When thinking about graphite and graphite fiber and its derivatives (carbon fiber), a practice more common than most people would be willing to admit, especially on weekends, the most common associations are sports equipment, high performance cars and the composite wings and fuselage of the Boeing 787. If we account for some normal variances among the population, it would not be gauche to think about graphite used in pencils, batteries, brake linings and aviation lubricants.
While we can admire the technology and science that has helped mankind develop such technology, few of us are inspired to dream and rave about it. Conversations around the family hearth or at a bar on a Saturday night rarely involve intimate discussions of the lightweight and tensile strength characteristics of graphite sheets, let alone how graphite pebbles can help a nuclear reactor avoid a meltdown. No, those conversations are usually reserved for breakfast time. Nevertheless, most people can agree that music is a great way to break the ice with a prospective dating interest, or a way for old and new friends to connect; certainly, good music sparks our imagination, our memories and our dreams. Jealous scientists and engineers have always had to suffer in envy as the musicians stole the limelight. Everyone likes a musician they say. It so happens, however, that carbon fiber can be used to make excellent musical instruments.
Modern musicians of classical music know that carbon or graphite fiber instruments can bring out the finest notes they have ever played. Graphite has an inherent quality that enhances sound; it is also very responsive, such that a light touch from its more rigid structure is enough to extract a special feel from a note. The graphite fibers are also light, which makes it easier for a performer to move the instrument, it can enhance speed or simply reduce fatigue because of its lower weight. A graphite fiber instrument also needs less maintenance and is more durable. Some of the most recent graphite fiber musical instruments are violins, guitars and cellos. One of their most interesting advantages is that such instruments are impervious to humidity or climactic variations, which means they perform optimally in all conditions. Moreover, relative to sound quality, graphite fiber instruments are much cheaper than equivalent ones made from wood, which makes the possibility of playing music with instruments producing the best sound available to amateur musicians as well as the consummate professionals.
The purists will be pleased by the fact that a graphite fiber instrument still requires a high level of skill and workmanship to produce. Luis and Clark are renowned as the makers of some of the best examples of graphite stringed instruments, the Stradivari's of the nascent industry. They make their instruments by hand but the predictability of the fibers and production method ensure that there no noticeable differences in sound quality from one instrument to another. Cellos require just one bridge for the year rather than various bridges throughout the year. Cheaper variations are also available, as some former aerospace engineers have established factories to mass produce weather proof instruments from synthetic and graphite fibers. Regardless, the combination of stiffness and lightness converts into producing a finer sound from the vibrating string of a violin. Surely, graphite may not be as romantic a material as wood, but if sound quality is the goal, graphite fiber points the way toward how to achieve a perfect sound.