While different types of wood are most commonly used in the production of string instruments, they are expensive, endangered and unsustainable. With a mission in mind to achieve eco-friendliness, as well as to produce innovative and contemporary models, various designers are exploring alternative materials to create musical instruments with, without compromising the classical acoustic sound.
Guitars for instance, are traditionally made from tropical hardwoods such as mahogany, rosewood and ebony – all of which are either banned or restricted now. Aware of the deforestation problem, designers have explored sustainable options for guitars that utilise other materials – one example is a layered structure of reclaimed, recycled plastics that sandwich a layer of maple wood. Depending on the plastics used, a different finish is achieved while the overall sound of the guitar is unchanged.
Several developers additionally turned to carbon fibre as an alternative to using endangered wood in stringed instruments, the latest models of which promote a higher tolerance to weather extremes and consequently remain in tune for longer than traditional instruments do in certain climates. We already see examples of these instruments used by renowned classical and contemporary musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma and Lindsey Stirling, who enjoy performing with Luis & Clark’s carbon fibre cello and violin.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting the innovative, interdisciplinary, Italian designer Luca Alessandrini a.k.a fibreacoustics who has also been exploring alternative materials that can be used to successfully fabricate the instrument’s best acoustics, whilst maintaining a sustainable status. After much research into different fibres and their respective levels of propagation velocity, he discovered that a silk and spider silk composite provides a fantastic biomaterial with qualities that naturally create a rich and voluminous sound. Rather impressively, Alessandrini subsequently created the world’s first violin made of silk, winning the International Student Innovation Awards 2016 for this innovation.
I had the opportunity to listen to a recital performed by one of his advocates, the accomplished violin soloist Peter Sheppard Skærved – a demonstration to compare the sounds of different violins, including his own 1698 Stradivarius (once owned by Joseph Joachim), a Nicola Amati, as well as the fibreacoustics silk contestant. Although nothing can replace the quality of those infamous traditional violins, the fibreacoustics silk violin boasts a smooth and strong sound, arguably better than other existing modern alternative violins.