Ivory inlays for lines in fretless conversion

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by gmjhowe, Dec 16, 2014.

  1. So, I am looking to do another fretless conversion. What can I say, I just don't get on with frets.

    To start off with, I wanted to address/question some of the ethical implementations of this.
    Essentially I have two source of ivory I can use.
    1. Old Piano Keys, perfect veneers of ivory ready to use.
    2. Mammoth Ivory, needs a lot of work to get it down to a thin veneer
    So, the Piano Keys are sat in a box, the rest of the piano is long gone, obviously elephant ivory has a long past of animals being killed and poached. Sure using this ivory isn't going to result in any more elephants being killed, however it does feel a little like using it/owning it in some way condones the suffering.

    The Mammoth Ivory on the other hand is entirely ethical, it is sourced from the bottom of a glacier where parts of mammoths and tusks come out occasionally. Because Mammoths are extinct there is no dilemma to be had. However as you may realise this isn't an infinite supply, it has doubled in price in the past year.

    I have used it to make a few nuts from, its really nice to work with. You can see the mammoth ivory is pretty thin slices already.

    (Mammoth Ivory on the Left, Elephant Ivory from Piano on the right)

    Here is a nut made from the mammoth ivory.
    DwaynieAD likes this.
  2. gsnad2000

    gsnad2000 Guest Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2011
    Owner of Wrong Way Customs
    Hey, I really like your build threads, just wondering on this one....why?
  3. michaelwayneharwood

    michaelwayneharwood Builder of the Wastelands Commercial User

    May 1, 2014
    Owner Melodious Resonance Constructs
    I really love this idea, and thanks for putting Mammoth Ivory on my radar. Sub'd!
  4. Thanks. Care to explain further?

    My main reason for why, is that I needed a veneer to fill fret lines with, I have both the normal ivory and the mammoth ivory kicking around.
    I just didn't feel 100% happy using the elephant stuff.

    As for the technical reasons why, ivory is hard wearing, so perfect to use in such a conversion.
  5. gsnad2000

    gsnad2000 Guest Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2011
    Owner of Wrong Way Customs
    Hey sorry for maybe the dumb post...
    I guess using the ivory just to fill lines seemed like a bit of a waste to me. I totally get its use as nut material, or for inlays, something where you get a bit more bang for your buck so to speak. Seems like as fret lines the ivory would just disappear into forgottenland.
    BrBss and gmjhowe like this.
  6. JustForSport

    JustForSport Guest

    Nov 17, 2011
    I'd be concerned that the ivory is not the same hardness as the fingerboard and will wear slower, leaving raised 'frets'. Dunno...
  7. scourgeofgod


    Aug 17, 2006
    I've never owned a fretless, does the fretboard really wear down like that, leaving the inlays raised? If so, I would think the everything should hold up fine if you finish the fretboard in epoxy or what have you. I vote mammoth for ethical/mojo reasons.
  8. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    agreed, other than the bragging rights (which nobody will notice or be impressed by unless you tell them about it), it seems like a waste of essentially irreplaceable ivory.
  9. I've used old piano ivory veneer before. I laminated a nut blank for this 6 string bass.


    My 8yo son was looking over my shoulder and just asked me...
    Al; "what's ivony"
    me; "Ivory, is the bone that comes from elephant tusks or horns"
    Al; "how do they get it"
    me; "they have to kill the elephant to get the tusks"
    Al; "that's really sad..."

    He's right. I say re-use/recycle the ivory for something beautiful and noble like your bass. And when people ask what you used for the line markers, its a chance to say, "Some poor elephant died so they could take this for a piano. Let's make sure that doesn't happen again."
  10. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Ivory is a material that I simply wont touch, even mammoth or recycled ivory. Not that you are doing anything at all wrong by using it, but I feel that its use, even if its reused ivory still proves that there is a market for it. The mammoth ivory trade has to be an incentive to poachers with no ethics, that could care less about the elephant populations
  11. michaelwayneharwood

    michaelwayneharwood Builder of the Wastelands Commercial User

    May 1, 2014
    Owner Melodious Resonance Constructs
    This is not meant to be snarky, but rather a question born of genuine curiosity. Do you feel that by using mammoth ivory gathered by harvesting the material from extinct creatures frozen under glacial ice it increases the demand for ivory in general (whether real or perceived) and contributes to the ivory harvesting problem in general?
  12. I am glad you weighed in, because your opinion is one I respect. I think I both agree and disagree with you.
    As you can tell from my initial message I was unsure whether it was right to use the recycled ivory.
    While I doubt there is ever going to be a resurgence in Ivory use, using it does feel like condoning what happened. (Thats where I agree with you).
    As 'nice' as it may be, really I should be thinking of destroying/binning the actual ivory.

