Carbon Fiber Guitars?
In a 2009 article titled A Buyer’s Guide to Carbon-Fiber Instruments featured in the music magazine “All Things Strings”, a prediction was made that carbon fiber would begin replacing wood in string instruments in the low price range.
But why carbon fiber? What is all the hype about this material?
Most people haven’t had the opportunity to pick up and play a guitar made of carbon fiber nor do they understand the pros and cons of the material. Hopefully after you read this article, however, you’ll give these guitars a second glance when you go to the store to buy your next guitar. You might be surprised by what you find.
Walk into any bike shop, golf shop, tennis store or fishing shop and you’ll immediately see that carbon fiber is associated with high quality performance. Carbon fiber first caught the public’s eye in the late 1970s when people began searching for commercial applications for its highly useful qualities.
Slowly, the futuristic material began taking over industries, evident now if you watch the peloton whiz by in the Tour de France riding carbon fiber bicycles or the professionals golfers tee off at the U.S. Open using carbon fiber clubs.
Carbon fiber is essentially a mesh of strands composed of the element carbon. These strands, typically 5-10 micrometers in diameter, are woven together like yarn to create synthetic-like sheets of fabric.
When infused with certain types of resin, the carbon fiber cures to produce a rigid ultra-durable material. Often the technical term for “carbon fiber” is Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer (CFRP). The CFRP has two elements, the matrix and the reinforcement.
The actual carbon fiber strands are the reinforcement that provides the strength, and the matrix is typically the resin, like epoxy, which binds with the reinforcements together. The process of creating the shape of the reinforcements and the process for infusing the resin is where the material earns its reputation of being tough to work with.
Although expensive to produce, since the material has such a high strength-to-weight ratio, it is the clear choice when this ratio is important such as in high quality sports equipment or in the airplane or civil engineering industry.
Carbon Fiber Guitars – The “Pros”
What drew the manufacturers to the sleek and dark glint of this immensely strong material? Is the guitar industry the next to be taken over by carbon fiber?
For guitars, carbon fiber’s durability, sound, consistency, and weight make it an attractive option.
. Carbon fiber is essentially a matrix of strands composed of the element carbon. These strands, typically 5-10 micrometers in diameter, are woven together like yarn to create synthetic-like sheets of fabric. When infused with certain types of resin, the carbon fiber cures to produce ultra durable materials that are even used in building parts for airplanes and space satellites. Not only is the material tougher to dent, scratch, or crack than wood, it’s also resistant to changes in temperature or humidity. You wouldn’t have to worry about your carbon fiber guitar as much when going camping with it, taking it on planes as a carry on, or going over to your friend’s place to jam.
The pure carbon fiber sound is definitely one you will remember. What’s immediately noticeable is that carbon fiber guitars are louder than your typical wooden guitar. The sound is clear and resonant, projecting sound in all directions. Just listen to Yo-Yo Ma play his carbon fiber Luis and Clark cello to know these instruments sound good. Reviews of carbon fiber guitars out there agree that these instruments have a uniquely rich and resonating sound.
Because carbon fiber is a man made material, it can be reproduced consistently and predictably for each guitar. This means that if you see one good guitar, you can assume the next one will be nearly identical. There is no unpredictability when it comes to the grain or age as there is with wood. The finished product can therefore be engineered to perfection and repeated with high precision and accuracy.
When it comes to bicycles, the main attribute that cyclists love about carbon fiber is that they get a much lighter bike without compromising the strength usually offered by metal. Although weight does not matter in guitars as much as it does in bikes, carbon fiber guitars are definitely lighter than their wooden counterparts.
Carbon Fiber Guitars – The “Cons”
Instruments have been made out of wood for centuries, so how can we actually trust carbon fiber? If it really is such a good material, then why don’t we see more carbon fiber guitars around?
The two main reasons for the low adoption rate of carbon fiber guitars are that, generally speaking, they have been expensive and complicated to make.
The current carbon fiber guitars out there will make a dent in your pocket, as the example below shows. As with any new innovation, research and development requires a lot of money. Innovating with carbon fiber is no different, especially given that carbon fiber itself is an expensive material.
The manufacturing process for making carbon fiber guitars does not have the centuries of development that wood has had. Working with the fibers and resin is no easy task, especially because if an error occurs during the building, you can bet that the error will be durable and therefore hard to fix. But as a guitar customer, you should just let the luthiers worry about this con.
For those of you who buy vintage guitars for their aged tone and sound, beware. The sound you hear when you buy a carbon fiber guitar will be its sound forever. This might be a pro for some, but is definitely worth mentioning. If you are looking to have value increase over time, you would be better off buying a wooden guitar or a bottle of wine.
Carbon Fiber Guitars: What’s Available
So if you wanted to buy a carbon fiber guitar right now, what is currently out there?
- Composite Acoustics “The Cargo” – View current pricing and reviews on Amazon.com
- Blackbird Rider-Steel String – $1,685
- Rainsong ParlorView current pricing and reviews on Amazon.com
- Journey Instruments OF660View current pricing and reviews on Amazon.com
- McPherson Kevin Michael
The above guitars are the most popular carbon fiber acoustic guitars out there. These instruments are very high performance with the highest sound quality. Reviews of each of these can be found online. These instruments are completely made from carbon fiber from head to body, which contributes to why they are expensive and complex to make.
Currently, one of the cheapest options for a carbon fiber guitar is the Journey Instruments OF660 (read the Guitar Adventures review here), although each of the above options suits different tastes in style and design.
KLOS Carbon Fiber Travel Guitar
We at KLOS Guitars bring something new to the table. KLOS Guitars especially believes that you don’t see carbon fiber guitars around because they haven’t broken into the lower price range.
To change that we’ve designed a sleek and comfortable carbon fiber travel guitar that finally breaks into the low price range. Unlike the existing carbon fiber guitars above, with the cheapest alternative being $1,095 with the Journey Instrument OF660, the first KLOS guitar will cost about $400.
We designed a manufacturing process that makes carbon fiber guitars much simpler than what has been done before. Because travel guitars are inherently at a higher risk of damage since they’re going places, KLOS Guitars believes our guitars should be made out of carbon fiber.
Our innovative approach lets us create a travel carbon fiber guitar that is price-competitive with the best wooden travel guitars (see post: Top 5 Travel Guitars That Don’t Suck) while having the value added of the carbon fiber. With this durable and portable guitar, you could really keep it KLOS wherever you go.