Category Archives: Materials

Tonewood! So the web is linking to my article. Cool!

      Materials, Tonewood, Wood

Is “Tonewood” bullshit? This guy says it is…

So… the web is linking to my article and causing controversy. Cool! One commenter noted: “I suspect that this thread will have at least 8 pages by tomorrow.”. I bet! Another says: “Tone is in the luthier. That’s how I read the article, and I agree.” Yep. That’s essentially what I wrote.

The discussion references my article in 2009: Tuning the Wood: On Tonewoods and Other Myths.

C’mon and share your thoughts!

Compound Radius Fretboard

      Alpha, Bamboo, Carbon Fiber, Construction

I am more of a melodic lead player and I play lead more than chords. I prefer slim necks with flatter and low action fretboards that do not “fret out” with aggressive string bending —yet one more reason why I am not fond of the ever so popular Stratocaster. I am really inclined to build my next guitar that’s built exclusively for lead guitar playing with a totally flat fretboard, like a classical guitar. But this one is destined to be more conservative and general purpose so I’ll keep the fretboard curvature.

The question is how much curvature? The modern Strat has an aggressive 241 mm (9.5″) radius while Gibsons have 254 mm to 304 mm (10″ to 12″) radius. Modern Jacksons, on the other hand, have what’s called “compound radius fretboards” which are really conical fingerboards which start out with a smaller radius at the nut and gradually get flatter (bigger radius) towards the other end. The Jackson is definitely one of my favorite axe in my arsenal. And, for this design, I will definitely have something based on the Jackson. The radii of the curvature starts at 304 mm (12″) and ends (at the 24th fret) at 456 mm (18″).

Compound radius cutting jig

For this to happen, we need, you guessed it: yet another router jig. The router rides on a platform that pivots on a stainless steel shaft which is oriented on an angle corresponding to the conical section with our desired start and end radii (304 mm and 456 mm). Swinging the mechanism back and forth will give you the correct radius at any given point in its entire length, thereby guiding the router over the block to be cut into a fretboard. This web article details this jig quite well: Compound Radius Routing Jig for Guitar Fretboards.

Now we sandwich the fretboard with 8 layers of carbon fiber laid up with laminating epoxy; 4 on top and another 4 at the bottom. The fretboard is vacuum bagged to remove excess resin and to ensure that there are no air pockets or bubbles that can ruin its sonic integrity.

Bamboo fretboard ready for layup

4 layers of carbon fiber

Bamboo fretboard sandwiched in between with another 4 layers on top

Vacuum bagged. Excess resin oozing out.

After 24 hours curing, it’s time to slot the frets. I love jigs. Jigs make tricky tasks easy to do accurately. Inspired by StewMac’s fret slotting miter box, I use another jig for cutting the fret slots. Finally, we trim the sides using a fretboard template with a pattern following router bit.

Released. Nice and smooth! Ready for trimming and slotting.

Slotted and trimmed

Further Reading

  1. Guitar Fretboard Radius
  2. Compound Radius: Explained
  3. Compound Radius Routing Jig for Guitar Fretboards
  4. Fingerboard
Next: Pearl Inlays next

Neck-Thru Construction (part 3)

      Alpha, Bamboo, Carbon Fiber, Construction

Wrapping the Neck-Thru

This installment concludes the Neck-thru construction series. As a final step, the neck is wrapped in 4 layers of carbon fiber to ensure maximum rigidity. We vacuum bag the whole thing to ensure that there are no air-pockets and bubbles and to make the carbon fiber layup hug the shape as tightly as possible while allowing the resin to cure.

Vacuum Bagging

Vacuum bagging is a method that uses atmospheric pressure to hold laminated components (laminating epoxy and carbon fiber) in place until the adhesive cures. Laminated components are sealed in an airtight bag. Atmospheric pressure exerts around 101 kPa (14.7 PSI) inside and outside the bag. A vacuum pump then evacuates air from the inside the bag reducing the pressure inside the bag. This negative pressure creates as much as 82 kPa (12 PSI) pressure differential that compacts the laminate resulting in excellent consolidation and interlaminar bonds. The vacuum also draws out trapped air (air-pockets and bubbles).

Vacuum bagging is a crucial step. I’ll provide some links below detailing the process.

