luthier for this repair, is there any instruction I can give him to get a good result? materials, methods, what not to do?
Fifth string nut replacement is not that much of a chore if you have decent eyesight and a steady hand. If you have access to a 1/8th drill bit and a hand drill. Power tools can run away from the less experienced. A replacement nut can be made from bone or a toothbrush handle or some hard plastic. Failing that you could screw a small round headed screw into the existing nut, a temporary measure, or fit a railroad spike to hold the string aginst the fret. There's plenty of good advice on this site. Type fifth string nut into the search bar. With patience you should be back in action in no time.
Uh, these two responses seem a little contradictory :) Anyone else want to weigh in?
gradelyduck, thanks for the tips on construction. For installation, I'm looking for advice like, make sure he does X instead of Y sanding and gluing a new nut is/is not ok this is dangerous and can get screwed up, you're better off with RR spikes
Three of my banjos have a "nut" also called a "pip" which is a small round headed screw as described by gradelyduck. Two of them (circa 1886 and 1892) are shown on my photo page. The screw slot is lower than the 5th fret and the string guided, by the slot rests on the 5th fret. I wouldn't hesitate to do this myself. Just make sure to drill a small pilot hole, so you don't split the fret board. A good Motorcycle Mechanic could also do this:) Here the S S Stewart
There are a bunch of traditional instrument builders in the 36 Streets area of Hanoi who have been constructing both concert quality instruemnts and tourist souvenirs for a long, respectable time. Some are family businesses. The one I'm most familiar with is Hong Tich, 24 Hang Gai. I once had the store shape a couple of fretless necks for me. They are not very familiar with banjos, but they are clever woodworkers and figured it out with some guidance. Next time you're in Hanoi, haul the thing with you. I was in HCMC, and Hanoi, in September. Sorry I did not know you were there. We could have traded tunes.
You could also visit the Stewart MacDonald website. They sell bone nut blanks and the slot files you need to cut the new slot. Just carefully drill out the old nut and replace it after you have slotted the new nut. Order a few nuts as they are inexpensive (in case you make a mistake) Good Luck..Jerry
A small piece of 1/8th"(3.175mm) round brass, steel, silver, bronze, bar stock with a fine slot will work too. On the high"G" the metal does not unduly emphasize the "ring" of the tone. I have a little piece of sterling silver 1/8th round stock and just the other day found it and sawed and grooved a couple-a tiny drop of CA in the hole holds them in place. This is one of the easiest fixes in the world of luthierie-I do use an old but elegant Millers Falls "egg beater" drill for best control-same as I do for tiny tuner screws, starter holes for bridges and the like. Ol Lefty
I used the stem of a plastic push-pin, cutting off the base and head leaving a piece just right in length. I used a razor to shave the diameter down a bite and a serrated paring knife to cut (saw) a slot in one end. Not having a drill handy, I used the paring knife (the blade curved to a point) to ream out the plastic pip remaining in the fret board after cutting off the broken pip level with the fretboard.