Could bone be used in violin making?

May 29, 2021, 4:32 AM · Hi, another one for luthiers...

I know bone is used as a guitar nut... could it be used as a violin nut as well?
Why is it not used or even offered as a valid option?
The white-yellow color would break the violin aesthetics?
What if it improves the sound?
And how about a brass nut?
That would certainly change the sound dramatically, and in some violins could be a change that could improve the sound so much, I am guessing...

... and why guitars use bone nuts instead of ebony nuts, which sounds like a good idea as well?
The fretboard is made of ebony in many of them, they end up with lots of ebony cuts as well, so I don't understand why guitars stuck to bone instead of the already existing ebony nut from traditional instruments...

I don't mean it as "mandatory", but it's really weird that you just don't see guitar players even discuss about ebony, only bone, plastic, brass, tusq...

... and for that matter... what about the bridge?
Could you make a bone bridge? Brass, ebony?
Again a black bridge would break the aesthetics of the violin?

Have you ever played with different materials in your "spare" time (luthiers) to check what would happen?
I mean, not a "I am going to reinvent the violin" situation, but a fairly reasonable situation where you have ebony pieces around and think: what if I make a bridge out of it and see how it works?
And how about bone?

Replies (31)

Edited: May 29, 2021, 7:08 AM · The physics of a plucked string (guitar) is quite different to that of a bowed string (violin). I think this might have something to do with the different materials being used and the resultant sound.

Also, if you start using bone then you may have to produce a certificate to say that it is NOT ivory whenever you cross an international border....way too much trouble !

NOTE : what animal does the bone come from when used in guitars ?

May 29, 2021, 7:09 AM · I have a violin that uses bone, I am pretty sure. Never asked the maker to confirm.

And it looks nothing like ivory,

Edited: May 29, 2021, 8:13 AM · To those in the know, bone may look nothing like ivory but I doubt if officials at airports would know the difference. Keep your travels with the violin as simple as possible.
Edited: May 29, 2021, 8:35 AM · As far as I am aware of, the bone is from buffalo, although I am quite curious if buffalo bone is any different from, for example, chicken bone or cow bone. I was buying a raw piece of buffalo bone for my guitar in a music store, to make the nut myself, and I was wondering if I can go to my local butcher shop, ask for a piece of a nice cow bone or chicken bone and use it.

These bones come in 2 varieties: raw bone, which has a yellowish white tone, and treated bone, which is the same as raw bone but they make it pure white (in my opinion less beautiful, and artificial).

Also, about the ivory issue, it must not be a problem because the guitar industry sells thousands of bone nuts, even raw pieces for you to make it, so there must be no problem at all.

I was just checking out why ivory is "illegal". I've always thought elephants were fine, not endangered at all. If ivory becomes a really demanded material, they would farm elephants and supply the demand, right?

Besides of course using them for many other purposes. Just like we do with chickens, cows, fishes, etc...

Edited: May 29, 2021, 10:31 AM · how ignorant is that, in most of Africa, elephants are endangered, anyone that proposes killing elephants for ivory or sport is scum of the earth, and doesn't deserve to be among us
Edited: May 29, 2021, 11:29 AM · It makes no difference to the sound. Bone has been used on violins historically and on "folk art" fiddles. I think it looks nice, but it seems the general public prefers ebony.

Ivory and bone are not interchangeable terms. One is now a controlled material, the tusks harvested from very much endangered elephants killed solely for that purpose... the other is just a general word for any animal bone used for carving. Actually, one reason people might shy away from bone is because they don't want to be stopped at the airport, it having been mistaken for ivory

You can't really farm elephants because they take so long to mature, not to mention that they're bloody massive and expensive to feed.

May 29, 2021, 11:25 AM · Elephants tusks are actually a form of teeth I believe, didn't Hitler kill Jews for their teeth, not a good thing to think about.
May 29, 2021, 11:38 AM · Somehow, I don't think he was motivated by the collection of ivory.
May 29, 2021, 11:46 AM · Lyndon, that was the era of gold fillings. And that wasn't the reason anyway.
May 29, 2021, 11:46 AM · Chicken bone would not work, it's much too soft. It would have to be a weight bearing bone from a large animal.
May 29, 2021, 11:55 AM · Is this a thread from April 1?
Edited: May 29, 2021, 12:02 PM · Cotton, how can you say that it makes no difference in sound?
Of course it makes a difference. I've tried brass as a nut and the sound is, as you would expect, brighter, and it also affects the sustain. Specially in an acoustic instrument is most noticeable, since you don't have pickups or electronics that mess with the tone. Of course, only for open notes.

No this is no joke, why would it be a joke?
Guitars and many instruments use bone to make different parts: inlays, nuts, bridge nuts, etc... It's basically that, plastic or brass. Haven't heard of ebony or other wood, and I don't know why.

Ann, how about cow bone?
Is there any bone expert in the thread, hahaha?
I would rather use something from a local shop that buy it online x400 more expensive.

Edited: May 29, 2021, 12:15 PM · Ok, my bad. If you're playing twinkle twinkle on open strings it makes a conceivable but nigh undetectable change in sound to 2 out of the 6 notes in the tune. Maybe if you played it like a guitar the extra sustain would be welcome.

The only consideration is a cosmetic one.

Edited: May 29, 2021, 12:23 PM · I bought a few guitar and uke bridge blanks many years ago. I think they may be mammoth ivory (tens of thousands of mammoth have been dredged up from the North Sea). Or more likely they are cow bone. I didn't keep the receipts.