Laying-up the first carbon fiber layer

Laminating epoxy applied in between layers

Yet more layers of carbon fiber

Vacuum bagging the whole thing

Excess resin being drawn out by negative pressure

The carbon-fiber wrap ends at the neck-body heel

Perfection! The Final Result

(Click to zoom)


Further Reading

  1. Basic Vacuum Bagging
  2. Vacuum Bagging: Basics
  3. Vacuum Bagging Techniques
  4. Vacuum Bagging Equipment and Techniques for Room-Temp Applications
Next: Compound Radius Fretboard next

Neck-Thru Construction (part 2)

      Alpha, Bamboo, Carbon Fiber, Construction

Installing the Truss-Rod

Now, we install our new Carbon-Glass Truss Rod. We begin by cutting the truss-rod slot using a router. At the headstock-end of the neck, an aluminum block is embedded for additional strength and rigidity. In all guitars, the weakest point is this area where the neck meets the headstock —a critical breaking point. In addition to improved rigidity and strength, any additional support here will enhance tone and sustain. The aluminum block also serves as a foundation that evenly distributes the load of the tensioned truss-rod over a wider surface area. This aluminum block is glued using high grade structural epoxy. The nut sits in direct contact above this block further enhancing sustain.

A cavity at the headstock behind the nut is provided with ample space for a hex key wrench to reach into the stainless steel Allen adjustment screw for tightening the truss-rod. Another cavity behind the aluminum block gives the truss-rod head (see Carbon-Glass Truss Rod) some freedom of movement.

With the cavity routed to specification, we begin installing the truss-rod. The stainless steel anchor at the body-end of the truss-rod is glued, again with high grade structural epoxy. Finally, to ensure against the possibility of the rod rattling, we add some silicone sealer into the channel. The sealer will dampen any unwanted vibrations that can spoil the sonic quality of the neck.

Routing the truss channel

Aluminum reinforcement block

Gluing the anchor using structural epoxy

Truss-rod installed!

Routing the Body

For the body part of the neck-thru section, we will route the pickup cavities, the bridge height adjustment screws, the string ferrules where the strings pass through the body and the tail block —a piece of aluminum at the bottom that terminates the strings and where the ball-ends are anchored with easy access at the back.

Body side view transparency

For this design, we will have 3 single coil (DiMarzio Area 69) pickups. The pickups are body mounted and can be installed from the back of the guitar (how many times have you ever wanted to change pickups without having to loosen or take off the strings?). For that reason, the pickup cavity goes through the entire neck-thru body but not through the entire body (see figure at the right).

The body top also has a mild curvature which we will shape using yet another jig. That’s what we will do first. The images below show the jig in action. The jig rides on two rails with the router mounted on an acrylic plastic base which is mounted on two wooden sides with the desired curvature. I use this type of jig anytime I need some curvature —works well all the time.

Curvature-shaping jig

Jig shaping the body top

You might be guessing that I use a variation of this jig to shape the fretboard as well, but no, I did not. This guitar design has a compound radius fretboard for which this type of jig is not suitable. More on that later.

Now let’s move on to routing the pickup cavities. It starts with proper preparation and layout. I have prepared beforehand acrylic plastic templates for single and double coil pickups for standard Strat and Les Paul style pickups. I cover the entire area with masking tape and draw the outlines first. It was tempting to use the Strat’s pickup positions which give it its distinctive sound, but 1. I use a slightly shorter 644mm scale (25.35″) and 2. I have 24 frets (the Strat has 21). 1 is not a problem —it can be scaled. The real deal breaker is 2. The Strat’s neck pickup sits at around the 24th fret position. Hence, for this design, I compensated a bit and came up with a hybrid Ibanez Jem (I am a proud owner of two of these lovely Jems) and Strat layout. I use the acrylic plastic template to guide the router using a pattern following bit. Before routing,I pre-drill the cavities using Forstner bits to minimize the router’s work.


Routing the pickup cavities

Finally, at least for the neck-thru body, we drill the top string ferrules, the bridge height adjustment holes and the aluminum tail block. The bridge height adjustment is also accessed from the bottom. There will be no unsightly screws at the body’s top.

Drilling the top string ferrules. I love laser guided drills!

The tail block at the bottom

Further Reading

  1. Neck Construction Tips and Techniques
  2. Truss Rod Installation
Next: Neck-Thru Construction (part 3) next

Neck-Thru Construction (part 1)

      Alpha, Bamboo, Carbon Fiber, Construction

The "Log"


I like the basic idea behind the original Steinberger design. The idea is to keep only what’s needed —the bare essentials that define an electric guitar. The idea actually started from Les Paul himself when he started building “The Log” which became the precursor to the legendary Gibson Les Paul. The Log, as he likes to call it, is essentially a Gibson neck glued to a 4×4 block of solid pine. The body sides were added only for appearance to make it still look like a guitar. An ugly contraption, but I digress.

