If you’re a vegan, you’ve probably wondered if your favorite stringed instrument conforms to your lifestyle. And you may also have discovered that many traditional guitars are not vegan, and use several animal products.
But we don’t think that should stop you from pursuing your passion! Here’s a quick guide that’ll tell the entire history of animal products in guitars, non-vegan parts of a guitar, and how you can get a vegan alternative for yourself.
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Are Guitars Cruelty-Free?
Historically, guitars have had animal products in them. Veganism was not popular at the time, and synthetic alternatives did not exist. So, if you look at traditional guitars, they are not vegan or cruelty-free.
But today the scenario is different. People have a greater concern for the environment and the well-being of animals. Hence, modern guitar manufacturers (and most other musical instruments) have taken to sustainable alternatives.
While animal products are still seen quite often (gut strings used in classical guitars, for example), if you’re a vegan, you have a lot of choices now. Let’s discuss the various vegan options available today, so you can continue playing your favorite music!
The History of Animal Products in Guitars
Animal products have a long history in the making of guitars. The first acoustic guitars included animal parts like bones and sinew. In the 1800s, some acoustic instruments were made with a hollow body that was filled with rubber, and the strings were fixed with pig gut.
Back when Spaniards first started using animal products in guitars, it was to make them more durable. Over time, the idea of using animal products in a guitar became a marketing tool.
Some guitar makers would tell customers that their guitars were made with animal products, and this would give the guitar a certain prestige and value. Especially with rare materials like ivory, which was harvested from elephants.
In the early 1900s, classical guitarists used gut strings, and it was only much later in the century that guitarists switched to nylon.
In the 2000s, some guitars were made from resin, and many others are made from a combination of wood and resin. Today, many people are aware that guitars are made with animal products. This has led to guitar manufacturers being more conscious and offering vegan-friendly guitars.
Guitar Parts Likely To Have Animal Products, And Their Alternatives
Most modern guitars are vegan as they use synthetic components. However, there are certain exceptions that you have to be aware of in case you are looking for a true cruelty-free instrument.
Here are some guitar parts that may use animal-derived materials for specific constituents.
These non-vegan parts are mostly confined to high-end guitars, so if you have a tight budget, these may not be of much concern, but keep them in mind anyways.
Traditionally, guitar strings were made out of cattle gut or dried-out lamb intestines. Many classical period music ensembles that play period music use natural gut strings for their bowed instruments.
The modern alternative for cattle gut strings are nylon strings, steel strings, and nickel wound strings. These synthetic and metal alternatives are not only vegan but also more durable and practical.
Who would have ever guessed that electric pickups utilize beeswax? Most guitar pickups today are still waxed with beeswax, as it offers unique tonal qualities to the wiring of the pickup.
But there are vegan alternatives like synthetic waxes, so you should confirm this from your guitar manufacturer, and get vegan-friendly pickups. The Fishman Modern Fluence series is a good vegan-friendly alternative, with a unique pickup design.
It is one of the tiniest parts of the guitar that sits near the top, yet it’s very important.
Its shape and material may affect the performance and tone of a guitar significantly. Hence, it is essential to consider the nature of the material and its effect on tone.
Historically, the nut has been made with animal products, but today you can get several synthetic, vegan alternatives.
Bone was used by early luthiers for several reasons. For one, it is very hard and could be worked like steel. It also has a high percentage of carbon which gives it a warm, rich tone. And finally, bone is lightweight and very easy to work with.
Although bone has always been in high regard in the community because of its bright tone, it has inconsistencies due to the presence of soft pockets within it.
It is, however, still used in old vintage models like Martin, Gibson, and Fender due to some critical factors like superior durability, desired resonance, and protection against mechanical shock.
Since ivory is outlawed, one of the better alternatives to bone would be fossilized ivory. Apart from having an equal tonal range compared to bone, it sounds more pronounced with better acoustic properties.
However, another questionable act is using priceless fossils, which are essential for disciplines like Paleontology for guitar parts. Fossils are also hard to come by, and hence very expensive. Hence their popularity in guitars has declined.
It is often considered a cheap alternative to bone and is used in budget models. They usually wear down due to friction with strings and may dull your tone. It is the most commonly used material for the job.
Though cheap, this is a great vegan alternative for budget guitars.
It has self-lubricating properties and is often great for bending on guitars fitted with tremolos. It offers smooth sound quality and is often very easy to work with.
It offers great variety in aesthetics as well as sound quality. It produces warm, smooth tones and is often considered a better and more affordable option than bone and fossilized ivory. Plus, it’s absolutely vegan.
This is a high-quality synthetic polymer made to improve on the drawbacks of bone, ivory, and other materials.
It’s a better vegan alternative for most musicians. It has become quite popular and used in high-end guitars from manufacturers such as Taylor, Tacoma, and Gibson.
Difference Between TUSQ and Bone
TUSQ is a relatively new compound for use in guitars. Hence we have provided the points below to clarify how it is different from a traditional material like bone.
