What’s the Deal with Carbon Fiber Guitars? Pros vs Cons

Pros and Cons of Carbon Fiber Guitars

Written by Adam Klosowiak, the co-founder of Klos Guitars or take part in their current KLOS Kickstarter campaign.

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.

What is Carbon Fiber?

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.

A carbon fiber fretboardSlowly, 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.

Durable

. 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.

Great sound

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.

Consistency

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.

Lightweight

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.

Making a carbon fiber guitarExpensive

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.

Complicated

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.

Aging

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?

Comparison of the top Carbon Fiber guitars available today

 

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.

Klos Carbon Fiber Guitar specifications

 

 

33 Responses to What’s the Deal with Carbon Fiber Guitars? Pros vs Cons

  1. Ken says:

    What stings do you use on a carbon Fiber guitar. Or better yet what have you found gives the best sound on a carbon fiber guitar.

    • Josh Summers says:

      The strings that came with this guitar were Elixirs and they sounded awesome. I didn’t have a chance to test any other kinds of strings on the carbon fiber guitar but my guess is that it’s not much different than a regular guitar.

    • Mike says:

      I have 3 CA guitars, love them. On the Cargo (smaller travel guitar) I have Martin “Silk & Steel”… awesome!
      on the other two I use custom light.

    • D says:

      I use d’darrio phosphor bronze 12s on my Rainsong and I think they are great as long as they are changed fairly regularly, in my case every 4 – 6 weeks. My Rainsong has a truss rod. It’s not there to compensate for changes over time or due to climate but it does allow you to set the neck up how you like it with the strings that you prefer. I think Rainsong will be fine with whatever your string preference but maybe check with them if you are not sure.

      I have an original Kloss travel and I think the manufacturer specifically recommends, custom light, 11s for this guitar. It certainly plays well with these strings and is good for travel but it ain’t no Rainsong.

  2. Bobby says:

    I love carbon fiber guitars. Heck, I just love the look of carbon fiber, in general, and wouldn’t mind refinishing one of my electrics with some kind of CF material (with a clear coat over the top)… for that ultra-stealth look. I came very close to buying a CF acoustic guitar recently, and may still do some one of these days.

    • Josh Summers says:

      I agree, Bobby – has a unique look to it but surprisingly also sounds pretty good. 🙂

    • brad kalita says:

      I have a Adamas graphite mid bowl cutaway and find the Rainsong cutaway comparable in sound quality, although the Rainsong has the smoothest neck
      I have ever encountered and maybe lightest acoustic electric.
      As with all guitars the the dreads have a fuller sound and better base response, although if you get and Adamas with the single multi-hole and pull the electronics you get a sound comparable to a high quality full depth and bodied dread with the advantage of better uppermost fret access.
      The rainsong with the abalone around the soundhole is a pretty guitar, although the Adamas I feel as a whole are even more attractive and sell used for around the same price.

  3. Hugo Richer says:

    Having a friend of mine who just a CF Acoustic, I am very impressed with it and it has me wondering because I play Classical. I am looking for a Classical Guitar in Carbon Fiber. Can you steer me where to go?

    Thanks

    Hugo
    hugo.richer@icloud.com

  4. Joel Blumert says:

    I own one CA and 5 Emerald carbon fiber guitars. I love the Emeralds, made in Cavannaclaw, Donegal, Ireland. I’m very surprised they were not included in this piece.

  5. Joel Blumert says:

    I own 1 CA and 5 Emerald carbon fiber guitars, made in Donegal, Ireland. I love the Emeralds and I’m surprised they were not included in this piece.

