The Sound of Fibers
The whole world knows what silence sounds like because of the song, ‘The Sound of Silence‘, by Simon & Garfunkel. This was a mega hit which made it onto the list of the 500 best songs of all time and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But it is not just silence that has a sound – fibers have a sound too. Do they have what it takes for worldwide musical success?
“The potential of the sound from instruments made of fibers is enormous”, says Jörg Kleinalstede, head of mezzo-forte Stringed Instruments in Werther, North Rhine-Westphalia. The company has ten employees and manufactures stringed instruments for jazz musicians, classical artists and orchestra pits all over the world. These also include double basses, which are among the largest stringed instruments in the world, with a total length of more than 1.9 metres and a weight of ten to twelve kilos. “Wooden double basses are very sensitive to environmental impacts and inconvenient to transport”, says Kleinalstede.
So the head of mezzo-forte has developed a carbon fiber composite double bass with the Institute for Textile Research (Institut für Textilforschung – ITA) at RWTH Aachen University. The resulting ‘CarboBass’, which weighs less than ten kilos, is not only significantly lighter than its wooden counterparts. It’s also thought to sound better: “fiber composite stringed instruments could even produce a better sound than classical wooden instruments”, says Kleinalstede with conviction, though he adds that systematic research into the acoustic qualities of carbon materials is necessary. “We are venturing into new territory with each instrument, because there’s simply no literature on how these fibers sound”, says Kleinalstede.
It is not the first time that mezzo-forte has produced a carbon fiber version of a classical wooden instrument. Up till now, the company has produced around 1,200 musical instruments of this kind, which also include violins, violas and cellos. If all the fiber instruments made by all their competitors are added to this number, it comes to around 3,000 carbon instruments worldwide. “In view of the fact there are 40 million stringed instruments in the world in total, this is a homeopathic proportion at best”, says Kleinalstede. Still?
The Norwegian pop group a-ha, for example, is now touring with a string ensemble who play on mezzo-forte stringed instruments. Also, the guitarist Jeff Beck is backed by a female cellist who plays on a carbon instrument from Werther. Beck, who occupies fifth place, behind Keith Richards, on the latest ‘Rolling Stone’ list of the 100 best guitarists of all time, might even be changing over from wooden to fiber sound himself. “The carbon ukulele and carbon guitar are practically ready”, says Kleinalstede, who is launching a new research project later this month, to listen more closely to the “Sound of Fibers“.
Watch the sound duel between wood and carbon.
Title image: without source