To Boldly Go...
(Where No Guitar Has Gone Before)
It seems that every year brings new problems
with the traditional woods that we have all
grown to expect and demand on our guitars.
What are we going to do when these woods
are no longer available? It might comfort
everyone to know that instrument makers will
simply begin building with alternative woods.
There are plenty of them, and while the species that are considered optimum are increasingly rarer and more endangered, we must
remember that there are plenty of temperate
hardwoods—many that grow locally. In spite
of humanity’s incredibly detrimental impact
upon the environment, trees do grow and
they can be repopulated either naturally or
with some concerted planting.
In my younger days, I held a balloon to my
ear while music was playing and was startled
to hear an enhancement to the sound,
apparently influenced by either the balloon’s
membrane or the specific gaseous contents.
Concurrently, my friend and fellow guitar
enthusiast Tim White had an idea about mak-
ing a guitar with a graphite web for a body,
filled with an inflatable bladder. After consid-
erable discussion, I commissioned a proto-
type, and months later he delivered a mon-
strously ugly, albeit brilliant, first effort. It was
heavy though, and the inflatable bladder was
concocted from a Kmart shopping bag. I was
slightly disappointed, but Tim kindly agreed
to let me off the hook. He did, however, con-
tinue to evolve the inflatable guitar concept
under the moniker of “Chrysalis,” producing
some fascinating, remarkably beautiful and
innovative guitars. This idea is way ahead of
its time: chrysalisguitar.com
music and instruments might evolve in cen-
turies to come. I find myself often doing the
same thing. I seem to recall a transparent
ethereal-sounding lute of sorts played by
either Spock or Lt. Uhura and it stuck with
me. While visiting a glass studio, I observed
an artisan creating a large teardrop-shaped
vessel, and it seemed to me that such a
process could perhaps yield a slumped
glass bowl-back mando-guitar of sorts. This
would take great effort and expense and the
result would perhaps be tonally interesting,
yet incredibly fragile. The same is fragility
plagues ceramic materials, though clays can
be easily molded, cast and fired.
It’s obvious that a much better approach is
die injection plastic. The specific gravity of
Brazilian rosewood (or any wood for that
matter) can be closely approximated by adding or subtracting glass content to plastic
pellets, and the injection-mold process allows
for exact replicas at a low cost per piece. The
legendary Mario Maccaferri did considerable early work in this area. The barrier here
is that the machinery is gargantuan and the
actual molds can cost in excess of $100,000
to fabricate, so there is no room for error
or adjustment. Unless you have unlimited
resources, you have to get it right the first
time. Nonetheless, I took a stab a creating a
hard foam model of such a “contiguous” guitar, and I do believe that someone will carry
the idea to successful fruition sometime in
the next 500 years!
Chrysalis Guitar, courtesy of Tim White.
But aside from wood, there are many alternatives for instrument makers. Guitars have
been made with reasonable success out of
graphite, high-pressure laminate, masonite,
cardboard, plastic, fiberglass, aluminum,
steel, ceramic, and even solid granite—for
hard rock music, I suppose. I’d like to share
a few of my particular probable and improbable ideas concerning the future of guitars.
In a similar vein, I was often amused and
admittedly inspired by the plethora of odd
futuristic instruments featured on Star Trek.
I imagine that Gene Roddenberry and his
cronies had some fun trying to envision how
Prior to, and during the course of, his 33-year career with
C. F. Martin & Co., dick boak (small letters!) has been a
vagabond, communal architect, illustrator, art teacher,
geodesic dome builder, lathe turner, luthier, draftsman,
poet, guitarist, wood expert, author, desktop publisher,
singer/songwriter, apple computer geek, archivist and
publisher. By the time you finish reading this paragraph,
he will most likely have morphed into something else.