<Material Side of Life Cycle analysis on Martin Guitar DCX1AE>
Professor Christina Cogdell
DES 40A – Energy, Materials & Design Across Time
15 March 2018
Material analysis of Martin Guitar DCX1AE Macassar Model
Guitar has been one of most well-known musical instruments which stepped along with human. Even with the development of technology in human society, its form has changed like size, number of strings, and so on. Many people may think that guitar is solely made of wood, and with the development of technology it will be easy to be manufactured with CNC(Computer Numerical Control). It is partially true. It is made of woods most of the time, but sometime, it can be made of plastic or other materials too. Additionally, even though CNC can handle complex tasks, guitar is a complex musical instrument which requires extreme delicacy with artisans’ care. In this paper, we will focus on the material aspect of one specific model from Martin, one of famous guitar production company in US. Martin DCX1AE Macassar Model, affordable guitar with the solid build be the topic of the report.
In general, guitar has many parts to it. Many components, to simply put, it will be divided into body and string. However, guitar is not just a wooden product carved out from a single piece of wood. It is true that there were times when guitars were made of different kinds of woods, but nowadays, with the technological development in crafting materials, various materials were used for different purposes based on different factors like production cost, sound quality, durability, and so on. The DCX1AE model guitar from Martin cost more than 600 dollars, and yet it is considered the beginner class guitar. Let’s look at the DCX1AE in depth.
Let’s start with the body parts of the guitar; there are four main parts: Top, Back, Side Plates and Neck part. Different materials can be used on each part to enhance the sound quality, because each part functions in different ways to make vibration. For example, some guitars use rose wood on top, to make different vibration and feeling when they touch the surface. Sometimes, exotic materials were used to make special kinds of guitars. For instance, mahogany wood is a choice of Martin for high-end guitars.
Even though the whole-body parts in general can be wood, Martin made different choices on DCX1AE. They used HPL(high pressure laminate) on back and side as well as head plate part. For the top part, which is also called soundboard, Spruce from Alaska was used. Finally, neck part is assembled with so-called Brown Birch Laminate.
To begin with HPL, it stands for High Pressured Laminate. It is a mixture of paper and resin. Even though it is general case that paper sheets were used for the regular industrial products, HPL can be made with just any sort of cellulose, for example, wood cellulose can be made from wood pulp. According to the article from Hazeguitar, wood cellulose is cheaper than the cellulose of plastic or other compounds, and for Martin, it would be easier to go with extra wood pieces cut out from other processes can be re-use to make HPL. The concise definition of HPL would be that they are not actually a wood.
Since HPL is fragile due to the physical composition of paper and resin, it would not be looked like wood at all, but nowadays, companies add photo-layer of wood under the top clear overlay layer of HPL for display. Also, since it is just mixture of cellulose, it is difficult to trace the original materials that were used on HPL production. Therefore, there is no account of Martin about the HPL at all. They firstly used the term HPL in their technical reference when they released inexpensive X series. Beside that I could not found anything. I even watched Martin’s factory tour video, and there was nothing about the HPL at all.
Next, soundboard is the top part of the guitar. The soundboard of the DCX1AE is made of Sitka Spruce which is a Spruce tree from Alaska, as Sitka refers to the region in Alaska. Nowadays, tonewoods like Sitka Spruce became very important yet used in many industries, Martin and other musical instrument companies were gathered to form a coalition to limit the usage of the wood so that they can maintain the environment. Therefore, local contractors gather wood from fallen trees to meet the needs. There was no mention on transportation but it should be through the ship, since it is safe to transport woods as long as the temperature and humidity is set properly and kept constant. Once they bring those woods, they put them in a storage facility where they can preserve woods under right condition. And according to the factory tour video, it is kept there for about a year at most.
The Composition of It may look just a plain wooden plate, but inside there are many wooden pieces connected under the soundboard to augment the durability of the soundboard. That is called bracing and it is mainly glued on the bottom portion of the soundboard and cut down the supporting wooden pieces so that it can vibrate without breaking and having less weight. Next part would be the neck part of the guitar.
Based on the specification listed on Martin’s website, the neck part of the DCX1AE guitar is Brown Birch Laminate. The letter ‘L’ in HPL also stands for ‘Laminate’. But they are totally different products in terms of assembly procedure and physical property of the laminate. As it was mentioned earlier, it is sheets of papers laminated with resin, so it is fragile. On the other hand, Brown Birch Laminate is made by assembling birch wood plies glued together. It is truly made of wood, not wood pieces. The reason why they make neck piece as a birch wood laminate instead of single piece of wood is that it can withstand the tension force due to strings by having multiple layers.
