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One of the biggest challenges to luthiers has been the relative inconsistencies and dwindling supply of tonewoods. As an organic substance, wood has inherent flaws, grain patterns, etc. that are part of its unique properties, yet also can become a challenge for luthiers trying to mass produce an instrument with sonic and visual quality control across the entire product line.
Carbon fiber has since been established as the most viable alternative, and in this category, there are several brands and models from which one can select the best carbon fiber guitar for his or her playing preference.
Let's cover a few basic considerations before getting into a few of the industry leaders!
The Top 5 Carbon Fiber Guitars
1. KLOS Black Carbon Fiber Travel Acoustic Electric Guitar
- The only hybrid carbon fiber and wooden acoustic electric travel guitar ever built, this guitar features a high quality mahogany and blackwood neck, a carbon fiber foam core sandwich soundboard, a carbon fiber body, blackwood bridge, D'Addario .11 gauge steel strings and ABS nut, saddle, and bridge pins
- Intended for right hand players, made with 18 frets with dot inlays the fingerboard features a full scale length (24 3/4") with a precise medium-low action setup for excellent playability
There are two things I like about the KLOS:
- The price
- The quality is amazing
The carbon fiber makes the guitar incredibly light. Which makes it the perfect material for a travel guitar. The carbon fiber also makes it very durable - something you're not going to get with a regular wood-based guitar. It easily handles the changing heat and humidity fluctuations that come with playing your travel while on the road.
You can just unbolt the neck and it pack down into a small package. The full scale length makes it very easy to switch between this guitar and a full sized guitar without making any adjustments to your left hand!
The sound, similar to every other carbon fiber guitar, is striking and unique. It sounds like a cross between a small acoustic guitar and a clean electric guitar. It is extremely loud and projects its sound very well.
It's a great option. Especially for those who want the carbon fiber qualities without paying thousands of dollars!
2. Composite Acoustics Cargo Carbon Fiber Acoustic Guitar
- Body Body type: 000 Cutaway: Single cutaway Top wood: Carbon Fiber Back & sides: Carbon Fiber Bracing pattern: Integrated Top Bracing Technology Body finish: High Gloss Orientation: Right handed Neck Neck shape: C Nut width: 1.69 in. (43 mm) Fingerboard: Reinforced Polymer Neck wood: Carbon Fiber Scale length: 22.75 in. Number of frets: 21 Neck finish: Satin Electronics Pickup/pream
- "A travel-size instrument that sounds like a full-size guitar? Yes it is possible
The Cargo is another great option if you are looking for a smaller, durable guitar you can bring on your travels. Just be prepared to pay a little extra.
In terms of quality it's an engineering marvel. The action is perfect and the instrument will never need a trussrod adjustment as there is no trussrod! The fingerboard is buttery smooth, with frets of stainless steel. You can leave this guitar in your trunk on a 90 degree day and not think twice about it. It's incredibly playable with perfectly tuned action.
It is definitely stage worthy, I would not hesitate to take it to a gig instead of a full size guitar. It tends to sound a bit more resonant compared to other wooden acoustic guitar with a great balance of treble and bass.
I haven't heard a single bad review concerning this guitar. Highly recommended!
3. LAVA ME 2
- The one-piece injection moulded technology allows us to not only make the shape more comfortable to hold, but also significantly reduce the use of the glue, yet gives the LAVA ME an excellent acoustic performance.
- Works on all weather conditions. Woods are more likely to deform in different weather conditions. The Super AirSonic carbon fiber material can adapt to temperatures between -20℃ to 60℃. Humidity from 10% to 90%. No matter if you are in desert or a polar area, the LAVA ME 2 always works for you.
I don't know if I'm completely sold on this guitar, but I will introduce it to you just incase you are looking for something really unique.
The main feature of this guitar is the FreeBoost technology. It's strange, but you can get effects like reverb, delay, and chorus without actually plugging into an amp. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but essentially the guitar uses the back as a speaker to create the effects.
It has similar features as discussed in the above guitar reviews. It makes the perfect travel guitar. Very small, incredibly light with a very resonant and powerful sound.
The body style is unique and the carbon fiber makes the color options endless. If you are looking to stand out with your travel guitar this is your best option.
