A PhD thesis by a researcher at Loughborough University could be set to transform guitar design from a black art into a properly engineered process.
Owain Pedgley, who will be awarded his doctorate later this month, has been working with leading English luthier Rob Armstrong to systematically design and build a plastic-based guitar, capable of mass production and with a sound quality comparable to a traditionally crafted instrument.
Unlike existing polymer-based guitars, Pedgley’s design does not need to be reinforced with expensive carbon fibre. Instead, it uses expanded and non-expanded polycarbonate to provide the stiffness and resonant acoustic properties demanded by a stringed instrument.
The back and neck of the guitar are moulded in one piece. The sound-board and fret-board is then glued on. It could also be possible to first injection mould the bridge tailpiece – on which the strings are mounted – and then continue moulding the rest of the soundboard.
`It is anticipated that making a mass-produced version of the instrument will require only the simple assembly of pre-formed components,’ said Pedgley. `Assembly should be quick, and therefore relatively inexpensive, and will eliminate the need for the skilful adjustments associated with hand crafting,’
Eddie Norman, Pedgley’s tutor at Loughborough University, said Pedgley’s thesis was more than a guitar manufacturing project. `It was really about how designers make judgements. We decided to look at musical instruments because there is a lot of mythology about them. We felt we could move their design along,’ he said.
`It involved studying the design decision-making process and looking at it from an engineering perspective to find out what is true and what is not.’
Pedgley’s prototype has been tested by guitarist Gordon Giltrap, who recorded a demo tape of it action. He has given Pedgley a letter of endorsement to show to prospective manufacturers.
`There are lots of people phoning up to ask about manufacturing the guitar but there have been no firm offers yet. If we do sign a deal then maybe learners, like my daughter, will be able to wake up on Christmas morning to find a low-cost well engineered guitar in the stocking at the bottom of their bed,’ said Norman.