First Use of Plastics in Musical Instruments

Musical Instrument

I listen to mostly Bollywood songs whenever I am free or commuting to work. It gives a great relief from stress and freshens the mood. I, myself, have unfortunately never taken efforts to learn any music instruments, but the beats and rhythm always make me happy. Today, as a polymer technologist, a thought came to my mind, ‘when was the first use of plastics in musical instruments made?’ As you all are aware, plastics have hijacked all areas, let it be medical, pharmaceutical, sports, electronics, automobiles, etc.; and likewise, also the music industry.

Let’s dive into this area of plastic application and learn the first use of plastics in musical instruments that happened years back. I hope music lovers like me and others as well, would be interested to know this!

Some of the well-known musical instruments are:

  • Piano
  • Guitar
  • Violin
  • Saxophone
  • Drums
  • Flute
  • Shehnai
  • Tabla
  • Sitar
  • Harmonium

I do understand, there are many more musical instruments; however, I would like to restrict myself to 4 of the above well-known instruments.

Piano

It was invented by Mr. Bartolomeo Cristofori, of Italy, in 1700, and was made of wood and leather. He called the instrument as un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte, which translates in English as ‘a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud’, later abbreviated as pianoforte, fortepiano, and finally got its current name as piano.

In 1958, the first use of plastic was made in making piano keys, replacing ivory (was used in plastic piano keys from the 1940s) which was used in the prior periods. However, initially there were complaints with the plastic keys, famous of which was – slipping of fingers when playing, which has been worked upon further to reduce the issue. ABS is one of the largely used plastic, these days in making piano keys. The practice initially started in America and subsequently got accepted in European nations. Even body of the piano and many other components are made of plastic these days.

Inventor of Piano and  the First Piano

Guitar

The name of the inventor of the guitar is not available, but it’s estimated that in the 15th century the first guitar was made in Spain. However, a 3,300-year-old stone carving (Hittite bard playing a stringed instrument) has a strong resemblance to guitar, indicating a possible Babylonian origin for the instrument. Mr. Antonio Torres Jurado is widely regarded as the most important guitar maker on whose designs current guitars as based.

The guitar pick is the first plastic part in guitar, used to strum chords or to sound individual notes on a guitar. Mr. Luigi D’Andrea first made these celluloid guitar picks in 1922 by his company named D’Andrea in the USA, currently owned by his grandson Tony D’Andrea. These are now also made with nylon, Delrin, polystyrene, etc.

The first plastic guitars were made by Mr. Mario Maccaferri, an Italian luthier, idea which created the ukulele in the future. These plastic guitars were made from polystyrene, a material that he came across in one New York World’s Fair. 

Inventor of Guitar and his first Guitar
Grandson of inventor of Guitar pick and the company's first guitar pick
Inventor of Plastic Guitar and the First Plastic Guitar

Violin

Violin inventor credit is largely given to Mr. Andrea Amati, from Cremona, Italy, who also created three string violins in 1540s. Violin is assumed to be influenced from ancient instruments named lira (European), rabab (Arabian) and rebec (Spain). Violin was accepted as one of the instruments in orchestra in 1600s.

Inventor of Violin and the Oldest Violin

Tuning pegs are first parts of violin to be made from plastic, though the inventor of the same is not reported in literature. In 2015, first fully 3D printed electric violin named 3Dvarius was made by Mr. Laurent Bernadac, an INSA Toulouse engineer. You can see how it plays in the video below.

Inventor of 3D printed violin and the 3Dvarius

Saxophone

Inventor of saxophone was a Belgian instrument maker named Adolphe Sax, who invented the instrument in 1840s and also patented the same in 1846. He also invented other well-known instruments such as saxotromba, saxhorn, saxtuba, 6-piston trombone and A-bass saxhorn.

First plastic saxophone was manufactured in 1950 by Grafton – a London based company, which was made with polycarbonate by the injection molding process, and were priced at half the price of the original metal saxophone. It was named as Vibratosax by the company. However, due to its brittleness and difficulty in sourcing spare parts, the manufacturing stopped after about 10 years. Mr. Charlie Parker had been famous for playing the plastic saxophone.

Inventor of saxophone and the first plastic saxophone

Dear Readers, do go through the above content on First Use of Plastics in Musical Instruments and let me know your viewpoints in the Comments section.

Thanks for Reading !

I put up a new post whenever I come across an interesting topic, so follow my blog and stay updated about the developments in the polymer industry.

References

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