Classic Steinberger

Ned Steinberger, the man behind the Steinberger, got rid of the body sides and also got rid of the headstock altogether. It is also one of the first of a breed of guitars that used modern materials such as carbon fiber and graphite.

Developed in the late 70s, the Steinberger was ahead of its time. It still is. However, the headless and bodiless design never really took off as its inventor intended. Except for a few devoted followers, guitarists in general never got used to it. Later designs kept the headless neck but added at a body. Some designs also include a headstock. I think these moves are attempts to win the hearts of the general public. Looks matter and for some reason, guitarists are rather conservative when it comes to shaps. Is this perhaps because the guitar’s shape evokes the graceful female figure?

Following the basic premise that the essential factors that make an electric guitar is the neck, just enough body to allow a bridge and a tailpiece that anchors the strings, pickups, and of course the tuners, we’ll start with the middle neck-thru section. This is the most crucial part of the guitar and should be structurally sound and sonically excellent.

Cycfi Neck-thru design

In the section on bamboo preparation, we detailed the manufacturing of the composite material intended for the construction of the central neck-thru piece. This consists primarily of laminated bamboo interspersed with carbon fiber. In this section, we will walk through the process of actually shaping the material into our final neck-thru form.

Cutting the Outline

Trimming with a bandsaw

Compared to hardwood, bamboo planks are a lot more difficult to machine. Router bits and planer blades easily get dull because of the tougher grain structure. Also, while bamboo is very tough, it is very easy to tear-out the bamboo’s perfectly unidirectional grains. It is best to remove as much material as possible prior to routing. A bandsaw cuts excess material very close to, but outside the outline. 6 mm (¼”) bandsaw blades make sawing intricate curves easy while wider 12 mm (½”) blades are good for straight lines. Inner cavities are best pre-drilled using Forstner bits.

Pattern Bit

12.7 mm (½”) diameter, 19 mm (¾”) long pattern following bits (with bearing on the shank) guide the router through templates made from 19 mm (¾”) thick MDF board. It is best to cut slowly with successive 6 mm (~¼”) deep passes. As a general rule: don’t attempt to remove too much wood. Multiple passes work much better than removing a lot of wood at one time. Use the router as a precision cutter.

The router bit rotates counter-clockwise. In some places, the counter-clockwise movement of the bit will cause splinters when the blade pushes the end-grain outward. In this case, it is better to flip the body where the template is at the top then use a flush trim bit with the bearing at the end instead of the shaft. A hand-held plunge router serves this purpose so I do not have to change bits and flip the workpiece.

Routing the body

Routing the head

Flipping the template and using a flush-trim bit

Drilling the machine-head holes

Shaping the Neck

End Mill

For shaping the back of the neck, my favorite tool is the trimmer router with a solid carbide 4-flute 12.7 mm (¼”) end mill. These are typically used for machining metal, but are surprisingly well suited for shaping bamboo. As always, treat the tool with respect. This is a dangerous tool.

After rough shaping, the belt-sander is another indispensable tool. Every once in a while, the neck profile is checked against profile templates made from acrylic plastic to make sure that the shape is true to spec. For those intricate curves, the Dremel is a very capable and versatile tool.

Shaping the neck-body heel

Using a trimmer router with end mill

Smoothing with a belt sander

Checking against profile template

The versatile Dremel with a fine cutter bit

This time with a drum sander

Further Reading

Next: Neck-Thru Construction (part 2)next

Carbon-Glass Truss Rod

      Carbon Fiber, Construction

A Little Relief

Do we need an adjustable truss rod? Unlike wood, carbon fiber is not affected by temperature or humidity. Some guitar builders using carbon fiber proclaim that they don’t need to install a truss rod because necks made from carbon fiber are already stable and will not shift, warp or bow over time. However, while that may be true, these builders miss a crucial point: neck relief. The neck should not be perfectly straight.

Update (Feb 2, 2014): It’s my thinking now that neck relief is yet another myth.  I now set up necks without any relief and it’s a charm to play! I guess it’s time for another post exposing yet another myth. See comments below. I agree with Dave: “There is absolutely no reason a neck should not be straight.”

Strings oscillate side to side and also up and down. This oscillation is most pronounced at the center (the 12th fret). A little bit of neck relief —a slight bow— is required to allow the strings to vibrate freely. You can check neck relief by placing a ruler across the frets or capo at the first fret while pressing down at the last fret. The clearance at the half-way point (typically the 8th fret) is the neck relief. There is no ideal value for neck relief. It will depend on a few factors, most importantly your playing style. However, for an electric guitar, 0.025 mm (0.001″) string relief is typically recommended. This value is sub-millimeter, so be sure to use a feeler gauge if you want to be precise.

