If you’re a luthier looking for new sources of titanium, aluminum, or brass, you’ve likely experimented with several methods when trying to set apart your designs from the rest of the guitar building market. There are so many choices for the playing surface of the fingerboard alone! You may have tested composites in your fretboard, stainless steel frets, fanned frets, and various combinations of compound radii and string spacing, not to mention the wide array of pickup choices, unless you’re the type to just buy a winding machine and start sourcing your own magnets.
This mentality applies to finishing options as well. A combination of experimentation, practice, and knowing when to let go of unrealistic expectations can help you get the perfect balance of breathability and protection in a visually stunning presentation that makes the figured wood or straight grain simplicity of your instruments set themselves apart from the Gibson and PRS clones.
However, most builders are unaware of the availability of many do-it-yourself options found in the metal recycling and supply industry. Indie artists and mechanical tinkerers can utilize many sources of scrap metal for the creation of furniture, electronics, art objects, weapons, and engine parts.
Below, we detail some of the best metals for machining custom guitar hardware and why a local metal supplier could be a good source for purchasing new or recycled materials, including exotic metals, to use for your guitar.
Preferred Metals for Machining Custom Guitar Hardware
The number of available metals for the enterprising luthier has diversified greatly over the last 30 years. It’s no longer an agreed-upon binary choice between nickel or chrome on your bridge, and choosing materials for nuts and saddles is no longer limited to only bone or graphite. The range of exotic material choices for knobs, tremolo arms, truss rods, neck plates and back plates has also widened considerably.
Below we detail some of today’s most preferred metals for machining your custom guitar hardware, including titanium, stainless steel, brass, aluminum, and Invar.
Titanium is a metal that adds resonance and articulation to a guitar’s tonal capabilities. It’s lightweight, more flexible than wood, and has excellent acoustic properties, which is ideal for stringed instruments. Most importantly, it’s corrosion-free, so it can’t be damaged by years of sweaty performances, unlike the average metal parts that most factory guitars are built with. The strength-to-weight ratio is higher than that of steel, so titanium is also a fantastic choice for nuts, knobs, back plates, neck plates, bridges, and saddles.
When it’s time to upgrade factory parts, stainless steel is a better choice to stave off corrosion and string wear, especially for tremolo-loaded guitars. However, if you are among the smaller demographic that prefers stainless steel strings over nickel for your guitar or bass, it might be better to choose titanium nuts and saddles. Even after years of playing, they won’t get the troublesome grooves worn into them that inevitably lead to premature string breakage.
Brass has been a go-to favorite for electric and acoustic players since the 1970s. For both professional players and weekend warriors, it was long seen as an improvement from bone nuts and saddles. Today, there are many more metals to choose from, and not everyone appreciates the relative warmth that brass provides compared to denser, brighter-sounding metals. However, brass is especially good for taming a shrill-sounding Telecaster for a rock ‘n’ roll player who is trying to downplay the traditional country elements of the instrument while still enjoying the vintage feel of the body and neck that kicked off Leo Fender’s golden age of invention and manufacturing innovation in the early 1950s.
Brass or nickel-plated brass was also utilized in the construction of many vintage resonator-style guitars that gave country blues and bluegrass players a perfect slide guitar tone that sounds both smooth and bold at the same time, as compared to an all-aluminum body. A microcosm of this tonal shift can be heard in the difference between someone playing a brass slide versus an aluminum or chrome slide player.
An aircraft-grade 6061 aluminum is a great choice for maximizing resonance and minimizing weight. Anyone familiar with the stability and the unique sound and feel of a vintage Kramer of Travis Bean guitar, equipped with an aluminum-reinforced neck, can attest to the fact that it always makes a striking impression and is always playable despite extreme temperature or moisture changes. Also, it’s been common practice for decades to use anodized aluminum pickguards to protect against unwanted noise.
Today, manufacturers and indie luthiers are seeking out non-traditional materials like Invar to make environmentally-friendly custom guitar hardware. Invar is an iron and nickel alloy that features excellent heat resistance and electrical conductivity properties, which bodes well for its potential for conducting energy from string vibration.
A Leading Supplier of Quality Metals, New and Recycled
At Industrial Metal Service, we have a large inventory of in-demand metals, such as aluminum, brass, titanium, and stainless steel. We also carry exotic metals that are rarely available but always in demand, such as cupronickel, Invar, molybdenum, and Hastelloy, which can be used to machine specific guitar parts that require extreme temperature tolerance with a low coefficient of thermal expansion.
We verify the quality and composition of our metal remnants using x-ray fluorescence technology, and for new metals sourced straight from the mill, we offer mill test reports (MTR) to certify the metals meet international standards.