Created more than 150 years ago, carbon fiber became mainstream in the mid-20th century and is now associated with some of the toughest applications known to mankind. In the music world, carbon fiber instruments and cases have become increasingly popular for string and brass musicians over the last couple decades. But what is all the fuss over them about, and how do these new products compare to their wood counterparts?
What is Carbon Fiber Made Of?
Carbon fiber is a composite material that’s considered the great equalizer among many musicians, meaning that, in comparison to the other high-quality choices, you don’t need to have an enormous budget to be able to afford it. Plus, carbon fiber offers distinct advantages over playing wood instruments (more on this later).
According to Innovative Composite Engineering, carbon fiber is lighter than steel, yet carbon fiber is five times stronger and twice as tough. This combo is what makes carbon fiber instrument cases an intriguing option, as they are so durable and cost-effective.
Carbon fiber emerged for application use nearly 70 years ago and has more recently become a game-changer in the music industry. Thinner than a strand of human hair, carbon fiber gets its strength when long strands are twisted together like yarn. To make carbon fiber requires a process that is part chemical and part mechanical, which involves placing the fiber strands in an environment lacking oxygen. Since oxygen isn’t available, the fibers cannot burn and carbonization takes place. With engineers making gradual improvements in elasticity, strength, and affordability, it’s no wonder carbon fiber is now taking off.
Luis Leguía experimented with fiberglass and later carbon fiber, making prototypes for about a decade until getting the patent for the first carbon fiber cello in 2001. Toward the end of that prototyping process, Leguía partnered with Steve Clark, who had experience fabricating carbon fiber parts, to start Luis and Clark, maker of carbon fiber cellos, violins, violas and double basses. Since then, other manufacturers have started making their own carbon fiber instruments. These instrument makers include Mezzo-Forte of Germany and deCarbo in Switzerland, which offers a line of carbon fiber brass instruments.
Carbon Fiber vs. Wood Instruments
Carbon fiber string and brass instruments resonate differently than traditional wood instruments. They tend to be louder and provide a deeper sound that’s popular among a growing number of musicians whose ranks include famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who owns (along with a 1733 Montagnana from Italy and a 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius) a Luis and Clark cello from Massachusetts that is unaffected by humidity or temperature.
There are purists who insist on playing wood, stating carbon fiber cannot capture the nuances wood instruments provide and that wood has been the standard for centuries. However, an increasing number of developing musicians turn to carbon fiber for consistency and affordability. Many established musicians, including masters, have added carbon fiber instruments to their collection for practical or experimental reasons.
Why is Carbon Fiber Becoming Increasingly Popular?
According to many professional musicians, carbon fiber is a suitable choice for outdoor performances since the instruments are capable of producing a bigger sound than their wooden counterparts.
Another perk of playing carbon fiber is that since it is unaffected by humidity or temperature, using a string or brass carbon fiber instrument is a good way to give a great performance while also protecting old, collectible instruments made of wood. Can you imagine Yo-Yo Ma pulling out one of his wood cellos for an outdoor show on a hot summer day or on a blistering cold winter night in the Upper Midwest? Neither can we. His cellos are centuries old and worth millions of dollars.
Why not choose to give a similar performance with a reliable carbon fiber instrument that provides a lot more value?
Carbon fiber is also becoming increasingly popular among string musicians because it’s sustainable. As overharvesting wood concerns increase and raw materials become scarce, suitable alternatives are needed without sacrificing performance. This is important, as individuals become more concerned with environmental considerations. Plus, they want something that won’t crush their savings account.
CodaBow’s In-Home Trial
CodaBow — pioneer of the carbon fiber bow for violin, viola and cello — offers a range of award-winning bows made in Minnesota for string musicians of all levels. Browse our collection, and get a seven-day, risk-free trial to ensure you get the exact bow you’ve been searching for. You can also visit your local CodaBow dealer.