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UK University to Showcase Thermoplastic Guitars

  • Friday, 20th May 2005
  • Reading time: about 4 minutes

British inventors are promoting a range of innovative acoustic and electric guitars made almost entirely from polymers under the name of Cool Acoustics Technology.

The three models, a hybrid wood / polymer acoustic, an all polymer acoustic and a semi-hollow electric, feature patented foamed polymer technology that the designers claim to provide “outstanding sound quality”.

The first prototypes to use the novel ‘bubbled’ plastic were revealed at the Frankfurt Music Show some time ago. Inspired by the public response and level of commercial interest, design researchers Owain Pedgley and Eddie Norman have since been perfecting their trio of inventions for a performance to be held next month in the UK, where the public can appreciate and participate in a performance of different musical styles which will test the instruments to the limits.

The designers are also proud to be associated with the contributions made from expert musicians and craftsmen in the field, in particular drawing upon the input of master craftsman Rob Armstrong, guitar maker to The Levellers, Fairport Convention, Gordon Giltrap and the late George Harrison.

The designers have produced polymer guitars they are easily moulded, so requiring fewer parts which they claim simplify the assembly. The designers add that using non-wood components also opens up radical approaches to instrument design, construction and finishing, and eases pressure on wood supplies. The designers are quick to add that due to the millions of bubbles in the polymer, the sound quality achieved is extraordinarily good.

One of the driving forces behind the adoption of non-woods for musical instruments is to overcome the direct and consequential issues of material inconsistency. As a raw material, wood is full of inconsistencies in its composition. Variation in, among others, growth rates, grain structure, density, stiffness, moisture content, appearance and saw cut each combine so that no two pieces of tonewood to be used in an instrument are alike.

The commercial potential of the invention soon became apparent, attracting a series of innovation and investment funding. Nine years since the very first prototype, and now under the Loughborough University branded venture ‘Cool Acoustics’, Eddie and Owain continue to pursue their vision of polymer guitars for the masses.

“Groundbreaking technology takes time to filter into the market but the commercial response is very promising,” says Eddie. “It’s a long process but we’re committed. We’ve proved that the sound rivals that of high quality wooden guitars and we can make them right now. The next step is to develop the technology for low-cost mass manufacture and achieving this is only a matter of money and time.”

“In the meantime the custom-made route satisfies a response that’s been growing ever since Frankfurt,” Owain adds. “Our limited edition instruments will represent a chance to buy an exclusive piece of guitar-making history. We’re inviting musicians to contact us and register their interest in making a purchase.”

The essential core of Cool Acoustics technology is the creation of guitar components from expanded (alternatively known as ‘foamed’ or ‘aerated’) thermoplastic and thermoset polymers, and the use of these components to build complete instruments. Cool Acoustics technology therefore refers to the collective design principles, materials and manufactured components used by Cool Acoustics to create its revolutionary instruments.

The technology encompasses the very simple (eg fabrication of an expanded polymer sheet into a soundboard) through to the very complex (eg injection moulding of a single consolidated component). The key challenges and opportunities for Cool Acoustics have been to replicate desirable features of wooden guitars, whilst exploiting design and production benefits that come with the manufacture of plastic products.

To mark the unveiling of the new range of polymer acoustic and electric guitars, Gordon Giltrap will headline a free showcase concert on Sunday 12 June at Loughborough University, where the guitars will perform a variety of musical styles, from unplugged to accompanied blues and rock, guests will also have the chance to try the guitars for themselves.

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