Updated: Aug 9, 2022
The history of carbon fiber Guitars is the history of RainSong and our founder Dr. John Decker. From a childhood fascination with model airplanes to becoming the music industry's leader in alternative material instruments, his story proves the powerful connection between progress and tradition.
Music vs. Engineering
From an early age, Decker was pulled by his two main interests, science, and music. He was both an accomplished pianist and a rabid fan of model airplanes, and he dreamed of working with the real thing. The yin and yang of those passions would serve him well throughout his entire career. But first, he had to decide what path he would take.
When it came time for college, Decker had options to attend both the prestigious institutions of Boston's MIT and New York's Julliard School for music. Always the pragmatist, he quickly made his decision.
“I decided that the career path in music was a sharper pinnacle in music than I felt comfortable with. The probability of making a living as a concert pianist was rather low, and I didn’t want to spend my life teaching kids how to play ‘Chopsticks.’”
"...the space industry moved Decker and family to Hawaii - the birthplace of RainSong..."
Decker was going all in on a degree in aeronautical engineering and would earn his Ph.D in aerodynamics. While working on a particular high-level experiment in his field, he found something was wrong. No matter what he tried, he couldn't get the results he was after. Going back to the drawing board, he shifted his investigation to studying the plasma physics influencing his work.
Believe it or not, that shift would play a key role in his future work with acoustic guitars. But before that, he would take yet another career turn and pursue a very different kind of instrument.
“I had become an instruments specialist; optical instruments, in particular,” Decker said. “I ended up working in the space business, working in a company that made optical instruments for rockets and satellites.”
While this may seem as far removed from a great steel string as possible, the space industry moved Decker and family to Hawaii - the birthplace of RainSong - to oversee Maui's Haleakalā Observatory. Without realizing it, he had just changed the entire trajectory of his professional life.
If you know anything about RainSong's history, you've heard how a Maui wedding set everything in motion. But we'll let Dr. Decker tell it in his own words.
"Our next-door neighbor's daughter got married, and there was a guitarist providing music for the reception. I was hovering near the guitarist to pick out fingerings [Decker was learning to play as a church accompanist]. It was outdoors in a garden of a restaurant, and it started to rain! I heard the guitarist mutter to himself, 'Do I run for cover and the bride's father kills me, or do I stay here, play the gig, and buy a new guitar?'
I was already aware of the climate fragility of my wooden guitars and thought, 'There might be a better way to do it.'"
Science, Tradition, and the Future
"I looked up what the equations of a soundboard were and discovered that, in fact, I recognized them."
Considering his knowledge of aerospace materials, time-tested acoustic guitar design, and plasma physics, Decker had a new goal. He would create a guitar that sounded and played beautifully while eliminating the environmental concerns plaguing wooden instruments. His passions for music and engineering were coming together for the first time.
No matter how difficult the task may have sounded, according to Decker, it was even more complicated than that. First, he had to find a material that sounded the same. His scientific background came in handy here.
“I looked up what the equations of a soundboard were and discovered that, in fact, I recognized them. They were nearly identical to the equations for the plasma oscillations in a controlled fusion machine. They both involve soundwaves that move at different speeds in different directions. So, using a pre-war Martin as our target, I did the calculations and decided there was a possibility of using more stable materials to get the same sort of sound.”
Even after finding some candidates, very few materials would make the final cut. Fiberglass and aluminum, for instance, proved either too heavy or too susceptible to temperature fluctuations. While it wouldn't crack like a wooden guitar top, it would still expand and shrink, making the guitar unplayable. Decker needed something lightweight and extremely stiff that moved and sounded like a great spruce top.
Beautiful, resonant, and tough as nails, carbon fiber was the clear winner. Now he just had to prove it to the rest of the guitar industry. That would be a lot easier said than done. To some, Decker's guitars were interesting. But, according to Decker, others thought the new design was heresy.
“I showed them to a couple of guitarists who said, ‘Ya! I’d play that.’ But we didn’t go to guitar makers, because all of them thought this thing was evil! [Laughs] They said we were doing the devil’s work.”
It would take Decker a decade to refine the instruments and processes and to prove his vision. But after years of design and learning the craft of acoustic guitar making, he was ready to show the guitars to the world.
RainSong Guitars is Born
For years, Decker would offer his premium, carbon fiber acoustic guitars from our original home in Maui, Hawaii, and under the RainSong banner.
Hawaii was Decker's inspiration behind our abalone shark fretboard inlays
And before long, players worldwide embraced them for their durability, rock-solid stability, and beautiful voice. The brand soon cut out its niche of working guitarists who weren't afraid to embrace progress in search of a better instrument.
In the '90s, Decker handed the keys to the company to his son-in-law Ashvin Coomar who has steered us through the last couple of decades. As Decker explains, the transition wasn’t easy. But he’s glad he did it.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is walk in, introduce him to the employees, and leave,” he admits. “That was very difficult. That was my baby. But he’s done a lot better job than I could have.”
Under Coomar, RainSong continued to grow. This eventually meant a move to the US mainland. Selecting Woodinville, Washington (a suburb of Seattle) as our new home, RainSong settled in the community we still love today. But, while refining manufacturing processes, streamlining our products, and introducing new models (like our baritones), Decker says Coomar’s “RainSongs are still very, very similar to the steel strings that we made in the beginning.” It is a family tradition, after all.
The Future of Tradition
Decker couldn't be more proud of what Coomar continues to accomplish with RainSong. And he couldn't be more proud of the guitars and brand he created in Hawaii years ago. It’s with his vision that we continue to craft high-end instruments that push the boundaries while always paying tribute to the iconic guitar designs of the past.
That's why we think our guitars are "The Future of Tradition."