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Elephant tusk
Author
Post
naccoachbob

Total Topics: 26
Total Posts: 261
A friend of mine who makes knives gave me a bunch of small pieces of elephant tusk. Due to time limitations, I didn't find out where or how he got them. I do believe though that he's had them for many, many years.
Some of the pieces are large enough to make bridges and nuts out of.
There appears to be some type of "grain" with them, so does anyone know what to look for regarding that?
Is there a sound element involved in using tusk as opposed to bone? Are there advantages to using it? In what way would it affect tone?
How hard is it to work?
Lastly, for now, is there a legal issue? Again, I don't know the provenance of the pieces. The man who gave them to me is an upstanding person. I doubt the guitars I make will go out of the country, nor will they be sold.
Thanks,
Bob

May 23, 10 | 2:29 pm
blues creek guitars Authorized Martin Repair Ctr

Total Topics: 52
Total Posts: 1011
tusk is called Ivory and is desirable but is a controlled substance

John Hall

May 24, 10 | 4:19 pm
RayRay

Total Topics: 21
Total Posts: 190
Ok, you can get a lot of answers here...and I'm NOT advocating killing any elephants..or dealing in an illegal substance, but I have had a nut and saddle from walrus tusk given to me by a Native Alaskan (Makes it legal! But it IS fossilized and picked up on the beach and therefore legal anyway....they CAN tell the difference).
Ivory CAN be purchased legally. Pre-"Cities" or fossilized ivory is LEGAL.
I'm not an expert and I've been told proving it can be a problem sometimes if you are reselling or retailing it...but usually the color of Old ivory is pretty obvious indicator of it's age...if it's OLD ivory it should be pretty easy to tell. Lot's of users purchase old ivory items and re-cut it to make knifes with etc.
You didn't say how much you had or intend to use...but the quantity in your case sounds very small, if so... I personally wouldn't worry about it...like I said, they CAN tell how old ivory is. Not all, but most has a pinkish or old linen color cast to it..just like old teeth, it's rarely white.
Don't know about the grain. None of that I have.. has a "Grain".
I know the sound is remarkable in the stuff I've seen. (I have a VERY old...mid 1800's... mandolin with more than 100 pieces inlaid in the back and elsewhere and it has a nut and saddle as well...amazing! Then it could be the BRW too! :)
Again, this is all just my personal opinion. If you chose to sell the guitar, I would think you would want to remove the saddle and nut for your own personal use anyway...
HOWEVER and in any event, I would contact your friend and find out about the source and age of the ivory.. just for kicks and historical knowledge if for no other reason.
Sounds like a heck of a "Gimmie" to me! :)

May 24, 10 | 5:36 pm
naccoachbob

Total Topics: 26
Total Posts: 257
Thanks John and Ray.
There are about 13 pieces, but only about 5-6 that are of size to make a nut or bridge. The coloring you describe, Ray, is what I'm seeing. It does look pretty old.
I will contact him on this to verify as much as he can.
As far as grain, I might have been looking at discoloration. Maybe even tool marks. I'll go back and examine better.
Bob

May 24, 10 | 5:41 pm
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
Ivory works very well. It is softer than most of the bone I've had for nuts and saddles and I personally wouldn't use it for a steel stringed instrument unless it was a museum-quality restoration of an old instrument. Yes, it has grain and often, discoloration.

I suspect you mean "saddle" instead of "bridge." Many high-end guitars of the nineteenth century had ivory bridges, mostly replaced with ebony by now. There may be reasons other than aesthetics and cost for using ebony. Saddles were made of a bunch of materials, ivory among them.

I have ivory scavenged from an old scrimshaw factory. I made a couple of saddles from it but really didn't find any advantage to tone. At this point, I'd only use it for very special projects and other than restorations of valuable instruments, I can't think of any.

One very important thing: if ivory is used on a guitar, be VERY SURE that the owner knows about it! It is illegal, so I'm told, to transport it across the border of any country that is signatory to CITES unless there is clear provenance, which in this case sounds impossible. It would be a serious drag to have your guitar confiscated and a Federal action brought against both the owner and builder for using illegal materials.

May 24, 10 | 7:24 pm
naccoachbob

Total Topics: 26
Total Posts: 257
That's good information and advice.
I did mean saddle vice bridge. If it's softer than bone, then it probably wouldn't be good for my purpose, which is to make these guitars for my kids and for them to pass them along.
I'll probably just put this away. Don't know of any other uses for it, so I'll just hold on to it for now.
Thanks everyone for your input on this.
One thing I didn't mention was that it was bothering my conscience a bit. I was a little uneasy about using something that possibly could have been illegal, plus, although it's a stretch, have perpetuated killing of elephants. That's kinda far out, but that's the way my feeble mind thinks sometimes.
Again, thanks all.
Bob

