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Polymer Acoustic Guitars: Designing In Credibility and Designing Out Prejudice

Owain Pedgley

History tells us that the union of plastics and musical instruments is one fraught with both technical difficulties and human prejudice in the form of value judgements. For some seasoned guitarists, the idea of creating a guitar made not from wood but from plastics is at worst sacrilege and at best a promise of a very poor product experience. Nonetheless, guitar manufacturers have for decades searched for credible and tonally comparable synthetic replacements for wood.

This paper communicates the challenges that were faced in designing, from scratch, a credible and pleasurable acoustic guitar made almost entirely from plastics. The work builds upon the practical element of a PhD project, which now forms the basis of the branded business and R&D venture Cool Acoustics, owned wholly by Loughborough University.

The paper contrasts the sensorial information conveyed by wood and plastics and places the findings in the context of acoustic guitar design. The Cool Acoustics guitar project is then presented and its execution discussed, particularly in relation to the development of the first finalised prototype instruments exhibited at the Frankfurt Musikmesse in 2002. Tactical materials selection and finishing, along with effective form creation and branding, were used to redress the recurring inclination of industry and public alike to dismiss plastic musical instruments on emotional grounds. The findings of informal feedback sessions are used to gauge success against the stated aims of ‘designing in credibility’ and ‘designing out prejudice’.

designing, prejudice, credibility, projective emotions, plastic products, guitars