StringWorks Blog

Notes from the founder of StringWorks, Todd French. Please feel free to email me with your questions or comments, or even suggestions on blog topics I might tackle.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Graphite plus Spruce = ?

Many of you likely read the recent article in the New York Times about new technologies in instrument construction (guitars and violins) marrying graphite and spruce for the instrument tops, as well as other innovations that explore the marriage of technology with natural materials and/or traditional design.

I'm intrigued by the possibilities of the graphite and spruce laminate for instrument tops, yet admittedly I do not have much knowledge in this area. I have already contacted a friend of mine (also in the industry) who has expertise in composites, and perhaps one day we can sit down and compare notes, putting the two heads together and try to come up with an idea. Unfortunately, when we get together, it's not often about productivity, but we could perhaps make a very concerted effort for the good of all.

The concept makes sense to me, as spruce is so inconsistent even in the high quality blanks. I can imagine a very thin piece of spruce used for the top that is reinforced in all the key areas by a variable sheet of graphite - sort of a swiss cheese or honeycomb design but with irregular hole shapes and spacing, as the impact of tone on the top of an instrument varies, hence the irregular graduation of every violin top. Since graphite/composites can be so highly tuned to do exactly what you need them to do, and then so easily replicated as exact models of one another, you could introduce a level of consistency and constance to a rather irregular and highly varied construction task.

While graphite/composite creates a very consistent and tunable part of the equation, it cannot - in my opinion - recreate the intricacies of what a natural substance can in a stringed musical instrument. This is where the spruce will shine. The inherent tonal qualities of spruce will keep this instrument sounding natural and will allow it to improve with age, just as an all wooden instrument would. The absence of the natural products and magic that comes in tonal development of an instrument performed on for many years could still exist, yet the advantages of the composite reinforcements mean that the instrument could start out at a higher level of tonal development.

It's an interesting concept, as I said earlier, and definitely one I'd like to pursue when the time allows it. I certainly invite anyone else to share their thoughts with me.

Mass Market Music

I know it has been quite some time since my last Blog entry - either I have been too busy, or too lazy. I received some feedback from someone who reads this Blog and was urged to get back to writing, so as testament to my promise to take your advice into consideration, I'm back at the keyboard...

Today I'd like to touch again on the Mass Market of Music, specifically musical instruments, and even more specifically, that of a certain firm who has aligned themselves with a car manufacturer to offer a free guitar with purchase of a particular vehicle. Unfortunately, this is the same company that is responsible for the vast downgrading of the low end of the market in musical instruments through - by their own admission on their website - mass marketing.

One could argue, perhaps, that mass marketing of musical instruments brings down the price and therefore puts music in the hands of those who may not otherwise have been able to. Extremely low cost instruments make them affordable through major retailers, but what is gravely missing in this theory is that we are not talking about VCR's or skateboards - we are talking about a 'product' that requires at least some acceptable level of build quality, attention to detail, and expertise in construction, setup, and tuning (no pun intended).

I find myself continually frustrated by the leadership of this company, where not a single person seems to have been involved in music at any time in their life, other than one who was with Sony Music in a PR role. How can you run a specialized product line with zero expertise? A better question might be how can you run such a specialized product line with zero expertise and have it not only be a huge success but change the market in which you have no real business being in? It is frustrating for all the many thousands of experienced and educated retailers, manufacturers, and distributors out there who suffer the results of this 'Mass Market' campaign that has become so successful, and the greater disappointment is with the products themselves and the inevitable loss of quality which negatively affects the market as a whole for more than just the immediate future, but the long term.