Archive for February, 2015
In the last post, we looked at a brand-new piano incorporating a carbon fiber soundboard. We explored the idea that material science will offer radical and high-quality improvements to basic acoustic instruments made of wood. In this post, we’ll explore how this same technology will be able to advance wind instrument manufacture as well.
Carbon fiber slides for trombones have been available for several years from a few manufacturers.
Several benefits come from using carbon fiber. First, the slides can be half the weight, allowing them to be moved and stopped faster than traditional metal slides. Second, the tolerances can be extremely fine, allowing for only fine layer of lubrication between inner and outer slides, making the whole mechanism more stable, secure and responsive. Also, because carbon fiber is so strong, the tubes will not dent with casual handling and knocks the way that thin-wall brass tubes do. The costs are high at the moment due to limited manufacture, but this is definitely a welcome development.
In late 2014, videos and pictures have started to emerge of new carbon fiber trombones where most of the instrument is constructed from carbon fiber. Here is a prototype made by trombonist David Butler:
The sound is certainly quite credible:
The Swiss company daCarbo has been manufacturing trumpets with carbon fiber bells for some time, and appear to be adding a carbon fiber trombone to the range shortly. Their website indicates that they are taking pre-orders. Their horn is interesting in that it incorporates a traditional F-trigger system made of brass – using carbon for the bell and outer slide.
If the blues are more your thing, here’s Trombone Shorty on a daCapo:
I know that I would welcome an instrument that weighs half of my Edwards and that was more responsive in every dimension! I know that I’ll be watching the developments in this space carefully. These initial instruments will be refined, improved, and perfected as time passes and create wonderful options for brass players. Unlike the cheap plastic trombones that can be had for just over $100, the instruments in this post are professional grade instruments – and are priced accordingly.
The piano has been a largely static instrument for the last 100 years. Steinway produced an 88-note model in the late 1880’s and that more or less standardized the instrument. There are very minor differences between makers in agraffes, rim composition, etc. All these add up to perceptible tonal variation, and musicians develop preferences based on these. It must also be mentioned that much of what is paid for in a piano is luxury work – fine (and increasingly rare) tone woods, luxury veneers, hand craftsmanship vs. automation, etc. Much of piano marketing is more akin to the kind of marketing done for pure luxury goods like leather, perfume, etc.
The last two decades have seen a marked rise in the quality of all pianos, even very inexpensive “stencil” pianos from factories in the far east. While they do not have the cachet of European and American brands like Steinway, Bosendorfer, etc, the quality is improving rapidly, as one would expect. When piano technology is 100-150 years old, it is mostly manufacturing prowess to learn how to make a better piano. With modern factory practices and intent engineering, a rise in quality is all but inevitable.
What has been lacking is actual innovation in the instrument itself. Wayne Stuart of Stuart and Sons Pianos in Australia is definitely taking this head on. He has produced a new agraffe that lowers the soundboard pressure, as well as extended the key range to 97 and 102 key instruments. His instruments have a substantially elevated sustain and tonal compass and produce some of the finest piano tone I have heard. Wayne is firmly committed to extending the art of piano making.
I have just become aware of another maker seeking to improve the art of piano making: Gergely Bogányi. His pianos are visually stunning:
They incorporate a carbon fiber soundboard, and a very curvaceious case that cantilevers the case over two legs. Interestingly, Steingraber & Sohne also produce a piano with a carbon fiber soundboard, but maintain a traditional wood case. So while the core innovation of the Boganyi is not “new”, it is still radical in the traditional world of piano manufacture. I would expect that a certain number of these Boganyi instruments will be purchased just as objets d’art.
I believe that carbon fiber will become more and more accepted as time passes. We already have carbon fiber stringed instruments that compete with professional quality wood violins. As research into material science accelerates, it will be possible to make resonant surfaces and cavities that are much more controlled and consistent than wood. For much of the world, the ambient humidity is not conducive to wood instrument longevity. Carbon fibre is not a limited resource in the same way as fine tone wood, and can be manufactured in large quantity. Once the layup recipe and composition are stabilized around a given tonal goal, manufacture can be be quite efficient, leading to higher quality at lower cost. This is sure to be a good thing for most musicians. It will not be the end of wood instruments, but will surely be a good thing for musicianship and allowing more people to access instruments on a global basis.