So, do we need an adjustable truss rod?  Yes. It is the only means to make the neck relief adjustable. Different string gauges will pull from 40 kg (88 lbs) to 50 kg (110 lbs) of force. The string’s tension naturally tends to bend the neck giving it a a slight concave curvature. The stiffness of the neck and the truss rod counteracts that force. An adjustable truss rod will allow us to control just the right amount of relief. Too much and the action will be too high making the guitar a pain to play. Too little and the strings will not have enough freedom to vibrate freely which will result in string buzz.

Fit and lite

Allow me to present the carbon-glass fiber truss rod. I’m quite pleased with the results. A truss rod of comparable strength made from steel is at least 3 times heavier. A stainless steel rod 6.3mm dia. 510mm in length weighs 127 grams whereas our hybrid carbon-glass fiber rod (the one I am using) 4.8mm by 10mm, 510mm in length is just 41 grams.

(Click to zoom)

Truss Rod Head

Truss Rod Tail (anchor)

The rod is made of 8 layers of carbon fiber (right now, I am using carbon fiber twill weave cloth but in the future I intend to use unidirectional carbon fiber cloth). 4 layers + 4 layers of carbon fiber sandwiches 6 layers of fiber glass weave for a total width of 4.8mm.

The head is machined aluminum alloy with a stainless steel allen adjustment screw. The adjustment screw has a finer thread than typical truss rods. This gives us finer control over adjustment of relief. Recall that we merely want 0.025mm of relief. The rigidity of the combined bamboo and carbon fiber neck is more than adequate to counteract the string’s pull. All we need is a little nudge.

The tail is anchored to the other end of the neck near the body using a short stainless steel rod anchor. To avoid galvanic corrosion —when one conductor (aluminum) corrodes when in electrical contact with a different type of conductor (carbon fiber), the whole thing is sealed with a few coats of clear polyurethane.

This is a single action truss rod. Modern guitars are equipped with double action truss rods. A double action truss rod has the ability to pull or push thereby compensating for back or forward bow. We don’t need that. Our hybrid composite neck is guaranteed not to back-bow.

Further Reading

  1. Thoughts on Neck Relief
  2. String action and setup
  3. Adjusting Truss Rods
  4. Adjustable Truss Rods
  5. Truss Rods
  6. Guitar Neck Truss Rods
  7. BRW Necks
  8. Neck Tilt, String Relief & Truss Rod
  9. Truss Rods – How They Work – Including The Bi-flex. – Telecaster Guitar Forum
  10. Hot Rod Adjustable Truss Rods
Next: Neck-Thru Construction (part 1) next

Bamboo Preparation (part 2)

      Alpha, Bamboo, Construction, Materials

Double Rip Cut

Selected Bamboo culms are sliced into straight strips 25 mm wide 1.2 meters long. You would want to choose large diameter culms that are more or less straight to begin with. Not all parts or the culm can be utilized for our purpose. Only the middle section is usable. The lower part of the culm near the roots, while having a larger diameter and thicker wall, has nodes that are spaced too close together. The upper part, on the other hand, is too small in diameter.

To cut the bamboo into straight strips exactly 25 mm wide, I devised a special double rip saw using two circular blades. A pre-cut bamboo section, 1.2 meters long, is strapped firmly in place while a movable assembly carrying the double-rip saw and motor cuts through the entire length of the bamboo section. After each cut, the bamboo is turned a few degrees clockwise and the next pass is made, repeating until the entire diameter of the bamboo is consumed.

At this point, only the internal nodes will be holding the bamboo section together. Applying a moderate amount of pressure will easily crush what’s left of the internal nodes that are still holding the bamboo. We shave off what’s left of the nodes and any protrusions. This can be done initially with a sharp knife and later with a jointer, then cleaning up with a thickness planer.


The end result is a bunch of nice and straight bamboo strips. The strips are sun dried and air dried for 3 weeks. After drying, the strips are boiled in water for 30 minutes to eliminate its natural starches and sugars, making them unattractive to termites and other pests. This will also make the bamboo less prone to shifting, expanding and contracting due to changes in temperature and humidity. The strips are then dipped in a 60% borax-40% boric acid solution for further preservation. Both boric acid and borax are great as insecticide and anti-fungal preservatives. After treatment, the strips are sun dried and air dried again for a few days until they attain 10% to 15% moisture content. Now the strips are ready for lamination.