    A few articles I have read hint at the idea that elephant poaches were trying to sell elephant ivory as if it was mammoth ivory. However those seem to be concerns/worries with no actual instances of it happened. As you can see mammoth ivory looks completely different. I can see how a tourist or some such may not realise thats the case.
    The mammoth ivory is actually a mineralised 'fossil' hence the patterns.

    At the same time, some articles suggest that mammoth ivory is helping to stop elephant poaching entirely.

    Whats really interesting is one article referred to there being '150 million' mammoth tusks in the tundra of Russia.
    So, while I had always known it was a finite source, there is every chance we might run out of oil first.

    One thing is for sure, I don't think its worth my effort doing lines with the mammoth ivory. They would be better suited (as suggested) to doing an inlay on the fretboard, as with mother of pearl.
  13. Elk also have ivory. and many other animals. to the googles!
  14. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Well, its kind of a grey area to me. The fact that people are going to the trouble of finding mammoth ivory as an alternative to killing elephants means that there is still a market for ivory. Collecting and selling mammoth ivory in itself is totally a totally responsible, and ethical method of meeting a demand for a useful material, be it for guitar nuts, piano restoration, jewelry ect. The grey area in my mind comes from that fact that humans can be very cruel and heartless, and have a tendency to take advantage of a situation. Poachers will see the harvesting of mammoth ivory as a sign that there is still a strong demand for ivory, and they know that not everyone has the morals to only obtain it in an ethical and legal way.
  15. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    If you are referring to their antlers, that is not true. Their teeth can be considered ivory, but they are not big enough to do much with. Ivory is basically a tooth (dentine) with no enamel on its surface, from what I have read, and remember, don't quote me on that. The only animals on earth today that have ivory in the traditional sense are elephants and walruses, at least ivory in quantities large enough to be useable.
  16. Here's another thought:

    There may well be "150 million" mammoth tusks in the tundra of Russia, but how is that mammoth-sized tusk cache retrieved? How much gas and other resources are being, or will be, used to retrieve the tusks? It could be a costly endeavour of elephantine proportions.

    Reminds me of the neodymium conundrum. The neodymium material is being used to make electric motors for cars and turbines for windmills for clean energy purposes, but the neodymium harvesting is leaving tailings ponds of hazardous material behind. Then, of course, the electric car has no emissions, but the energy to charge the electric car's battery has to come from somewhere... many power grids are fueled by burning coal, or hydro-electric with wildlife habitat destroyed by the acre so a dam(n) reservoir can be built, nuclear reactors...

    There's no easy answers. How many people bother to turn off their modems and computers when they're done surfing? Human-kind's increasingly voracious appetite for energy makes re-using ivory piano keys pale by comparison.

    I'm all for recycling. I'd rather the piano detritus be reborn than simply sent to the dump to be buried, incinerated or whatever. Whether re-using ivory piano keys promotes continued poaching or not, I can't say.

    What I would say, were I to re-use the piano-key ivory as fretlines and somebody asked about them, I'd simply state it was a recycled organic material.

    170px-Ivory_trade.jpg Pachyderm protruberances, de-finitely something to fret over...
  17. Lets not even get started on the helium repository. Where due to some silly decision America is selling it off dirt cheap even though we have a limited amount of it.

    Saddens me to see helium balloons by the thousands. A literal waste of the substance.
  18. gsnad2000

    gsnad2000 Guest Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2011
    Owner of Wrong Way Customs
    Makes me light headed just thinking about it....
    gmjhowe likes this.
  19. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    I wonder if it would really look any different if you used a cream colored plastic or rock maple? The fret slots are so thin it will just look like some unidentifiable beige material, so why Ivory?
  20. And I thought you were Joking...

    It's no laughing matter, such as N2O.