- Bone and ivory are natural materials and therefore inconsistent, while TUSQ is synthetic and more consistent. You’ll get the same tone every time.
- Bone and ivory may wear unevenly over time. Some strings may sound good, while others will buzz or have less sustain. On the other hand, TUSQ has a more consistent sustain and tone, even as it wears out.
- Bone and ivory nuts need to be lubricated, whereas TUSQ nuts are self-lubricating.
This video should help clear any doubts you may have about TUSQ.
Neck and Fretboard Inlays
The neck is mainly made out of wood, so it’s vegan.
But what interests us is the fretboard inlay which may be made out of Mother of Pearl (MOP) in higher-end models. It is an animal product made from a substance produced by abalones, bivalves, and other mollusks.
Some species of abalone have also been used for guitar picks like green abalone, red abalone, and black abalone, but they are now critically endangered, and it is illegal to poach them.
Thankfully, synthetic abalone alternatives are now available. So you check what your guitar’s fretboard inlays are made of, and opt for a vegan alternative.
Instead of traditional leather straps, many modern guitar straps use fabrics, both natural and synthetic.
Often straps have to be bought separately from guitars, so keep an eye out for the product's description when you buy it from a store. You can get straps made of polyester or nylon.
Polishing, varnish, and other coatings may contain insect secretions and other organic components like tree resins.
This is one of the more challenging aspects to keep track of, as different manufacturers will use different products for the same finish. It is best to inquire about the finishing with the guitar manufacturer before buying. This way you’ll guarantee a vegan guitar.
Which companies are making vegan guitars?
Bedell Guitars is often praised for providing better vegan alternatives like the usage of acrylic materials in their fretboard inlays and has opted towards this course to raise environmental concerns.
They are genuinely transparent as they list species whose parts are used for each guitar model they manufacture.
Moondot music, based in Ireland, have gained high popularity in a short span of two years due to their conscious and unbiased approach towards environmental issues with minimal usage of animal products.
Most of the guitars and basses they manufacture are vegan. Most often, bell brass or tonewoods are used for nuts or saddles rather than traditional bone.
Taylor Guitars has recently switched to a new initiative that uses wood in local areas for various reasons and uses it to build guitars. This provides a more vegan-friendly option to guitarists worldwide. So you get the Taylor renowned quality, and still have a vegan-friendly guitar to play!
How to make your guitar vegan?
This is a question that has led manufacturers to take on new paths to satisfy the needs of their customers – in response to the growing number of environmentally conscious consumers. If you’re worried that your guitar isn’t vegan, here’s how you can modify it:
- Use nylon strings instead of gut strings. There are other vegan alternatives, such as steel strings for electric and acoustic guitars and bronze and nickel wound strings.
- Higher-end models often use mother of pearl for fretboard inlays and therefore are not vegan. Plastic, acrylic, mahogany, and other animal-free products are affordable vegan options.
- Replace bone nuts with TUSQ – a high synthetic quality polymer that is vegan and is quite affordable.
- The case of animal hide glue is still a bit problematic since it is one of the few animal-derived products still required to stick wood pieces together. If using minimal amounts of non-prominent animal products is not an issue, then it's okay. But otherwise, you have to confirm with the manufacturer to use only synthetic glue.
- Shellac is made from bugs and is often not used in newer guitars. Use polyurethane or nitrocellulose lacquer as a finish.
- There are also other options like custom-built vegan guitars or building your own as well. This ensures that every step of the process is vegan-friendly.
Bedell Guitars also launched a new line of vegan guitars called the Bedell Blackbird Vegan series to make sure you live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. They will provide you with desired details and model specifications.
These guitars are certified vegan, and you can see every plant and animal product being used in the construction process.
Synthetic Guitars That Don’t Even Use Wood
Modern technology has allowed guitars to be made out of nearly anything (and we really mean anything). So not only can you get a vegan guitar that’s free of animal products, but you can get a guitar that doesn’t even use wood or plant products!
One of my favorite examples of this is Aristides – a high-end Dutch guitar manufacturer that uses ‘Arium’, a newly developed material that offers incredible resonance and is used on all of their guitars. These guitars sound just like usual guitars, but are great alternatives to traditional wood designs.
You can also get guitars made from carbon fiber, aluminum, glass, richlite, and others! Though most of these are electric guitars, there are some interesting acoustic designs popping up as well. The possibilities are limitless!
Are Guitars Vegan? Conclusion
So, now you know all the vegan alternatives to guitars available today. Luckily, several guitars in production today are actually vegan and have little or no animal products involved in their construction.
Even if higher-end models have some animal products, you can have custom-built vegan guitars to your requirements.
By consulting the manufacturer of the guitar model of your choice, you can be sure that the guitar is 100% vegan. And of course, you can always consider a synthetic electric guitar with absolutely no animal or plant products.