To put the description of carbon fiber in the simplest of terms, polymers (more technical terms—a polymer is basically a chain of molecules connected to one another as to form a thread) are subjected to an oxidation treatment and also heated in a nitrogen environment to temperatures between 1000 °C and 2500 °C. As the temperature is raised, atoms in the fiber are “burned off” until the fiber is composed of at least 92% carbon.
These fibers aren’t used alone. The carbon fibers are woven into sheets and are used to reinforce materials like epoxy resins. These reinforced materials are called composites because they have more than one component.
Carbon fiber reinforced composites are very strong for their weight. They’re often stronger than steel, but much lighter. Because of this, they can be used to replace metals in many uses, from parts for airplanes and the space shuttle to tennis rackets, golf clubs, skis and fishing poles and stringed instruments. Obviously, they are also extremely durable.
Interestingly, Luis Leguia did not set out to invent an instrument, which could be stomped on or played in the rain or snow. As a professional cellist, he was driven to find the ultimate instrument for his solo concerts. He had the idea that by using carbon fiber, he could build a cello with acoustical properties of extraordinary resonance and beauty. His theory was correct for the Luis and Clark instruments sound as beautiful as any wooden ones, yet, not only can they can be heard over a piano or orchestra, their sound can fill a large hall. And, as a by-product of the materials, if you play a wrong note and get mad, you can hurl it down from space and it won’t disintegrate as it reenters the earth’s atmosphere.
Using carbon fiber meant that having cornices to hold the instrument together was no longer necessary. The only purpose that cornices have is to provide support. They are a necessity in a wooden instrument, but they dampen the sound. The Luis and Clark instruments are built in basically the same shape as the inside of every traditional stringed instrument.
The instruments are made of three parts: 1. A one-piece back, sides and neck. 2. The top. 3. The fingerboard.
Contrary to the beliefs of many, the instruments are not “machine made.” They are individually made, by hand. They are fabricated, using molds and each is made according to specifications, which allow little to no variation from instrument to instrument. At each step of the fabrication process the instruments are measured and weighed to maintain strict quality control. The meticulousness that goes into the fabrication process means that we can rely on the instruments sounding consistently alike.
The instruments are set up traditionally, using wooden bridge and sound post. Because the instruments do not fluctuate with atmospheric changes as wooden ones do, they don’t require numerous bridges of different heights. All that is needed is one bridge, all year round.
The Luis and Clark instruments are fitted with Pegheds (www.pegheds.com). The Pegheds enable the instruments to be fine tuned with ease, just using the pegs. The pegs will not let go during abrupt changes in the weather, such as going out of a heated house into the winter cold. They also will not wear down, as traditional pegs will.
Each instrument is set up by a traditional luthier and is adjusted until it meets Luis Leguia’s standard of excellence. He has forty years of professional orchestral and solo experience and his standards and expectations could not be higher. No instrument leaves without his approval.
This informative video by The Discovery Channel has more about the construction and materials of the Carbon Fiber instruments: