If the guitar-making researchers from Loughborough University (Making a song a dance, 16 May) care to look in their local guitar shop I suspect they’ll find quite a few instruments on offer made from synthetic materials of one type or another.
Their polymer ‘bubbles’ can join the queue behind Bakelite, Lyrachord composite and pure graphite, all of which offer an alternative to conventional guitarmaking tonewoods.
Bowl back acoustic guitars — albeit usually with a wooden top — have been around for 40 years, ever since Charles Kamen switched part of his helicopter rotor blade business into what became the Ovation company. The very distinctive acoustic tone produced by these instruments remains a topic of considerable controversy among players and begs the question of just how close the sound of the Loughborough team’s polymer guitars will be to conventional wooden instruments.
‘Similar’ is often far from close enough for players who can seldom agree between themselves over the sonic subtleties of mahogany and rosewood, or alder and ash. But one thing they do agree on is that guitars built from solid (as opposed to laminated) wood will improve tonally with age. Hmm, there’s a tricky one for the polymer men.
Many years ago, Design Engineering magazine lauded the development of the Bond ElectraGlide, a solid graphite electric guitar with a novel (some would say wacky) stepped fingerboard that did away with the need for frets. It vanished rather quickly. However, in these days of concern over the Earth’s wood stocks, perhaps the time has finally come for the ‘plastic’ guitar.