Here’s How Carbon Fiber Makes Guitars Better

Carbon fiber musical instruments are coming to the music stores. But do they belong in music studio, and should this material be in your woodshop workshop. Composite materials carry claims of legendary lightness and strength. Violin bows and violin cases now come in carbon fiber. Shapechanginginstruments wanted to know how craftsmen are using carbon fiber in their musical instruments.

Image from John Hiller.

More Strength, Less Weight
We’ve played carbon fiber guitars made by students, and the reduction in weight is  amazing. One feels like Popeye lifting up the guitar that weighs as much as paper. The strength to weight material is way better than any hardwoods, or steel for that matter. The material properties of composite fibers are well known. This makes it easier to model designs with computer simulations. The material has similar consistency throughout one piece and across samples. While wood varies in grain from end of a piece to another.

Image from  J. O’Donnell and G. McRobbie. (From COMSOL)

Carbon fiber is starting to show up in double top boards on acoustic guitars. By inserting a piece of material between two thinly sanded soundboards, its possible to increase the stiffness of the soundboard without adding much weight to dampen the vibrations. In theory, this should allow for a louder tone with more sustain.

Guitar Salon has a strong piece (A Plea for Traditional Construction) on the problems of carbon fiber soundboards. By using materials that are too strong, and too stiff, the coupling of the soundboard and strings is overdone. The resulting tone is too loud, and extra interactions result in the tone being distorted. The ratio of tones projected is distorted from ideal ratios established over time and has been branded ‘Modern Tone.’ Other people in the forums love their double top carbon guitars. Professional carbon fiber guitars are getting good reviews on Amazon. But are professional quality instruments like this violin worth the $5500 pricetag? Perhaps, a DIY with this instructables tutorial on making a carbon fiber violin is more your style.

How To Work With Carbon Fiber (Quick Video)
A short video on how designers are working with carbon fiber designs. There are some niece laser cut and wood integration designs.

How To Work With Carbon Fiber (Detailed But Longer Video)

A tour inside MacNichol Guitars who manufacture guitars on a much larger scale for multiple companies. Part II and Part III of the tour.

Carbon Fiber Components
Carbon fiber is used in necks, or in supporting rods. The strength to weight ratio makes it a natural fit.

Bring Down the Cost and You Have My Money
Carbon fiber is here. As the applications for carbon fiber grow, costs will be less of a limiting factor. The reduction in weight reduce fatigue of musicians during transport and performances. The additional strength should add to longevity. The material does not change its performance based on humidity. The consistency of the material should allow engineers to iterate and innovate new designs.

Construction with carbon fiber is still at its infancy, and will improve rapidly. There are kits that make it simple to add carbon fibers as a surface on existing pieces, or it can be molded into custom shapes. The molded process makes manufacturing faster and more repeatable. But for now, the cost and its irritant dust(and cancer) makes it a difficult material to work with.


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