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Many wooden music instruments have composite counterparts. These “new” instruments generally sound good but not good enough for purists. Luis Leguia has succeeded in winning them over with his hand-made carbon fibre cellos.
(Published on September 2008 – JEC Magazine #43)
Kurt Masur, Music Director Emeritus of the New York Philharmonic, Music Director of the Orchestre National de France and Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic, is enthusiastic about Luis Leguia’s cello: “Absolutely astonishing! Wonderful sound throughout all registers”.
From boat to cello
Luis Leguia, a cellist whose career has spanned concerts and solo performances around the world, is no ordinary man. A long-time member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Leguia’s most recent accomplishment has been the development of a revolutionary carbon fibre cello which provides the tonal qualities of a prized 18th century instrument with a strength and durability unmatched by traditional materials.
Luis Leguia is a boating enthusiast who has grown to appreciate fibreglass boats over the years because they are lighter, stronger and more durable than wooden boats. This prompted him to wonder what a cello using similar types of materials would sound like. He wanted a cello that would sound great with a tone that would recall a Stradivarius or Montagnana cello. So he began exploring the various types of fibre materials, ultimately settling on carbon fibre. The final cello is the result of 10 years of experimentation. It was developed with a one-piece back side and neck, with the top as the second piece and the fingerboard as a third piece. Once the cello was ready for production, it was Leguia’s connection to sailing that led him to Steve Clark, a master in the production and fabrication of carbon fibre products and chairman of Vanguard Sailboats. Clark guided Leguia through the final stages of development to what is now known as the Luis & Clark cello.
A cello in the making
The three elements are made individually by hand lay-up using several layers of carbon fabric. The lay-up is then covered with a vacuum bag and cured in an oven. Once cured, the different parts are glued together and a varnish or a coating is applied. The body of the cello is then ready. The last step is a more classical job for a stringed-instrument maker, with the installation of the wood bridge, the strings and the other spare parts. In the end, the assembled cello creates what has been described as a perfect sound.
Reducing the sore shoulder syndrome
As a working musician, Leguia is keenly aware of the advantages of this new instrument. For instance, when a player puts his bow out on the point on the A string, his bow arm comes closer into his body, thus reducing the sore shoulder syndrome that any professional cellist develops after many years of performance and hours of daily practice.
Upon completing the first production model, Clark urged Leguia to put its durability to the test. “I want you to manhandle it,” he told Leguia. So the instrument was strapped to the top of his car, without its case, and Leguia headed off to Tanglewood. Upon arrival, he took it off the car and tossed it into the grass for the better part of a week where it was alternately rained on and left in the hot sun. “It was just the same except the pitch went down by a third,” Leguia reported with satisfaction. One of these cellos even spent two weeks under water. This is what happened to the cello owned by Kaaren Makas (principal cello of the New Orleans Philharmonic) when Hurricane Katrina came through New Orleans. It just needed new strings, a bridge and a sound post.
The Luis and Clark cello weighs just over 2 kg and costs US$7,139.00. Due to the success of their carbon fibre cellos, Luis and Clark have started to enlarge their portfolio with other violin family instruments, i.e. violin, viola and bass. All of these benefit from the company’s know-how and the extraordinary properties of composite materials.