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If you’re a vegan, or just consumer conscious when it comes to the use of animal products and/or animal testing, you’ve likely wondered if guitars could be considered vegan. Many non-vegan guitarists might initially laugh at the question considering the main components are usually wood-based or metallic-based products.
However, guitars can have some animal-based components, and there is surprisingly little information available regarding vegan guitars. In fact, some of these components might not be the first thing you would think of when considering the question. Read on to discover which animal-based components guitars generally contain, and if any guitars are vegan.
An Overview of Possible Non-Vegan Components
To quickly answer your question, a quick overview will be given with the listed components that might be considered non-vegan. If you are curious about possible solutions to these issues, do take the time to read on, as each component will be discussed in greater detail.
The guitar components most likely found to be non-vegan are:
- Strap button washers
- Nut and saddle (if acoustic)
Strap Button Washers
Believe it or not, there are washers in between the body of the guitar and the bottom of the strap buttons. This is to prevent any damage that might happen to the guitar from the button having a snug fit. These washers can also help deter any wear that the body may receive due to regular strap use.
More often than not, these strap button washers are made of felt, which is known for its soft feel and plushy security. However, felt is not generally made from all-synthetic fibers (unless stated so) and could likely contain natural fibers such as fur and wool.
In this case, you could likely seek an alternative that has only synthetic materials. Your best bet is to contact the manufacturer directly and ask whether the washer is vegan and if it isn’t, ask if there are any alternatives available.
Nut and Saddle
The component mostly thought of when it comes to non-vegan materials is the nut of the guitar. Nuts have traditionally been made from animal bone due to the material’s capability in providing note sustain for stringed instruments.
The same goes with the saddle of the guitar, particularly when it comes to an acoustic guitar (as electrics generally have a metallic saddle). Traditionally, the nut and saddle are usually made from the same material.
Fortunately, there is a wide range of synthetic materials being used for nuts and saddles in the modern guitar industry. In fact, many affordable low-budget to midrange budget-priced guitars tend to feature a synthetic nut/saddle, with bone usually reserved for higher-end instruments.
It is always wise to check the product specifications sheet for any guitar you buy, as this will detail what specific material is used in these components. Here are some of the alternatives you are likely to encounter:
Each of these has its own positive benefits and drawbacks. However, the synthetic material Tusq has been reputed for its close resemblance to bone material. In fact, many modern high-end acoustic guitars actually feature a Tusq nut and saddle.
Unless you’ve taken the time to learn about the ins and outs of pickups, you may not have known that many guitar pickups may not actually be vegan-friendly. This is due to the usage of beeswax to pot the coils of the pickup so they do not cause unwanted noise and feedback due to vibration.
In fact, this is an area of the guitar industry that doesn’t necessarily openly provide details on what is used in the process of production. However, many pickup manufacturers are starting to either switch to alternatives or offer both beeswax and alternatives.
Some of the alternatives available for use in pickups include:
- Paraffin wax
If having a vegan-friendly guitar is important to you, it is crucial to contact the manufacturer you are interested in and see what their production process involves. You may be able to custom-order pickups without beeswax.
With that being said, here is a small list of manufacturers that have openly announced that they offer vegan-friendly pickups.
- Bare Knuckle (specifically the un-potted pickups)
- Fishman Pickups (specifically the Fluence pickups, though more may be vegan-friendly)
- Seymour Duncan (typically uses beeswax, but offers custom-ordered paraffin pickups)
- Sunbear Pickups (all vegan, uses paraffin and silicon)
Fretboards of guitars are frequently adorned with inlays to indicate and outline the fret geometry of the neck. While quite a few inlays on modern guitars are made with synthetic materials, some materials do include the use of shells.
One of these materials is called Mother of Pearl, which is a nacre coating made from shells. Another is called Abalone, which is derived from a mollusk shell and has a distinct inner clam-shell shine.
Some of the more common types of materials used for inlays (aside from Mother of Pearl and Abalone) include:
- Polymer and clay mixture
Again, when you are researching possible guitars and checking them for vegan-friendly components, it is absolutely crucial to check over the specifications sheet. Without checking this resource, you will never fully know if your guitar is made of vegan components.
Vegan Guitar Information is Lacking…Why?
If you are venturing down the path to find a vegan guitar, you may have noticed that there is actually very little information available in regards to the topic. This can be a little surprising considering that guitars have been in mass production for decades, and an exhaustible amount of information can be found on nearly every aspect of the instrument.
The simple fact is that, while the practice and concept of veganism have been around for a long time, it has been only until recent times that veganism has become popular.
To use an analogy, recently, many grocery stores have been gradually adding products advertised as “vegan-friendly” to their shelves. In the past, vegans likely had to visit special shops to acquire the same thing.