You can have a custom made piano with the keys covered with mammoth ivory.

May 29, 2021, 12:24 PM · Paul N, on violin family instruments, ebony for upper nuts and lower saddles can be recycled from things like old fingerboards, tailpieces, and chinrests. On guitars, an ebony fretboard is typically too thin to form into parts like an upper nut, and usually isn't replaced very often anyway, since the frets take most of the wear, rather than the fingerboard itself.
May 29, 2021, 12:53 PM · Thank you David.

Do you experiment with materials sometimes?

I am curious about an ebony bridge. Nothing crazy like making a whole top out of ebony, but there kind of things.

Edited: May 29, 2021, 4:57 PM · "tens of thousands of mammoths have been dredged up from the North sea"
---------------------------------------------------- No, not even one. Just some bones, and bone parts.
May 29, 2021, 1:13 PM · I suspect that if you're talking about complete mammoths, you have to look toward Siberia.
Edited: May 29, 2021, 1:34 PM · A cow is a large animal. So a weight bearing bone from cattle would be worth an experiment. I'm as close to a bone expert here as you can get probably though that's not my field.
May 29, 2021, 2:03 PM · What is the nut material on Paganini's Cannone?
I would think that it would be to make the violin brighter.
Edited: May 29, 2021, 2:15 PM · I've forgotten if I can post pics here. But here is a link to a maker who seems to like bone.

Edited: May 29, 2021, 2:44 PM · YEAH!

Jeff, I knew I saw a white nut violin before, a famous one. It was that one. I've just read it's... IVORY!
I would swear that also baroque violins tend to have white nuts, right?

Thank you Ann. Could it be that the densest bones are in the parts of an animal where there is more weight to support?
Would not this mean that paws and legs bones are the best ones?
But may be they are not suitable for this because they are many a small?

It would be totally epic if I could use the bones of local cows to make the nuts for my guitars in the future. It would feel like cooking with your own ingredients instead of buying them in the market.

Edited: May 29, 2021, 3:03 PM · I said weight bearing bone. That means the densest bone. Paw bones are not weight bearing, long bones are weight bearing. It should be noted that ivory is not bone. It has a different composition. It has less hydroxyapatite and is softer than bone. Therefore bone is more brittle than ivory.

It should be noted that jokes about the causes of the Holocaust are always in bad taste.

May 29, 2021, 3:08 PM · ..."I've always thought elephants were fine, not endangered at all. If ivory becomes a really demanded material, they would farm elephants and supply the demand, right?"

That is just disturbing to the core.

Edited: May 29, 2021, 3:20 PM · In a precision frenzy, Erin forgot the tusks of course.
May 29, 2021, 5:26 PM · Paul, I've experimented with many materials. Ebony is rather heavy for a bridge, and overly-heavy bridges seem to kill the brilliance and loudness, a little in the direction of putting a mute on.
Edited: May 29, 2021, 6:10 PM · Well, knowing how much of an impact a different material must do to an acoustic instrument like violin, I was thinking it would be quite logical to offer different bridge materials, which is the easiest quickest way to change the way a violin sounds, same with the sound post (besides strings). I know bridges are modified, like thicker or thinner, but may be in some cases that's not enough or the violinist is still not satisfied. I don't know...

Rebecca, imagine the day you discover how all the meat in the world is created. You will be disturbed to the core, I guess, when you find out about cattle raising and generic animal husbandry. We humans have been doing it for more than 10000 years.

Ann, I don't know what you mean about paw bones not supporting weight. The exact amount of weight a femur support, all the bones below femur (parallel) also support. Indeed, I am inclined to think, or I literally think, that since paw upper areas tend to be smaller in radius than the femur, these areas support more pressure, because same weight, smaller area, higher value. Anyway this is off topic, hahahah.

Edited: May 29, 2021, 7:27 PM · Paul, while there is a small market for unusual sounding or looking violins, it's tiny, in the grand scheme of things.

I haven't tried an ebony bridge, but have made and tried bridges made from various composites, or composite/wood sandwiches (including balsa-core). As far as I was able to determine, they did not offer any advantages. Sometimes they were worse. Some of them could not be worked with tools in a conventional luthier's shop, which would be a downside when it comes to easily accessible modifications or maintenance.

When making parts from bone, keep in mind that much of a bone is marrow. Only the outside is "bone-like", so one needs to start with a pretty good-sized bone to make a part as large as an upper nut.

Edited: May 30, 2021, 6:53 AM · This viola d'amore has a rosette made of mammoth ivory:

That above link only shows the pics. This below link to the price list mentions the ivory rosette:


Also, the nut on this lute is bone:


Here is a bow-maker who offers an option of mammoth for the frog and button. I imagine that mammoth is ivory rather than bone?

May 29, 2021, 9:21 PM · Typically mammoth will be ivory. I've seen it from bow makers (especially baroque), and makers of piano keys.
May 30, 2021, 10:49 AM · I'm surprised that David found more than one or two bridge materials that didn't simply make them worse. One of Pat Naismith's students for his degree project made bridges of different woods plus on or two metal ones to investigate whether maple was really best for the purpose and got me to play with them. Only one of the woods was not noticeably worse than maple (I think it might have been boxwood), and it wasn't any better. The metal bridges were a complete disaster.
I have read, however, that the metal violin made by a certain tinker, John Bunyan by name, is actually playable!

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