  6. Yvette Dominee says:

    I agree with Joel Blumert about Emerald Guitars. I know Alistair Hay personally, and he has made me three custom Emerald guitars. If you dream the model, Alistair can build it- any style, shape, color, etc. They are simply the best, and they beat out my Martins, Gibsons, Larrivees, Taylors, Lowdens, and McPhersons. I own many guitars- about 127 total in my collection right now, and numerous antique models, too. In carbon fiber, I own 1 Rainsong concert body, 1 Journey travel, 1 Blackbird super OM, 3 custom Emeralds, and 1 Composite Acoustic. Comparatively speaking, the carbon fiber guitars are the best bet for the money, as they are basically impervious to weather, and living in a very dry climate has not been kind to my prize wood guitars. The carbon fibers are a bit pricey, but all in all, they are very low maintenance instruments and very easy with which to travel, especially the smaller bodied ones. I look forward to more carbon fiber guitars being released on the market and to new body styles and new sounds being produced from them. The Klos model sounds worth looking into-

  7. Steve says:

    I think they sound like plastic. I have some fairly nice wooden customs and feel you are comparing a ford to a Bugatti. I can not see a carbon fiber guitar being looked at in the future as anything more than a production line instrument vs a stradivatius.

    • Joel Blumert says:

      I’ve owned quite a few guitars over the 53 years I’ve been playing, including about eight or nine really fine, custom-built wooden guitars. I started playing cf guitars for their dependability and weather resistance and gradually found that my beautiful wooden instruments were just hanging on the wall, not being played. I now have 5 Emerald Guitars instruments, one Composite Acoustic, and I don’t think I’ve given up anything in sound quality, especially when plugged in. It’s an individual thing.

      • James says:

        Considering the “Legacy” to get ACAP to bluegrass and fingerpicking. But would a traveler like Klos do?

    • Roger says:

      How many cf and plastic instruments do you own to form your opinion? I’ve owned over 200 guitars, with about 125 currently in my collection. This includes several custom hand built acoustics, Taylor’s (including a high end personal Bob Taylor build), Guilds, Martins, Gibsons, etc. I played with a hard core traditional bluegrass group the other two guitarists using highly prized vintage Martins. My CA Tony Rice compared favorably with those instruments in that context, both in tone and projection. It however has greater durability, stability and consistency – all at a fraction of cost.

      Had these vastly superior materials been available to Antonio in the 17th/18th century, I think the Stradivarius collection would have integrated their superior attributes. You compare Ford to Bugatti, somewhat ironic as in the case of the Veyron, Bugatti extensively uses CF. This raises the supposition that the traditional wood guitar is the Ford.

      My last word on this is: While CF has a cool, contemporary, tech look, you just can’t beat nature for an infinely complex visual appeal. This changes the discussion to aesthetics where highly figured wood has no equal. Plastic? Perhaps that CF you heard was actually a Maccaferri (which has its own sound, listen to Django).

      As stated re. Emerald, CA, etc., a skilled builder can create instruments with superior sonic ability in composite materials. This has been my experience and makes me wonder exactly what you base your opinion upon. It seems the consensus here by those who actually own and have significant experience with CF disputes your beliefs. But you certainly have the right to your opinion.

    • CJ says:

      I have played a Composite acoustic GX and it sounds as good as “high end” Taylors or Martins and CA has more sustain and projection acoustically. I even had my friend close her eyes and played a Martin Aura GT and she chose the Composite acoustic GX for richness of tone and balanced sound over a 2,500 Martin! Wood purists just don’s want to admit that a new wave is coming in. Carbon fiber is likely a more “environmentally friendly”(going green) method for making instruments. Additionally, what a headache to humidify and “baby” a high end wooden instrument as if we all have time for that when there is a less complicated option.
      CJ

      • CK says:

        I don’t know who told you that, but carbon fiber is definitely not a greener material than wood. The base material is oil and the process of making it involves a lot of chemicals and heat. And that’s just the fiber. The resin isn’t that friendly to the environment either.
        Neither is the disposal of the finished material.
        For the wooden guitar, you just need a fraction of a tree. Which wouldn’t be a problem, if we would plant as many as we cut down.

