Ask a Luthier Codabows Instruments Links Pi Guitar String Band Contact
Return to questions listing:
Newsletter Article (from the archives)

Well it's time to start up the newsletter presses again. How about this article from the archives.
Q: I have a 1958 mahogany top Gibson in good shape. I'm debating between a bone nut and saddle or a real ivory nut and saddle. I want to get as bright of tone from her as possible. Which do you suggest?
A: The cruel truth is that the brightest nut and saddle are made out of Tusq. It is a high tech plastic. It is much more "live" than either bone or Ivory. When you drop it on a hard surface it "rings." Taylor guitars come from the factory with Tusq. Needless to say, Tusq would not be original equipment on a 1958 Gibson.
        Ivory is illegal. I have a lot of Ivory from elephants killed before 1975. This Ivory is technically legal but if you were stopped at an international border you would have to prove its age to cranky, unsympathetic customs agents. Fossil ivory comes from wooly mammoths. The mammoths died out 20,000 years ago. Limiting the use of their teeth would do them no good. Its voracity is easier to prove because the angle of intersection of grain lines in the end grain is different, and it just looks old. Ivory "rings" like Tusq but it is much heavier.
        I use bone for almost everything. It works easy and sounds good. It's traditional, and cheap. The best ivory may sound a little better than the best bone.  There is more variation within ivory than between Ivory and bone. The best bone is still available. The best ivory is very expensive (although I would love to sell you some of mine). 
Steve Mason

Return to Questions