Blackbird (San Francisco, CA, US) has announced the launche of El Capitan, the first guitar made of a composite reinforced with flax linen fabric. This small jumbo model, says Blackbird, has the tone and vibe of a vintage wood instrument but is actually crafted of Ekoa, a natural fiber composite made of linen and bioresin. El Capitan is the only guitar constructed of the new high-performance, ecological composite, which may well be the future of guitars as rainforest wood becomes increasingly scarce.
For the last decade, Blackbird founder Joe Luttwak has focused on building nonwood acoustics to take on the road. That effort culminated in the development of Ekoa as the first material designed to be better for instrumentmaking than wood. Linen was the fabric of choice given that it is the stiffest natural fiber available, but creating a composite actually fit for instrument craft required years of research and development.
“With Ekoa, we wanted to create a naturally derived material that for the first time offers more dynamic range than rainforest wood as well as a better player’s experience with significantly stronger and more stable construction," says Luttwak. Blackbird introduced its first Ekoa instrument, the Clara ukulele, in 2013, which has since become the company's most popular model.
Blackbird video on the making of the El Capitan composite guitar.
El Capitan builds on that success with enhanced projection driven by the Ekoa soundboard, which looks similar to wood but is one-third lighter. Blackbird’s patented hollow neck unibody construction contributes to the world-class resonance and is also unaffected by temperature and humidity changes staying in tune much longer and remaining easy to play. This is in contrast to wood, which warps and cracks with changes in temperature and humidity, while also being highly fragile.
Luttwak adds that the El Capitan sound echoes that of guitars built prior to World War I, when certain hardwoods were more available. "Pre-war acousic guitars are treasured for their amazing tone. These instruments were built lightly and thinly using high-modulus, old-growth wood such as Adirondack spruce for the tops and bracing structure," Luttwak says. "None of these are available any longer. Also the woods in these instruments have since aged, with the natural resin in the wood turning crystalline, further enhancing the tensile modulus."
El Capitan is available through dealers and in the build-t-oorder Blackbird custom shop. Street pricing starts at $3,030 with a hard case.