Today, very few instruments are made with animal products. Gut strings are the only animal-derived product still commonly used in the creation of musical instruments.
However, even gut strings—most commonly found on very expensive tennis rackets, guitars, violins, and other stringed instruments—can easily be replaced with synthetics like nylon or steel. Almost any music store should be able to accommodate your request for a cruelty-free instrument. Before making a purchase, take the time to verify that the instrument is free of animal products by using the following information as a guide.
Animal Oils, Tallow
Some companies advocate the use of lanolin, tallow, or other animal oils to clean drum heads. Vegetable-based oils can easily be used for this purpose.
In the past, animal skins from sheep, elks, and cows were commonly used to make drumheads and traditional bagpipes. Today, most drumheads are made from synthetic materials, and the creators of Gore-tex have developed a synthetic material for use in bagpipes.
Violin bows may be made with horsehair, but synthetic vegan options exist.
Piano keys are rarely made from ivory but can be made from the hooves, horns, and bones of a variety of animals. Today, however, many piano makers—including Steinway and Baldwin—use white plastic.
No one is sure of the origin of the term “catgut string,” but it is doubtful that the intestines of cats were ever used to make strings for instruments or rackets, since cats are widely considered to be too small for such uses. One theory is that the term originated from “kit,” a small fiddle-like instrument that used lamb gut strings. Others believe that the term grew out of the demand for strings made in Catagniny, Germany. These strings are derived from the same source as natural gut (see below).
Strings (Natural Gut)
The raw material used in natural gut strings is a byproduct of the meat industry. It can come from several animals, including sheep, cattle, kangaroo, and water buffalo. Most gut strings are constructed out of serosa, the outermost layer of the intestines of cattle. However, the first major natural gut strings were made from the mucosa, the innermost layer of the intestine of sheep and lamb. The ability of the lining of the intestine to expand while eating and shrink after digestion is what makes natural gut so desirable to string manufacturers.