  8. Jeff Petersen says:

    I own a CA guitar and have ordered a Emerald X20 Opus. I play the Carbon Fiber guitars in the California desert and do not worry about heat. These are great guitars! I enjoy my Taylor when I return to Washington state’s desert.

  9. Danny says:

    I work with Carbon Fiber sometimes, I’ve been thinking of making a CF guitar for a long time.

  10. Danny says:

    I work with carbon fiber and I’ve been thinking of making a carbon fiber guitar for a long time.

  11. […] some of the pros and cons when it comes to carbon fiber guitars. You can read this article here: Carbon Fiber Guitars: Pros vs. Cons. The main flaw that we found was that they are on the pricey side for a travel guitar.  But that […]

  12. John Neyland Jr. says:

    Just finishing fixing a broken head stock/neck on my martin custom performing artist 2k guitar. The head stock broke by just looking at it wrong!! Barely any impact at all and it exploded. So having years of composites experience I started to think about using unidirectional carbon fiber to make the repair. it took me a total of 24 man hours, After epoxy gluing the neck headstock break back together the next day I laminated one layer of 11.5 oz carbon fiber over the break. Meaning one full layer of 11.5 oz carbon fiber over the entire underside neck of the guitar and wrapped the carbon fiber up and around the the neck where the nut it. The I laminated one solid layer over the entire head stock and down again around the neck/nut area to the underside of the neck. I used peel ply or dacron over the wet carbon fiber layup. this helps bring the right resin to material ratio for the repair as well as make the finished carbon fiber surface extremely smooth. Now i am going to block sand the head stock and wet sand the neck bottom and sides and coat the entire repair area with 2 or 3 coats of pure epoxy successively over a 5 hour period to build up the surface to fill in any imperfections. then another light wetsand with 320 paper everywhere. wipe with denatured alcohol, tack rag it and spray the entire guitar neck and headstock with 3 coast of spray can spar varnis. You can get the gloss spar varnish spray at any home center. spar varnish is a very hard coating and it protects the epoxy from uv damage. I have already tested the structural repair and performed calculations on the fabric weight and needed strengths. one layer of 11.5 oz carbon fiber is stronger that 2 layers of 22 oz rovings. The glue joint is stronger than the wood species pore strength itself so the carbon fabric just distributes the load out across the neck evenly. Whenever you use carbon fiber you must be careful not to put it to close to materials which are siginificantly weaker. you can create an area which by the highly tensile properties of carbon fiber can easily create an area prone to tearing where the two material meet. use staggard layers of carbon in areas like this or lighter fabrics. 11.5 oz is pretty light normal fabric in composites bbut 11.5 oz carbon fiber is on the heavier side. you can mechanically pull carbon fiber tapes or pre stress it on each sides of what ever it is you are making or reparing. this pre stressing or pulling on each end of the carbon tape/material and then laminating it will give you even more carbon fiber strength benefits than just wet layup. This is how we make strong carbon fiber masts for racing boats that put extreme loads on such structures. really cool stuff and i’m stoked to get my Marin back on line. I think the next guitar I buy if it has a conventional wooden neck and headstock on it i am going to laminate carbon fiber on the neck and head stock for protection from it ever breaking! The only down side is I no longer have the gold CF MARTIN sticker on the head stock!! Maybe I will stop at Martin guitar with my instrument and have them one on!

  13. Adam says:

    Are the necks adjustable? With traditional necks we can adjust action via the truss.

    • Joe says:

      Unlike wood, a carbon fiber neck doesn’t bend due to the weather or string tension, it’s stable and it remains straight no matter what, so there’s no need for a truss rod.

      • William says:

        Sorry Joe, but I own two CAs (One OX Pre-Peavy) and one Cargo (Peavy) and the neck on my OX has bowed. This was confirmed by the guitar tech at Sam Ash where I purchased it several years ago. The guitar tech even told me that he was aware of two other CAs with the same problem.

