cow bone vs. buffalo horn

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments

cow bone vs. buffalo horn

Postby Robert England » Thu Jul 09, 2009 3:06 am

I am attracted to the idea of using black buffalo horn for the tie block decorative trim, saddle, and nut on my classical guitars. The horn polishes up to a beautiful shiny black surface using micromesh pads (plus a lot of "elbow grease".) However, in working the material, it felt softer than cow bone, in some ways almost "plasticy". So, I measured and weighted 5 samples of buffalo horn and 5 samples of cow bone. (All the horn samples were from the same lot from the same supplier, and likewise for the cow bone, so I can't be sure they are truly representative of the respective materials.) The average density of the horn was 1.3 grams per cubic centimeter, and of the cow bone was 2.0 g/cm^3. So, the bone was about 1.5 times denser than the horn. I assume this would also indicate that the horn is softer. Is it a mistake to use the horn for the nut and/or saddle? Will wear become a problem in the future?
Thanks,
Robert
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Re: cow bone vs. buffalo horn

Postby Alexandru Marian » Thu Jul 09, 2009 6:19 am

2g/cm3 is what I measured too for bone. I heard that black horn is softer too, and for that it might not be ideal. African blackwood has that density and likely cheaper if you buy turning squares...

While it doesn't matter, I would still say I really prefer the looks of white/tan nuts and saddles.
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Re: cow bone vs. buffalo horn

Postby Julian » Fri Jul 10, 2009 1:56 am

I never heard of any guitar using buffalo horn for nut and saddle. It is too soft for a start. And the bone could transfer better energy to the soundboard due to its density.

But if you would like to have 'black or dark' color for saddle and nut, try 'graphite' material. In the past Paulino Bernabe (senior) used to use this material for the saddle.

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Re: cow bone vs. buffalo horn

Postby RolandC01 » Fri Jul 10, 2009 7:45 am

I used buffalo horn for my first CG. It is too soft. The strings made indends in at the saddle as soon as I strung it up ( and I was using low tention strings ).
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Re: cow bone vs. buffalo horn

Postby Robert England » Mon Jul 13, 2009 11:39 pm

Well, since I had already started making the nut and saddle, I went ahead and finished them. I have to agree that buffalo horn is not suitable for guitar nuts, in particular. The softness compared to bone was not a problem, at least initially. Wear might have been a problem later. I found the horn difficult to work with. It seems to consist of fine layers of material, I suppose reflecting the growth pattern of the horn, and these layers easily peel apart. The beautiful finish seems to provoke obsessive polishing. Most importantly, the fine grain/layer structure seems to interact with the windings of the bass strings, especially the 4th 'D' string, to create a horrific creaking/squeaking sound as the string is being tuned and slides across the nut. In the end, it was this that made me give up on the material. Still, it makes a nice decorative overlay for the tie block. See pic.
Robert
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