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View Full Version : Anyone have experience in laminating ivory piano keys to make saddles / nuts?


kazzelectro
01-13-2011, 05:21 AM
I came across a box of ivory piano keys. After a recent thread at this forum testing tusq, bone and ivory I am keen to try an ivory saddle. The ivory from the piano keys is very thin and I've read that in order to make a saddle you must laminate or glue the ivory strips together. Just wondering if anyone has done this and if so..what type of glue is used...as well as any other suggestions as too the process. On another note the grain or patterning on the ivory strips is gorgeous and it really saddens me that such a magnificent creature was butchered for this purpose.

PWoolson
01-13-2011, 05:53 AM
I think the advantage of ivory would be negated by the amount of glue that you'd have in a lamination. Glue is very soft.
I've got a box of them from a piano that I re-keyed. I use them for shims but other than that, I think they are pretty worthless.

hermithollow
01-13-2011, 06:29 AM
I've used superglue to glue them together. It dries pretty hard, one reason it is recommended for repairing worn nut slots. Sand the ivory lightly to remove any discoloration and if you are clamping it use UHMWPE plastic for cauls, as superglue won't stick to that material.
I think laminated ivory works about as well as "solid" ivory when glued with Cyanoacrylate (superglue).

Kelly
01-13-2011, 06:40 AM
Those old ivory keytops make excellent under-saddle shims.

PWoolson
01-13-2011, 07:14 AM
I've used superglue to glue them together. It dries pretty hard, one reason it is recommended for repairing worn nut slots. Sand the ivory lightly to remove any discoloration and if you are clamping it use UHMWPE plastic for cauls, as superglue won't stick to that material.
I think laminated ivory works about as well as "solid" ivory when glued with Cyanoacrylate (superglue).

While I'll agree that CA seems "pretty hard", it is much softer than the surface of Ivory. You'll lose energy in the softness of the glue, thus kind of negating the point of using Ivory.
That's not to say that it can't sound good. But it won't sound like a solid piece.

wilstev
01-13-2011, 07:19 AM
I think the advantage of ivory would be negated by the amount of glue that you'd have in a lamination.

This is what I was thinking. Sort of like laminated Brazilian rosewood would no longer have the tonal qualities of the real stuff.

Bill Pillmore
01-13-2011, 07:50 AM
Piano tuners don't use ca glue to re-glue ivory key tops because it shows through as non white. If that doesn't bother you then I think you would have a lot of glue - might be nice for decoration. I recovered a set of keys with the preferred plastic tops once and the owner wanted the old ivory key tops buried so they wouldn't be recycled. :)

riorider
01-13-2011, 08:27 AM
They might make nice picks...

kazzelectro
01-13-2011, 08:37 AM
Piano tuners don't use ca glue to re-glue ivory key tops because it shows through as non white. If that doesn't bother you then I think you would have a lot of glue - might be nice for decoration. I recovered a set of keys with the preferred plastic tops once and the owner wanted the old ivory key tops buried so they wouldn't be recycled. :)

Bill..love the sentiment. I may just bury the whole lot. I've been hiding my guilt since I've acquire these keys.

hermithollow
01-13-2011, 08:39 AM
Hi Bill,
When Ivory is cut thin it is translucent, Ca is clear. If you used it to glue the keytops to the wooden keys the wood would show through. That is why old pianos often use a glue that is opaque white - the white backing enhances the whiteness of the ivory. When CA glues old vory to old ivory, the color is old ivory. That's a shame about the old key tops, a lot of piano techs save them and use them to repair old pianos and keep things original.
The glue lines of laminated piano key tops are vertical, and would be similar to adding superglue to thicken up a saddle, as I have seen mentioned on this board. The strings would bear for the most part on the ivory surface, assuming your glue lines are reasonably thin.
I know these arguments won't convince many, so my suggestion to the O.P. would be to try the laminated ivory and see what you think. I don't think ivory is a unique or magical material,and any equally hard material that takes a fine polish, would probably work as well. One thing to be aware of if you do use it, is when crossing international borders it is liable to the same restrictions as any other undocumented cites listed material.

stratokatsu
01-13-2011, 08:40 AM
Even saddles made from somewhat exotic materials aren't THAT expensive. Would it really be worth the effort to go through laminating piano key covers together, then cutting them down, then shaping them into a saddle, then only to find maybe it doesn't sound as nice as you hoped?