May 24, 10 | 7:39 pm
RayRay

Total Topics: 21
Total Posts: 190
Just one more comment on bone vs. ivory. The subject is quite "Subjective" to say the very least.
BOTH vary widely from specimen to specimen and their individual "Hardness" will vary depending on where they are from, both in location and the type or age or condition of the animal, how long they have been in the ground (In the case of fossilized ivory which has a broad definition) and how old it is in chronological terms.
"Ivory" IE: tusk material, either from walrus, mastodon, modern elephant, saber tiger, or any other source, is in a word a "Tooth".
The enamel coating is what we are talking about here, and among other things, it's thickness and intended use in nature.
My archaeological professor from more years ago than I would like to remember, would insist that the tusk material the Mastodon and modern elephant is much harder than that of the meat eating species of the era simply because masticating flora and fauna is harder on teeth than meat....and these animals lived longer.
Oh boy, what a can of worms THAT statement can open.. :)
I don't know, my dentist says enamel hardness varies widely, thus...some people have good teeth and others do not...I DO know in the case of species from long ago, I have observed samples under a microscope and can say for sure that the thickness and hardness of the enamel surface does indeed vary widely.
I would assume, it would make a difference in sound transfer as well and that there are many considerations in choosing both materials for an intended purpose, and that it isn't enough to say one is harder or softer or better than the other a given situation.
I know that my Brother-in-law is a Native Alaskan and comes from a long line of carvers in his family dating back over a 1000 years.
He insists that ivory or the tusks from walrus and the teeth from modern seals isn't anywhere near as hard as it used to be...and that he can pick up tusks that often wash up on beaches in the far north during summer storms, that are way superior to the new stuff for carving.
His Grandfather's grandfather said the same thing, so it would appear things are a changing.
My point is, before I would dismiss it as being "Unusable" or inferior I would look into it a bit more.
I respect your concern for the animals in question, and the impact profiteers would have on a species, however one must remember, all animals die naturally and their remains are scattered all over this planet, man has been picking up these pieces and utilizing them since he first evolved to a point where he knew the difference, I'm not sure that's such a sin.

May 25, 10 | 1:28 am
RayRay

Total Topics: 21
Total Posts: 190
P.S. I LIKE man-made material for nuts and saddles, especially corian, Graph Tech TUSQ and Graph Tech TUSQ black.. it's tough, consistant and cheap. :)

May 25, 10 | 1:37 am
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
Since the material was identified as "elephant ivory" I wasn't talking about fossilized ivory or modern walrus. I don't have any problem with using the latter materials and, so far as I know, there are no restrictions on its import and export. It's also very different from elephant ivory in hardness, again, in my experience.

The whole issue of use of rare materials is a problem for me. Ivory from an elephant who died a natural death seems like a non-issue. It means cash for poor people, the elephant isn't using it anymore, what the heck. But people with a lot of experience and knowledge say that allowing the sale of such leads to the continued exploitation and killing of the remaining elephants. I have to trust their judgement on this. Even the use of so-called "stump wood" (the "natural death" argument applied to trees) creates a continuing demand for rosewoods that would be best left alone. I don't like participating, even at a remove, in the on-going destruction of ecosystems. To do so for the mistaken idea that something is the "best" material (only because the luthiers of a century ago used it), is close to criminal.

May 25, 10 | 8:48 am
RayRay

Total Topics: 21
Total Posts: 190
:)

May 25, 10 | 9:06 am
~frank

Total Topics: 2
Total Posts: 25
This is a good discussion. All the nuts and saddles I've made have been bone. I have never used ivory, but have been interested in its properties. Here's an information page from a vendor who sells bone and legal ivory for guitars.

http://www.guitarpartsandmore.com/?nav=materials

This is strictly for information. I have never bought from them nor do I have any financial interest in their company.

May 25, 10 | 9:15 am
RayRay

Total Topics: 21
Total Posts: 190
Thanks Frank, some good info there. :)

May 25, 10 | 2:01 pm
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
Some good information but an attitude worthy of ... dismissal.

"Maybe that selection [non-ivory] will assuage the anguish of your bereavement in your pin-headed world of nature worship."

I would never do business with someone who advertises such an attitude and I would hope that NO luthier or other craftsperson would, either. What a short-sighted ignorant statement.

May 25, 10 | 3:59 pm
naccoachbob

Total Topics: 26
Total Posts: 257
I had only read the first page of that link, and didn't go to the one specifically about pre-ban ivory. But I agree with Running Dog (I've seen your name somewhere but can't remember it).
I am entitled to my opinion on whether or not to use any product, and would never do business with anyone who calls me an idiot for my beliefs or even my inclinations. I may not agree with people on different topics, but I still respect their right to have an opinion. They can keep their opinion, and I'll keep my money.
I had set that site as a favorite, but it's gone now.


May 25, 10 | 4:52 pm
~frank

Total Topics: 2
Total Posts: 25
Your opinions about that guy's opinions are duly noted. FWIW, I didn't even consider them because I thought the information content was useful.


May 26, 10 | 2:58 pm
fishtownmike

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 4
This day an age I prefer to use synthetic material like those made by graph tech. I love their Tuswq products for bridge saddles, nuts and bridge pins. In my opinion it sounds as good as bone or ivory though there are those who will argue otherwise....Mike

May 29, 10 | 9:33 pm



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