    • Scott Grove says:

      In the case of Rainsong guitars, I had one custom made for me simply because I’m not fond of the N2 neck that Steve Miller got his hands into and I wanted the original N1 neck on a Black Ice body. Rainsong offered me the option of a truss rod or not. So, there are others I’ve seen as well with truss rods. It gives the owner THEIR own choice on how it should be set up and feel as opposed to what the factory thinks you should conform to. I’ll add that the Rainsong also arrived with a couple of saddles. Both were fashioned for intonation on the top side, but both were still blanks on the bottom side. So, you would most likely take off at least a quarter of the underside material just to start with. Again, just a nifty thing that once again let the owner make every judgement call. If you didn’t want a truss rod…that is you call and it simply wouldn’t come with one.

  14. Andrew Johnston says:

    I’ve been playing over 50 years, first “real” guitar was a Guild which I still have. Have also owned Taylor, Takamine, Washburn, etc. Got a Rainsong 10 years ago-stoked! Next a Cargo by Composite Acoustics-cool! Finally found Emerald Guitars and have gotten 3 in four years. They blow away everything else I’ve had: playability, tone, looks, and obviously durability ( I live in Hawaii where heat and humidity are huge factors). I can’t say enough good things about carbon-fiber in general and Emeralds in particular. I honestly feel that they are the instruments I’ve been waiting for my whole life. Mahalo Alistair Hay!

    • Kekai Chock says:

      Iʻm in Kauaʻi and am looking towards a Mcphearson cf touring @$2400.00, cantilevered fretboard, suppos to have a better low end …
      Any info on emerald cfʻs?

  15. Leon says:

    I recently purchased a Rainsong CH-OM specifically for use while I am working out of town. I work 2 out of three weeks away from home, and besides it playing great (adjustable truss rod) and sounding great with DR Sunbeams, it’s also a nice feeling knowing that I can leave my CF guitar in relatiivly poor storage conditions (VERY dry and cold here) which would typically cause concern if I Ieft my Larrivee PV-09 or early Epiphone Texan in. Sure, there are humidipacks and other in-case humidifier tech out there, but I very happy with all aspects my recent purchase.

    I am neither a tone snob or wood expert, but I do know what I like about certain guitars and how they make me feel while playing. It plays nicely with others, and certainly raised a lot of eyebrows here. The Rainsong CF certainly fits my playing requirements and I feel good about being able to leave my wooden acoustics at home in a controlled environment. I like my Rainsong CF enough that I am considering purchasing a second one to leave at home in the studio, just to add a little flavour to the mix.

  16. DZIMY says:

    NEW RAINSONG CH-PA Elexir lights. The action was a bit high for playing up the neck. lowered the saddle 10 thou. didn’t touch the truss rod. It’s a bit fuzzy when i play at volume. added a lrbaggs/lyric mic pickup into a yamaha thr5a amp. WOW

  17. Bill Brown says:

    Got an early Emerald Artisan X10 (Frank Parker fretboard) hardened stainless steel frets. although played nearly every day there is no trace of wear on any of the frets, also got an Emerald X5 travel guitar also with stainless steel frets, not played nearly as much bud there are definite signs of wear. Also a guild D50CE little played but with fret wear and a Harmony Sovereign now virtually unplayable (Needs a Neck reset) My all time favourite cant throw it out but uneconomical to get fixed. So my Emerald Artisan X10 is my daily player.

  18. Timothy Carter says:

    I mean it sounds really good, but when in the future are you talking about. I really like the idea, but never heard my fellow shredder talk about it. Plus how much is a good rgz style guitar gonna cost? And is the price even worth buying a guitar maybe a little stronger, and I really can’t stand the look of a carbon fiber guitar. Sounds questionable to me, I just don’t think it’s a good idea, maybe the neck and fingerboard they would consider. This way you can still choose the right guitar you like with the new upgrade of cf on the neck and fretboard where it really makes a difference for warping issues. Not the whole damn guitar!!

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