I think a quick call to Bob Colosi, Visa card in hand, might be easier and certainly more confidence inspiring as far as knowing quality of what you'll get.

kazzelectro
01-13-2011, 11:42 AM
Would never order such a thing. As I mentioned I feel badly enough that this 90 year piano had ivory keys...but to buy them from a retailer is creating demand for the product. There's been many discussions on this topic and there are some that would and some and would not. Leave the elephants be!

Wade Hampton
01-13-2011, 12:13 PM
I agree that we should leave the elephants (and walrus) alone. But old piano keys are not all that scarce.

The best use for old ivory piano keys that I've heard about (aside from them being used to repair other old ivory piano keys,) is for inlay. When used as an inlay material ivory doesn't have the iridescent qualities of pearl or abalone, but it can be a very elegant inlay material, nonetheless.


whm

kazzelectro
02-07-2011, 08:48 AM
Well, I will answer my own question. I laminated the ivory from the keys and made two saddles...one for a Gibson (mahogany) and the other for a Martin (rosewood)...and in both cases the ivory caused a loss of sustain and frequency. The lamination was tight and it looked as though it was a solid piece of ivory. I am not sure whether a solid piece of ivory would sound better...but my conclusion is that the laminated ivory saddles produced a negative effect on tone. Not recommended.

1cubilindo
02-07-2011, 09:48 AM
Bill..love the sentiment. I may just bury the whole lot. I've been hiding my guilt since I've acquire these keys.

Along those same lines, I think we should also bury our Brazilian Rosewood guitars as a show of solidarity! :)

enalnitram
02-07-2011, 09:58 AM
We have a 100 year old piano that had ivory keytops on it. many of them were chipped, and most near the middle of the piano were worn and slightly discolored. I ordered a box of ivoroid-looking plastic keytops and replaced all the old ones last year. Man, it looked great after I redid it, and it played so much better, too. afterward, I went thru the same thought processes, wondering if I could use them on guitars, but decided against it. once I decided I wasn't going to use them. I put all the non-broken ones (between half and 2/3rds of them) up for sale on ebay. Per ebay rules I didn't use the word "ivory" in my listing. I just described them as "100-yr-old" "genuine", etc. the winner of the auction sent me a message asking to buy the broken ones, too! (to use for crafts). going into it, I was wondering if I would regret selling them, but with the BIG BUCKS I made, ...NO!, ...I am really glad that I sold them. :)

If harvesting new ivory is a problem, then using old ivory doesn't contribute to that problem.

When I glued my new keytops, I used a building adhesive in a caulk gun, which is flexible and moves with humidity changes. A neighbor that is a piano tech hipped me to this. but as far as what brand it was ...I don't recall.

Tim McKnight
02-07-2011, 09:59 AM
I have used recycled ivory piano key caps many times with good results. Used CA as well as Hot Hide Glue to laminate them. HHG is more difficult to use due to the limited open time. Both adhesives bond about the same and I have not noticed any difference in tone with either glue or comparing the laminated component to solid ivory nuts / saddles. I have had a couple chip-out issues on the saddle lams closest to the sound hole with repeated tuning adjustments / string changes. Up side is no endangerment to our mammal friends and potentially lower material cost (not factoring labor). Downside is more labor intensive.

To get the most accurate lam the key caps should be run through a thickness sander to flatten both sides. If you look at a worn key closely the playing side surface is usually worn inward in some areas and radiused on the edges. This makes laminating more difficult bonding uneven and often nonparallel surfaces.

randysitz
02-07-2011, 10:48 AM
I know of people who used Mammoth Ivory for knife handles. I don't know if it's still available. I wonder how that would do.

hermithollow
02-07-2011, 11:46 AM
Mammoth ivory does fine, and comes in a lot of interesting colors, from black to blue to chocolate to tan to creme to white, and several others.