Quite frankly, there are very few (if not, any) guitar-related companies that openly advertise their products as being vegan-friendly. Much of this has to do with the fact that there likely hasn’t been a popular push in the industry to provide vegan-friendly components as a primary option.
Like anything, the guitar industry is steeped in tradition. This is evident in the fact that many guitar manufacturers opt to retain traditional components and guitar models instead of branching out and trying new practical things.
What can be done?
Initiating a Paradigm Shift
In a day and age where more lifestyles, beliefs, and practices are being openly embraced to set the standard for a new normal, it only makes sense for the guitar industry to shift and adapt to the changing times.
In fact, the guitar industry has undergone a number of different changes over the last few decades. These changes have namely dealt with the woods being used in the construction of instruments.
In the 1990s, the guitar industry was affected by the ban of Brazilian Rosewood harvesting. This is an exotic wood that was traditionally used to make fretboards and other components.
Since then, guitar manufacturers have had to rely on already harvested stocks of Brazilian Rosewood, and are required to have a legal license to craft a guitar from the material. This not only made Brazilian Rosewood much more exotic but forced manufacturers to shift to alternative wood materials.
Now, more than ever, guitar manufacturers are using locally harvested wood as well as a number of more sustainable types of species. This was virtually unheard of prior to the ban of Brazilian Rosewood, as the tradition of guitar building often included the use of specific woods.
This is just one example of how the guitar industry has successfully transitioned with the changing times. The issue of vegan components is but another potential change that the guitar industry could likely shift to accommodate should the companies see the demand for such products.
In order to help initiate this type of change, it is your responsibility to reach out to these companies and ask whether or not they have vegan products. While it may seem unusual, many of these companies have likely not had many opportunities to answer this kind of question.
Once the guitar market shows demand for alternative components, the companies will likely start to shift their product lines to accommodate and support vegans and the beliefs and practices they hold so dear.
Just as Billie Eilish (a known vegan musician) demanded in 2021 that she would only wear famous fashion designer Oscar de la Renta’s products if the company stopped selling fur products, guitarists around the world have the power to incite the same changes. While there can be a debate about the power a celebrity holds, the reality is that millions of people voicing similar opinions can have the same effect.
The Great Debate
While there can be a great debate on the ethics of veganism, the fundamental aspect of avoiding any product involving animal by-products and/or animal testing will not be debated in this article. However, there is a small issue of sustainability that needs to be addressed.
If you wanted to, you could completely replace the components on a guitar with vegan-only components. But what happens to that which is being replaced? If you are simply going to throw these items away, you are contributing to a larger issue that the guitar industry is facing.
It is no secret that the guitar industry has a large carbon footprint. Between the harvesting of trees, to the manufacturing of strings and other metallic and synthetic components, the guitar industry has a lot of work to do to improve its environmental sustainability overall.
Yet, this burden is not completely on the shoulders of the manufacturers. Guitarists, and consumers in general, have the important responsibility to:
- Make the right decisions regarding choosing items that have long-term longevity and repairability
- Find products of sustainable sourcing and manufacturing
- Properly dispose of things in the event that something does need to be thrown away
The reality is that, should the industry shift and adapt, guitars with these types of components are likely to be too expensive for most people to afford. Of course, when these types of products have been around for a while and have experienced success in the market, these items could likely come down in price.
The bottom line is that these manufacturers are going to have to make a profit at the end of the day. Though each company tends to cater to a certain niche of players, inexpensive models will likely be sold more than more expensive models.
If the adapted guitars are to stay similar in pricing, these companies will have to be able to use these products without the profit margin suffering too much. This then leads to the paradox that is often seen when it comes to sustainable options.
A great example of this is that Nordic regions tend to have an overpopulation of moose, which tends to cause traffic-related accidents. In order to combat this, governments will have an open-hunting season on the moose.
Some guitar manufacturers in these regions will often receive their bone material from these hunts. These bones are purely a byproduct of the hunt, which could be seen as somewhat sustainable despite the unfortunate fact that an animal had to die. However, it was not hunted for the sole purpose of creating a guitar nut.
Please note that these statements do not support or denounce animal products, but are only stated to lead to the next point, which is that synthetics are inevitably going to be the alternative to bone. Opting for synthetics only promotes the use of plastics and manufacturing practices that contribute to the footprint.
These are the kinds of topics that the coming generations of guitar players are going to have to come up with an answer for.
Are Guitars Vegan? Final Thoughts
If you are a vegan, you do have options available to you for guitars that have vegan-friendly components. Unfortunately, the information available regarding this topic is extremely limited.
However, while the guitar industry is steeped in tradition, many manufacturers are shifting their production practices to support alternative materials that are not animal-based. If you have any questions regarding a particular company or guitar model, do be sure to contact the company directly to ensure that the guitar of interest is in fact vegan.
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