The strips are grouped into 25 mm and 50 mm bundles, vertically oriented with their narrow edges facing up. Vertical orientation has better structural strength compared to horizontal orientation (with their wider edges facing up). Laminating epoxy (the same formulation used for laminating carbon fiber) is used to glue the bamboo strips. 2 tonnes of pressure is applied while allowing the epoxy to cure using a small press constructed just for this purpose (picture below). The epoxy resin slow-cures in 24 hours (faster if moderate heat is applied).

Laminating press

Laminated Bundles

The planks undergo another thickness planer session to even out any irregularities. After making sure that the planks are perfectly squared up, we are now about to prepare one end of the planks for a 14 degree scarf joint. This will later become the neck-thru’s headstock.

A jig is utilized to cut a smooth surface, exactly 14 degrees, using a router. The jig serves as a guide for the router, mounted on a movable acrylic base. The router base slides over two edge guides while the cutter bit cuts the surface material at the desired 14 degree head angle. The result is very accurate and easily repeatable. This jig can be found in Patrick Spielmans book “Router jigs and techniques”. A complete description of this technique can be found here.

Squaring-up the planks —another thickness planer session

Scarf-joint jig

Gluing the scarf joint

The final scarf joint —perfection!

Two outer 50 mm planks and one inner 25 mm plank make up the central thru-neck construction. These are laminated together with up to 6 layers of carbon fiber for optimum structural strength. The image below shows the layering.

Laminating the first carbon fiber layer

Yet more layers of carbon fiber

All good and ready to press

View showing the 14 degree scarf joint


Another 24 hours of curing. Our patience has paid off. We have a nice bamboo-carbon-fiber plank ready for routing and shaping! Yeah!

Now we are ready for routing

Further Reading

  1. Smoothing a scarf joint with the router
  2. Simplifying Scarf Joints
Next: Carbon-Glass Truss Bar next

Bamboo Preparation (part 1)

      Alpha, Bamboo, Construction, Materials

It all starts with a nice manufactured plank for the neck-thru middle section made of Bamboo interspersed with multiple layers of Carbon fiber laminated with high-grade epoxy.


There are some 1,400 species of Bamboo. The first obvious task is to select the right species suitable for building an electric guitar. Availability is a prime concern, which narrows the alternatives down to a few species that are specifically cultivated for various purposes. Two species are of particular interest:

  1. Dendrocalamus asper (Dendrocalamus)
    • Common names:
      • English: Giant Bamboo
      • Common Name: Indo asper
      • Chinese: Ma Lai Ma Zhu (Taiwan)
      • Tagalog: Botong
      • Indonesian: Betung
    • Maximum height: 20 meters
    • Maximum diameter: 20 cm.
    • Internode length: 20-70 cm.
    • Spineless
    • Used for construction materials, daily uses and pulp making
    • Straight to moderately arched
    • Distribution: Tropical and subtropical Asia. Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, but was introduced all over South-East Asia.
  2. Bambusa blumeana
    • Common names:
      • English: Giant Thorny Bamboo
      • Japanese: Shi-chiku
      • Chinese: Ci-zhu
      • Tagalog: Kawayan tinik
      • Malaysia: Bambu Duri
    • Maximum height: 20 m
    • Maximum diameter: 20 cm.
    • Internode length: 20-60 cm.
    • Spiny branches
    • Arched with slightly bulging nodes
    • Superior strength and durability for construction materials and bridges
    • Distribution: Tropical and subtropical Asia

Manufactured bamboo plank

Manufactured bamboo planks for flooring (alternative to hard wood), typically made in China, are readily available. The bamboo used for these planks is called Moso (Phyllostachys pubescens). This is another giant species which reaches a maximum height of 20 meters and 18 cm. maximum diameter. This particular species is native to China and Japan. I find these ready-made planks to be easily machinable. In terms of rigidity, however, these planks pale in comparison to the other species listed above, especially Thorny Giant (Bambusa blumeana Schultes F). That’s the prime reason why I will not be using off the shelf manufactured bamboo planks.

Also, I will be using only high grade epoxy for lamination. Off the shelf bamboo planks use water soluble PVA, which is a nice glue, but in my opinion, is not good enough. Finally, I also have to consider the need to intersperse Carbon fiber with bamboo. Obviously, with all these in mind, I have to manufacture the planks myself using only the most suitable material.