4. Journey Instruments OF660 Carbon Fiber Acoustic Guitar
- A STAGEWORTHY TRAVEL GUITAR YOU CAN TAKE ANYWHERE: The OF660 was designed after conducting hundreds of hours of research to design a guitar that fits the demands of professional musicians. DETACHABLE AND ADJUSTABLE NECK: The Overhead travel guitar neck detaches in seconds, so you can pack your guitar away in less than a minute. Our patented detachable stainless steel neck mechanism enables instant adjustment of the neck angle, which means you can change the action in seconds.
- TRUE CARBON FIBER: Unlike other brands that use substantial amounts of plastic injection molding, HPL or wood in their “carbon fiber guitars”, the OF660 premium carbon fiber travel guitar is made from quality pre-impregnated carbon fiber fabrics on all core components for consistent tone and ultimate durability - soundboard, body, neck, fingerboard and bridge. This advantage is proven stability and durability as well as a purer transfer of energy and significantly longer sustain.
More of a premium option, the OF660 is somewhat of a legend in the carbon fiber guitar circles. It's another guitar aimed at the travel guitar market. As I explained above, because carbon fiber can handle the humidity and temperature swings so much better than wood they make the perfect travel guitars. Also, carbon fiber is much more durable compared to wood.
One of the main features of this guitar is the ability to fit it in the overhead compartment on planes. Just unbolt the neck and it fits into a reasonably small carrying case.
Its compact size and soft curves make it very comfortable to play. The neck width is good for both fingerpicking and strumming - something you're not going to get with the other guitars on the list. Because it handles temperature so much better than other guitars it will stay perfectly in tune for weeks.
The sound is also impressive. Many people report preferring the sound of the Journey of their Taylors and Martins.
Can't recommend this one enough!
5. RainSong Concert Hybrid Series CH-OM Acoustic-Electric Guitar
- Body Body type: OM Cutaway: Single Top wood: All-Carbon Fiber Unidirectional Back & sides: Carbpn/Glass Hybrid Bracing pattern: None Body finish: High Gloss Urethane Orientation: Right handed Neck Neck shape: Info not available Nut width: 1.75 in. (44.45 mm) Fingerboard: Composite Neck wood: Carbon Fiber Scale length: 24.87 in. Number of frets: 20 Neck finish: Satin Electronics
Finally, something that isn't geared towards a travel guitar! If you are looking for a guitar that is meant to be played at home, or on stage, this is your option. The size provides much more bass and clarity compared to the guitars above. The electronics also make it a great guitar to bring onstage.
The sound is incredibly unique - you won't find anything like it. RainSong is one of the leaders in producing carbon fiber guitars.
The craftsmanship is top notch. The action is perfect and it hardly every falls out of tune. The fretboard is buttery and incredibly enjoyable to play.
My only complaint here is the price. It's not within everyone's price range. But if you can afford it and are looking for something unique this is a perfect option!
Considerations For Your Carbon Fiber Guitar
Carbon fiber guitars have many appealing properties for guitar players. Among them are:
Unlike wood, carbon fiber is much more resistant to dings, scratches, and bumps.
If the neck is also carbon fiber, there is no need for an adjustable truss rod, since the material is impervious to humidity changes and maintains its structural integrity to maintain tuning against the pull of the strings. The top will not “belly up” over time as wood is sometimes prone to do, and bridge pulling is also a non occurrence.
- Sound projection
As the entire instrument requires no bracing due to carbon fiber’s superior strength, sound resonates throughout the instrument without dead spots.
Due to the high quality of the carbon fiber, the sound consistency is far better compared to tonewoods. As tonewoods age in humid environments the character changes (for better or for worse).
Practically all carbon fiber models come equipped with pickups for amplified performance.
On the other hand, some of the drawbacks of carbon fiber guitars include:
The quality control consistency of carbon fiber guitars comes at a price for molding and tooling. The price of carbon fiber guitars are generally over $1,000 and often higher with extra features.
The response of carbon fiber instruments is faster than the average wood guitar, which can require playing adjustments in one’s picking attack.
Carbon Fiber guitars tend to have a brighter tone comparable to harder tonewoods like maple, which may not appeal to those players seeking the warmth of, say a Gibson Hummingbird.
Unlike solid wood guitars, the sound will not improve over time, so the sound of the guitar now will be the same 20 years from now
If you're interested in the tone comparison check out the video below.