During the project, I had searched the sources of the birch wood from Martin, I have not found any specific information regarding to this material so far. According to the Martin Guitars: A Technical Reference by Richard Johnston, they used different kinds of woods including Rosewood, Spruce, Mahogany, Ebony, and so on. The four main kinds were used by Martin for long time due to its special characteristics when it comes to make nice sound. However, for other types woods that might be used in the manufacturing process, it was unclear where those materials were coming from. Only, one single piece of information I found was that Birch wood is not the major or most popular type of wood used for guitar. There were some accounts that Birch woods were easily bent and cause distortion of frame. It is good way to enhance the strength of neck parts without any chemical modification on wood. Beside Body parts, there are other important components: Fingerboard, Bridge, Saddle, Fret, Pick Guards.
The bridge and fingerboard are made of Richlite. It is almost same kinds of material as HPL. It is a mixture of cellulose and resin. Saddle is synthetic ivory from the company called Tusq. Tusq is a company which supplies one of most popular brands of saddle and yet there is not much thing known to the material. I even searched around the forums and many people are assuming polymers but more than that amount of information stays hidden. Beside everything about the Tusq, the bone was widely used before the synthetic ivory. It has moved to chemical engineering to find the best material for enhanced performance.
Interesting thing about the Fret, it is the part where the metallic lines are aligned on the fingerboard, and the metallic object is a cut portion of galvanized wire, not just any chunk of metal. For the lifecycle of the galvanized wire, it also follows the similar path to bronze wire. Most of the copper were recycled as many electronics and other e-waste uses the same material. According to the SunWyre Inc., their galvanized copper wire went through the furnace, annealing process, to become new copper rod. After that, the wire passes magnetic coil and galvanized, in short. After cooling and rolling, it will be shipped to customers, and galvanized wire will be used for different purposes. Back to the Fret, it should also need adhesive to stick the wire to fingerboard, but there is no solid information on glue.
Even though glue is one of most important material used for constructing guitar, there were no specific information about what kind of glue was used. However, traditionally, many carpenters and furniture workers used PVA bond. It is polyvinyl acetal. To talk a bit about the chemistry, its special chemical reaction cause solid bond between compounds, and one compound in wood or paper, cellulose, is an example of this reaction, so it will work as super glue. This glue, the chemical component is palladium nowadays.
Pickguard on DCX1AE is one example of PVA type material. There are many types of adhesives were used on the Pick guard, but one type is the application of the property of PVA. The pickguard used on DCX1AE is acetate-based celluloid, so under certain hit and pressure, it will melt on to the soundboard of the guitar. It is relatively easy to apply decoration, as most of the parts in guitar are woods, the thin plastic pickguards were broken easily.
There is no notion on any of Martin video or official reference book. However, in the video, workers were using yellowish glue, so I assume they might use Yellow glue. The reason I went over a bit detail about the Martin’s glue was that they were using something called animal hide glue. I could not find any scientific answers regarding to that material, but it is said that the sounds and tones of the same equipment with different types of glues applied are different. So I want to know more specific about it since, they were based on totally different materials.
Since we checked most of the wooden materials as well as others, we will move on to the metallic object. In the Fret part, galvanized wire was put on the fingerboard to be a place marker. It may seem metallic objects are not important component, but metallic parts are applied to most important parts: string and tuner.
Tuner peg on the head plate on the guitar plays important rules. It modifies the tension strength of the string. Without it, it would not make consistent sound. In material aspect, they were made of different metallic objects like steel, titanium, etc. Only problem with the Martin’s DCX1AE model is that there is no serial number on the tuner. It is just written on the specification as chrome enclosed pegs. One possibility is that, If it was enclosed by chrome, it is possible to think the inner material can be copper, and it went through the furnace, and pour into mold to become gear parts and nods, and applied with chrome to prevent any possible corrosion.
Last component yet most important and practical part would be string. The specific type of the string used on the guitar is called ‘String - 92/8 Phosphor Bronze.’ It means that the string is composed of 92% copper, 7% tin and 1% phosphor composition. The guitar string is made by wiring copper wire over steel wire. The documentary video from Discovery channel about how guitar string was made shows most of the process how it was made.
There are many parts I was not able to answer the sources and materials because HPL and Richlite were made from wood pulp, it is impossible to determine the materials. Birch wood was not the major wood used in Martin company but they do make one with that specific tree, and nobody knows where it came from. It would be easy to understand if it is exotic level of equipment that uses multiple traditional, special things and techniques, it will be understandable since it will be valuable itself. However, this model cost $700 and yet most of the materials were unknown. As I studied little deeper into the HPL, it is considerable decision to use HPL because there is one advantage that HPL is strong against humidity and temperature unlike woods, it will be durable. It would be nice why and how they decide which materials to go with.
Even just one guitar, it is comprised of a lot of materials with different processes and final products were applied. With the development of technology, new materials were applied, new ideas were integrated like HPL. The guitar in next 10 years might be totally different from today’s guitar, not only the shape, but also the materials that was used on it.
