The modern materials… carbon fibre or perspex/acrylic as a guitar building material.
At Crimson Guitars I’ve not yet had the pleasure of working with carbon fibre, although plans are afoot and I hope to be offering utterly bespoke, burn-the-mould one-off carbon fibre guitars and basses some time in the next few years, watch this space! From a sound point of view I agree that instruments made entirely of cf with phenolic resin fretboards have a definition and clarity of tone but can be lacking in character, as a guitar builder though I have to say that the material an instrument is made from is only a part of the equation, the strings, pickups, setup and playing style each have an equal effect on the final tones you achieve.
I feel that the best way to get great tone is to use wood; it’s done alright by us so far hasn’t it? The ideal carbon fibre bass, in my opinion, will have a core of wood, even if that core is just a carbon-fibre skinned through-neck type design with most of the body, (and maybe even some of the neck) being hollow. You gain some definition and clarity of tone from the carbon fibre and create character and warmth with a tone-wood neck and, maybe, fretboard. The massive variety of woods available to even the laziest luthier would enable them to play with the tones as usual while creating much stronger more stable custom guitars or basses in the process. I’m really looking forward to trying all of this out!
Now, the part of this topic that no one is really talking about… acrylic or perspex basses. Crimson Guitars were lucky enough to build several acrylic basses for Charlie Jones, he uses the successful one with Goldfrapp among others and has been playing perspex bodied basses for 13 or so years (as far as I can recall from a conversation quite some time back at least.) Our original attempt was doomed to failure from the start, we thought that using two truss rods we would be able to make a bass entirely out of resin.. a clear neck looks amazing but is way too weak and in the end, tuning stability suffered terribly.
The end result was an acrylic body with a bolt on maple and walnut multi-laminate neck with an acrylic headstock. We had Wizard pickups make us a custom clear cast pickup and all the hardware had clear bits and pieces. I had the acrylic cast especially for the project with pearlescent glitter suspended throughout and, due to the massive weight of the standard acrylic offerings I carved, and carved.. the final result was still heavy in comparison to a standard bass but was very manageable.
Now to the tone, in my opinion this bass was the best I’ve heard by a long shot. I must say I concentrate mainly on guitar building at Crimson Guitars and only take on the occasional bass, (mainly because I’m known for guitars, I think, and bass players tend not to pick up the phone.. ) anyway, justifications over and I still say that when used properly as a body material perspex or acrylic is the perfect choice. It is relatively soft and seems to transmit the string movement almost immediately and has everything you could ask for tone-wise.. just listen to Goldfrapps new album if you don’t believe me! I built a timber version of the bass and, while this sounded perfectly fine, the acrylic monster just seemed to have more of everything; the bass, mids and treble all just sing and it was at least 30% louder.
I don’t expect everyone to stump up the cash, these highly bespoke basses and materials cost, but there is a place for them, if made well by people who actually think about what the end result needs to be; stable, ergonomic, playable and above all sonically pleasing!
All my best,
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