20 November 2001

 PR 01/107

See http://www.polymerguitars.com/for more information

National award spurs exciting developments for innovative polymer guitar

Eddie Norman, a senior lecturer in the Department of Design and Technology, has received a prestigious NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) Invention and Innovation award of £50,000 to develop a fashionable, affordable and high quality plastic (polymer) acoustic guitar.

The NESTA funding will enable Eddie to take forward the innovative project he began in 1995 in collaboration with Dr Owain Pedgley, a former PhD student. Eddie and Owain, now an R&D Industrial Designer based at the University of Sheffield, with specialist technical expertise relating to guitar design, have worked closely with the internationally-renowned guitar maker, Rob Armstrong, who is an advocate for the polymer guitar and provides on-going consultancy support. Since 1995, the project has undergone many exciting developments, including the registration of the polymer guitar’s design and the granting of an international patent for the soundboard.

Eddie’s interest in the development of a low cost, radically designed, student friendly guitar was triggered when he was looking for a guitar for his daughter. He found that learner instruments were quite expensive (retailing from £70 upwards), traditionally styled, offered dubious sound quality and often used rare tropical hardwoods. Eddie’s own experience had taught him that learners need a quality instrument that is easy to play (fret). This spurred him to set up a research project, which Owain Pedgley completed for his PhD and Rob Armstrong supported, to find a completely new design and method of producing guitars. The research identified an innovative method using a relatively low cost polymer, which has since been granted a patent.

Rob Armstrong guitar

The new instrument will be affordable and distinctive enough to grab the imagination of potential musicians who might never have considered picking up a guitar. If mass-produced it could have a retail price of less than £70. In addition, the underlying polymer technology can be applied to other stringed musical instruments including violins and drums. The eventual aim is to lay the foundations for a new generation of radically designed, polymer instruments that could change the traditional image of acoustic instruments and result in a ‘new industry’.

Hand-built first prototype

Eddie’s team has so far produced two prototypes that were considered by the market as being ‘very promising’ and to have ‘considerable potential’. The well-known folk guitarist Gordon Giltrap has endorsed the guitar after recording a composition using the prototype. However, the relatively high investment cost for transforming the conceptual prototypes into a commercial product has prevented the project reaching a stage of licensing to an existing guitar / musical instrument manufacturer.


Pattern for manufactured prototype

No other competitor technologies or instruments offer such an exciting combination of low cost, good sound, good playability and high desirability. Eddie and his team will use the NESTA award over the next 18 months to ready the guitar for the marketplace. They will co-ordinate the manufacture of pre-production prototypes, commission market research, evaluate the use of the instruments by children and develop a business plan. Gordon Giltrap will contribute to a CD showcasing the instrument and will also perform at a launch concert.


Rendered CAD representation of manufactured prototype

NESTA has chosen to support this project because it draws together traditional instrument making techniques, innovative materials and modern manufacturing processes, bringing the opportunity to play a high quality musical instrument to the majority of people.

For further information please contact:
Anna Seddon, Marketing, External Relations, Loughborough University,
Tel: 01509 223445, Email: A.J.Seddon@lboro.ac.uk

Note to editors
1. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place Loughborough in the top flight of UK universities, and industry highlights Loughborough in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 30% of the University's income is for research. The University has been awarded three Queen's Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; and for pioneering research in optical engineering.


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S.P.Rowbottom@lboro.ac.uk, November 2001 Copyright © Loughborough University Publicity Office. All rights reserved.