Waste & Emissions
So guitars are basically just made out of wood right? Well, not exactly. Over the years, changes in technology have allowed businesses to transform materials previously considered waste into high end guitars with a $1,000 price tag; now that's pretty steep for an instrument that is made using the same material as your kitchen countertop. The guitar industry adopted new machines, and techniques and along with them, new materials. While guitars may have at one point been predominantly made by hand and with wood, a close look at the current means of production might raise some cause for concern. The C.F. Martin & Co. factory in mexico is the birthplace of the Martin DCX1ae, a guitar whos manufacturing process might tell us a story about the current industry and the direction its heading as woods become scarce. Exploring its design process may challenge our preconceptions about these instruments. As we will learn, the predominantly automated process of guitar manufacturing has become more toxic over the years and companies like Martin have needed take environmentally friendly precautions to keep this industry alive.
High Pressure Laminate (HPL), commonly known as ‘formica’ to the kitchen industry, comprise the back and sides of the Martin DXC1ae. Now wouldn’t it seem strange that this material is used to make guitars? Well as it turns out, many in the industry are adopting HPL as the medium of choice for making various parts on the guitar. But switching from wood to HPL does have a more toxic impact on our environment. HPL is a material that is made combining paper like sheets with various resins. These sheets are coated in the resin are then bonded with other layers to make a single, thin, wood like material. After drying, the material is then pressed together with between 1000-2000 lb of force. During this process, resins are reacting with the aldehydes creating toxic fumes as a byproduct. The phenolic resins also emanate fumes into the air during the laminating process. Acrylic resins as well as hardeners used are also considered toxic to the local environment. Looking back at wood in comparison we can see a big change in toxicity that now meets guitar manufacturing. What would have been simply sanding and shaping now consists of chemical reactions and processes which releasing harmful fumes into the workspace and local environment.
While manufacturing laminated synthetic materials, paper and laminate residue can also form. This is typically burned in power boilers; a process which might help reduce landfill waste but harms the surrounding environment. The pigments used to create the wood detail can also be hazardous to the environment. The wood finish used on the Martin DCX1ae is a nitrocellulose lacquer. These lacquers have been recognized as very toxic and have even been outlawed as an automotive finish throughout most of the United States. It is still commonly used however as a finish for furniture and various instruments.
To get a sense of the wood waste created from making a DCX1ae model, we gathered pictures of the original wood materials received by Martin at the factory. To achieve the desired shape for the neck and top of the guitar, pencil outlines are drawn out on rough presized wood pieces and then wood is cut away to leave the final rough shape. This is then sanded and processed further using CNC. We estimate that roughly 55% of the Sitka Spruce top is used for the final product while the remaining 45% is either collected as saw dust or left in wood scraps to be processed and then burned. The story with guitar necks is similar, if not, worse. Because of the half circle shape of the neck, we estimated that roughly 50% of the original wood is used for the final product. Guitar necks are first cut down to a rough shape from a standard sized block which would yield 4 or 5 necks. During this rough cutting process, roughly 15%-25% of wood is cut away and turned to scrap wood. The roughly cut necks are then milled down from their elongated rectangular shape to the final semicircle that fits nicely in the hand. During this stage, we estimate that another 20%-25% of the wood is lost. When considering Martins scale of production, this seems to amount to a tremendous wood loss.
What does Martin do with their scraps? If Martin loses 50% of their wood in various manufacturing processes, then they’ve got a ton of extra wood on their hands. As it turns out, Martin the sawdust created in production is compacted into briquettes and then burned for energy. We were unable to find what Martin does with the larger wood pieces which come from the rough cutting process.
Martin has taken various steps toward a more sustainable business model. All their UPS shipments are carbon neutral meaning that emissions released during shipments are offset by efforts aimed at climate change improvement of some sort. Essentially, carbon neutrality costs Martin a little extra to achieve net zero carbon emissions during shipments. In recent years, Martin has also earned certificates for environmental responsibility. 100% of their Sitka Spruce wood from Alaska is harvested from ‘salvage’ trees. Between these two efforts we can tell that Martin is environmentally conscious.
During our research we were unable to find much information on the many of small parts such as tuner knobs and assemblies, various screws and metal inlay pieces. It was also unclear what glue was used by Martin. Another question we were left with was weather Martin uses solvent or water based phenolic resins. Water based resins are much safer for the environment but we were unable to determine if this was the industry standard. We were however able to learn a lot about the new HPL found on many modern guitars. This gave us insights as to what manufacturing and materials might look like in the future. Due to a change in materials over the years, the DCX1ae by Martin and others like it has become relatively harmful to the environment. Over the years, the industry has expanded and the needs previously meet by woods are now met by more harmful materials. Conclusively, as the industry moves toward sustainability, our concern is that the materials used to compensate may have more of a harmful impact than we would have expected.
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