Flexural strength experiment

What we are particularly interested in is the material’s flexural strength maximum stress on the tensile side of a loaded beam just prior to failure. The strings want to bend the neck. Guitar strings (light to heavy gauge) pull the nut towards the bridge with around 40 kg (88 lbs) to 50 kg (110 lbs) of force. The material (together with the truss rod) must be able to withstand this bending force. The table below compares various bamboo species along with hard maple and ebony. To test the material’s flexural strength, small strips (10mm x 5mm x 100mm) are subjected to incremental perpendicular force at its end (picture at right) until the material fractures. The force required to bend the material until the point of fracture is then tabulated for each material.

Material Fracture point
Moso 12 kg
Hard Maple 13 kg
Sweet Giant 15 kg
Ebony 18 kg
Thorny Giant 21 kg

It is surprising to see that the flexural strength of Thorny Giant surpasses that of Ebony. This finding is probably due to flexible nature of bamboo. In the small experiment, bamboo flexes as much as 20 to 30 degress before fracturing. However, while Thorny Giant has superior strength, early experiments with it reveal a crucial problem: it is very difficult to machine using standard wood working tools. Even the best carbide router bits and planer blades easily get dull.

Sweet Giant places third in the chart ahead of hard maple. Compared to Thorny Giant, Sweet Giant is easier to machine. Its nodes are spaced farther apart and the culms are tall and relatively straight with no bulge at the nodes —properties that make it generally more suitable for our purpose.

Given all these data points, here’s the final verdict: We will be using Thorny Giant as a suitable replacement for Ebony to be used as fretboard material. We will also be using Sweet Giant as a suitable replacement for Maple to be used as the Thru-Neck material. As mentioned, bamboo will be interspersed with multiple layers of Carbon fiber and laminated with high-grade epoxy.

Further Reading

  1. Zipcode Zoo
  2. Bamboo in the world
  3. National Plant Germplasm System
  4. Phyllostachys Moso
  5. Bamboo Information Network
  6. Flexural strength
Next: Bamboo Preparation (part 2) next

Black Steel

      Carbon Fiber, Materials

carbon-fiberLightweight but stronger than steel, carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) or carbon fiber in short, was once considered a very expensive space age material used in the space shuttle and state-of-the-art airplanes as a substitute for aluminum alloys. Carbon fiber is a polymer made of long and thin graphite, a pure form of carbon (more than 90% carbon) where the atoms are arranged into big sheets of hexagonal aromatic rings that look like chicken wire. This atomic configuration makes it extremely strong and at the same time light. Carbon Fiber belongs to a group of materials with properties similar to diamond. The difference is that diamond has a uniform 3D cubic crystal structure whereas carbon fiber has a uniform 2D mesh structure. The fibers are used to reinforce materials like epoxy resins. The same process used in fabricating fiber glass composites applies to carbon fiber.

Luis and Clark Carbon Fiber Cello

Luis and Clark Carbon Fiber Cello

Recently, improved manufacturing techniques are reducing the cost of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is now becoming a mainstream material finding its way into applications that require durability, high-strength, low weight and insensitivity to humidity and temperature changes. Its exceptional strength-to-weight ratio is the main reason why it is a material of choice in the aerospace industry and much later, for F1 race cars and high end sports cars. Now, it is increasingly common in consumer goods such as tennis racquets, golf clubs, archery equipment, tripods, fishing rods, laptops, bicycle frames and parts, aftermarket automotive body-panels and parts, and… you guessed it, musical instruments.

Stockbridge Summer Music’s 18th season, July 7, 2003, was an unusual event. Cellist Luis Leguia gave the opening recital featuring standard works from Bach, Vivaldi, Faure, and Kodaly, with a cello made not from wood, but carbon fiber. The cello is his creation.  In 1989, he began experimenting on a prototype carbon fiber cello in his basement. The result is an instrument with exceptional sonic quality, projection and volume; good enough for the discerning professional musician. A decade later, Luis Leguia started his company named Luis and Clark and began building carbon fiber violins, violas, cellos and double basses. Now, a carbon fiber cello costs $7,139.

Carbon fiber is stronger than even the hardest wood. There is no comparison. It has a tensile strength of 565 kN/cm² which is more than 10 times than that of steel with a tensile strength of 37 kN/cm. Yet, it is 4 times lighter.

But then again, a strong material does not necessarily make a good instrument. Early carbon fiber composite based instruments sounded dull and lacking in character, noted Charles Besnainou, an instrument builder at the Paris Conservatoire and France’s National Center for Scientific Research. Since 1986, Charles has been studying and building composite instruments. Over time, he has learned the fine art of tweaking the balance between the material’s rigidity and flexibility (its viscoelasticity) to make the response more like “tonewood”.