- Very consistant sound in all climates
- Lightweight and durable
- Unique tone
Industry Leaders in Carbon Fiber Guitars
1. Ovation Guitars
In the 1960s, Charles Kaman, an aerospace engineer and designer of military aircraft for Department of Defense, noticed that the carbon fiber materials used for his helicopter rotors could mimic much of the properties of wood in terms of strength, lightness, and sound transmission, while offering vastly superior durability and resistance to humidity and temperature fluctuations.
Using the medieval lute as inspiration, amateur jazz guitarist Kaman founded Ovation Guitars and created a bowl out of carbon fiber material that was dubbed, “Lyrachord”.
With a weekly TV showcase in the hands of superstar Glen Campbell during the 1970s, Ovation took off with the singer songwriter boom, aided by its pioneering internal pickup that allowed an acoustic guitar to actually be plugged in and heard in a band.
The spruce topped, Lyrachord bodied Ovation guitars appeared in the hands of artists like Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Loggins and Messina, Hot Tuna, the Doobie Brothers, Joan Armatrading, America, Nancy Wilson of Heart, and even ex Beatles Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
Taking the progression to the next step, Kaman began designing a guitar entirely made of carbon graphite fiber, launching the Adamas in 1977.
Thus, an entire industry was born, as other companies would follow Ovation’s trailblazing lead with their own subsequent innovations.
Ovation Guitars still manufactures the Adamas, which is their top of the line model, featuring multiple soundholes, a woven carbon fiber top, and Lyrachord fiberglass composite bowl in .
Current Ovation artists include Melissa Etheridge, Kaki King, and Adrian Legg.
2. RainSong Guitars
Originally founded in Hawaii by engineer and classical guitarist John Decker, Rainsong Guitars came about when he witnessed a wooden guitar being ruined during a Maui rain shower.
With initial design input from classical luthier Lorenzo Pimentel, Rainsong’s carbon graphite and kevlar guitars were first showcased by Hawaii superstar Keali’l Rechel, then soon spread to many others, such as Jon Anderson of Yes and David Wilcox.
RainSong offers five separate model shapes: a parlor, a dreadnought, the OM, a jumbo, and the WS, which is a grand auditorium version of their own design.
The sole Rainsong artist model is the Al Petteway, which has a sunburst finish, offset soundhole, 12 fret neck, and shorter scale.
They also have a travel sized model, the Shorty, and a variety of different sounding designs that modify the carbon construction of the tops.
Although all of the models come in varying shades of grey or black with sunburst and custom colors available by special order, the finishes may cosmetically have grain patterns similar to tiger striped maple, tight grained spruce, or geometric patterns, as with their Black Ice model.
3. Composite Acoustics
Another company founded by a guitarist cum aerospace engineer, Composite Acoustics developed a small but loyal following in the 1990s but went out of business in 2010.
Acquired by Peavey several years ago, Composite Acoustics now makes their carbon fiber guitars at Peavey’s Meridian, MS headquarters.
Composite Acoustics offers 6 different models: the GX (which is available in either a narrow or wide fingerboard), the Legacy (a dreadnought shape), the OX, the X, the offset soundhole Xi, and the traveller sized Cargo.
Except for the Legacy, all of the other models have deep slope cutaways and a somewhat elongated auditorium shape. Color choices include: black, sunburst, a marine blue, and a periwinkle blue.
Composite Acoustics players include Barenaked Ladies, Fuel, and Toby Mac, and have a growing following among country and contemporary Christian music (CCM) artists.
There are several other carbon fiber guitar manufacturers that would probably be classified as “boutique” manufacturers due to their smaller distribution and production outputs, although this is no reflection on their quality.
For example McPherson Guitars, makers for over 30 years of highly regarded solid wood models known for their “D” shaped offset soundholes, are played by David Crosby, Amy Grant, The Band Perry, Lincoln Brewster, and Wayne Newton, among others.
However, McPherson also has a line of carbon fiber guitars with two models: the Sable and the ¾ sized Touring. Other carbon fiber brands include Blackbird, Journey, and Klos.
Please note that this overview only covers carbon fiber acoustic guitars. Electric guitars and basses, such as those made by Modulus, are an entirely separate subject.
The search for the Best Carbon Fiber Guitar is ultimately a subjective one. Technology has dramatically improved to the point where the choices are sufficiently broad for most guitarists to identify a model that possesses the combination of sound, touch, and looks that will fit their budget and give them an instrument that will deliver years of superb tone and performance.