Does that sound familiar? Is this again another case of “tuning” the material?

From the descriptions above, it is immediately apparent that carbon fiber is a suitable candidate for building guitars which require high strength to counteract the tendency of the strings to pull the head towards the body with a total tension in excess of 45 kilos (99 lbs) while being extremely low weight and thus less fatiguing to carry around.

A process, called a wet layup, involves laminating multiple sheets of carbon fiber fabric soaked with two part epoxy resin and laid up over a fiber glass mold. Before layup, the mold is first prepped by polishing it with carnuba wax and applying a thin layer of release agent, typically PVA, to ease separation when the resin cures. After layup, the laminate and mold are placed inside a plastic vacuum bag. Air is drawn out using a vacuum pump to eliminate bubbles from forming and to remove excess resin. The piece is then set aside to allow it to cure. This is the same process used in fabricating fiber glass composites.

Here’s a small gallery of musical instruments made of carbon fiber:

“The Handle” by XOX Audio Tools

“The Handle” by XOX Audio Tools

Blackbird Super OM

Blackbird Super OM

Carbon Fiber Mandolin by NewMAD

Carbon Fiber Mandolin by NewMAD

G1 Seven by Gus Guitars

G1 Seven by Gus Guitars

Luis And Clark Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass

Luis And Clark Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass

WS1000 6-string acoustic by Rainsong

WS1000 6-string acoustic by Rainsong

Flute by Maltit

Flute by Maltit

Adamas 2080

Adamas 2080

Further Reading

  1. Japan Carbon Fiber Manufacturers Association
  2. Carbon fiber
  3. Bacon’s breakthrough
  4. Carbon-Fiber Cellos No Longer Playing Second-Fiddle to Wooden Instruments
  5. A Summer Cello Expedition with Luis and Clark
  6. Carbonfibre
  7. 6 Sexy Carbon Fiber Guitars
  8. Acoustic characteristics of carbon fiber-reinforced synthetic wood for musical instrument soundboards
  9. Beyond Rosewood and Spruce – How guitar makers are using space-age composite materials to create new designs and new sounds
Next: Specifications next

The Mystical Plant

      Bamboo, Materials

The Land Breeze and the Sea Breeze were married and had a child: a giant bamboo plant. The first man, Malakas (Strong), and the first woman, Maganda (Beautiful), emerged from the bamboo plant split in two after a battle between the Sky and the Ocean.


This is the legend of the first man and woman according to Philippine oral tradition. Several creation related legends exist throughout Asia. In Malaysia, a similar legend tells of a man discovering the beautiful woman of his dreams emerge from a bamboo tree he split open. In Hawaiian mythology, bamboo is the body form of Kane Milohai, the god who created the sky, earth and upper heaven.

The bamboo is firmly entrenched in many cultures throughout Asia for thousands of years. Some still believe the bamboo has mystical powers. In feng shui (an ancient Chinese art and science), it is known to promote positive energy flow (chi) and is sometimes used as medicine. In Japan, bamboo forests sometimes surround Shinto shrines as a barrier against evil spirits.

Bamboo is revered and is extensively depicted in art, poetry and literature especially in Southeast Asia. This plant has numerous meanings. Its durability and evergreen nature represent eternity, tradition, longevity, loyalty and fidelity. It is also the symbol of luck and wealth in China. In India, it is a symbol of friendship. In Vietnam, the bamboo symbolizes the Vietnamese soul.  In China, the bamboo, the plum blossom, the orchid and the chrysanthemum represent the four seasons and are known as the four noble plants. The bamboo is symbol of summer in China, and winter, In Korea. The Japanese call the bamboo, the pine tree, and the plum blossom, the “Three Friends in Winter”. Bamboo represents flexibility, the plum blossom represents beauty and the pine tree symbolizes survival through difficulty.

The Humble Grass

Yes, bamboo is a grass, members of the Gramineae (Poaceae) and grouped in different subfamilies, the Bambusoideae with some 1,400 species. The diversity makes it adaptable to diverse environments. It is native to all continents except the coldest regions such as Europe and the poles where they were wiped out during the recent ice age. Bamboo evolved from prehistoric grasses in what is now Asia in the Cretaceous period where it reached heights of 75 meters (250 feet) in vast, enormous forests.

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest

As a material of choice, it is sustainable and “rapidly renewable”. Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant in the world with a growth rate of up to 90 centimeters (3 feet/day). Some species can grow as tall as 30 meters (100 feet) and more than 25 centimeters in diameter (10 inches). It grows to a harvestable height of 18 meters (60 feet) in about three to five years. After harvest, its extensive root system continually replenishes the plant with new shoots without the need for replanting; making it one of the most renewable resources available.

It is environmentally friendly. The plant absorbs more greenhouse gases (12 tons/hectare) and provides five times more oxygen than the equivalent surface area of trees. Bamboo cultivation does not require pesticides (it has natural anti-bacterial properties), fertilizers, heavy harvesting machinery or irrigation.

Bamboo is green in every sense of the word. It is traditional and even ancient yet so 21st century!

When treated, bamboo forms a lightweight and exceptionally durable hard wood. High content of silicic acid gives the plant its extraordinary elasticity, hardness and strength. The tensile strength of bamboo (up to 40kN/cm²) is greater than that of steel (37 kN/cm²). It is known to be almost three times harder than oak and 16% harder than maple.

Bamboo is used as material for musical instruments predominantly in Asia since antiquity. Its tonal properties make it particularly suitable for musical instruments. Its hollow structure makes it a natural choice for building wind and percussion instruments. The fibers and natural resin that constitute bamboo material itself is very resonant due to its resilience and high elasticity. A narrow strip of bamboo flexed like a bow will freely oscillate when released and emit a pleasing “thooouummmnnn”  sound at its resonant frequency plus some overtones.

Let us see what the world of bamboo musical instruments has to offer. Here’s a sampler:

Traditional Instruments



Angklung (Indonesia): Made out of two bamboo tubes tuned to octaves.

Shakuhachi (Japan): An end blown flute.

Shinobue (Japan): A high-pitched transverse flute.

Xiao (China): A vertical end blown flute.



Palendag (Philippines): A long slender lip-valley flute.

Dizi (China): A flute with an extra hole covered with a tissue-like membrane that gives the instrument a very unique timbre.

f’ohe hano ihu, meaning “bamboo, breath, nose” (Hawaii): A nose flute with 4 holes, one for the breath and the rest for the notes.



Nohkan (Japan): A high pitched, transverse flute made from smoked bamboo (susudake) or burned bamboo (yakidake).

Jegog (Indonesia): A large percussive instrument (3.3 meters in length and 18cm in diameter) with pitch as low as 60 hz.

Valiha (Madagascar): A bamboo tube zither. The Valiha is Madagascar’s national instrument.



Rangguin (Malaysia): A Jaw harp consisting of a flexible bamboo strip attached to a frame. The bamboo strip is plucked using the mouth as a resonator.

Kuliteng (Philippines): A zither made from single bamboo section, three to four inches in diameter, with strings also made from bamboo.

Balingbing “Buzzer” (Philippines): A bamboo tube with slits on two sides allowing the halves to buzz when struck with the hand.

Bamboo Organ

Bamboo Organ

Jinghu (China): A bowed instrument with two strings tuned in fifths.

Las Piñas Bamboo Organ (Philipines): Probably the largest bamboo instrument ever built, it was built in 1816 by Fray Diego Cera dela Virgen del Carmen. Made almost entirely of bamboo with 843 bamboo tubes out of a total of 900, only the trumpet stops are made from metal.

Modern Instruments

FGBM1BambooYamaha FGB1: The world’s first all-bamboo acoustic guitar. Everything in this guitar is made from bamboo, the top, back, sides, neck and even the braces. The bamboo’s straight grain gives it a warm, crisp and resonant sound.


The Stick

Bamboo Saxophone: Philipus Jani of Sabah, Malaysia builds saxophones made entirely from bamboo. It took him 12 years to design and patent his creation.

The Stick: A revolutionary guitar-like instrument designed for  two-handed tapping. “Laminated bamboo is an ideal natural material for making Sticks. It’s lighter in weight and more rigid than hardwoods, and also has a very tough surface. Three tiers of 3/16″ wide ‘vertically’ laminated strips form an attractive ‘breadboard’ construction with maximum strength in the direction of string tension.”

Further Reading

  1. Bamboo Boom: Is This Material for You?
  2. Earth Healing with Bamboo
  3. What Is the Meaning of the Lucky Bamboo?
  4. Three Friends in Winter
  5. Mechanical properties of bamboo
  6. World Instruments Gallery
  7. Bamboo Orchestra
  8. Yamaha Announces World’s First All-Bamboo Guitar
  9. Strong as steel and environmentally sound, bamboo is branching out – The Boston Globe
  10. Would a bamboo neck be feasible?
  11. The Stick
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