RainSong Black Ice BI-WS1000N2 Acoustic-Electric Guitar
Rain Song, rainsong.com
Originally published in Guitar World, September 2009
The Black Ice is a great investment for those who seek a green alternative to wood but don’t want to sacrifice tone or performance.
If you've seen ads for RainSong graphite guitars, you’ve probably wondered why anyone would make a guitar out of the stuff that’s used for pencil lead. Actually, RainSong guitars are made from carbon fiber, which has a similar atomic structure to graphite but is flexible and pliable instead of soft and brittle, like pure graphite. The carbon fiber is held in place using a glassy polymer called epoxy. When reinforced, carbon fiber offers several benefits, like light weight, exceptionally high tensile strength and low thermal expansion, that make it an ideal substitute for wood and steel. With growing concerns about diminishing supplies of tone wood, guitars made from carbon fiber make more sense than ever.
Some players feel that, in addition to the aforementioned benefits, guitars made from carbon fiber sound better than guitars made from wood. Because carbon fiber is significantly stronger and more stable than wood, a carbon-fiber guitar top doesn’t need braces, which can decrease volume output and produce inconsistent overtones. As a result, the sound of a carbon-fiber guitar is louder and more “pure,” with well-defined, piano-like bass, balanced mids and crystalline, chime-like highs. In addition, a carbon-fiber guitar is unaffected by humidity and extreme temperature changes, and the neck will never warp.
The RainSong Black Ice BIWS1000N2 is a new addition to RainSong’s growing line of “graphite”/carbon-fiber guitars, featuring a soundboard with a unique geometric-pattern design and a body shape that combines the best attributes of large- and smallbodied guitars.
The Black Ice's distinctive curvaceous, narrow-waisted body shape looks similar to an orchestra model, and it’s five inches deep at the bridge, which is a little bit deeper than the average Martin dreadnought. A generous rounded cutaway provides easy access all the way to the 21st fret. The Black Ice’s U-shaped neck profile is the product of a collaboration between Steve Miller (yes, that Steve Miller) and luthier John Bolin, known for his custom creations for Billy Gibbons and Keith Richards. The fretboard looks like ebony but is actually made of composite material that provides superior strength, durability and tone. Although the neck is strong enough to not warp or bow without a truss rod, a truss rod is included so players can adjust the bow and action to their preference.
In addition to the unique geometric pattern on the soundboard (no two Black Ice models have the same pattern), the Black Ice is gorgeously appointed with a large abalone rosette and mother-of-pearl shark inlays on the fingerboard. The finish is highgloss urethane, which boasts a mirrorlike shine that really brings out geometric design under bright stage lights while it provides UV protection.
Electronics consist of the acclaimed Fishman Prefix Plus-T system found on many similar high-end acoustics. The side-mounted preamp offers bass, midrange contour, treble and brilliance sliders, a master volume knob, a rotary notch control and phase switch for taming feedback, and a switch that engages a built-in tuner. A Fishman Acoustic Matrix co-polymer pickup is mounted under the saddle.
Although the Black Ice is composed entirely of man-made materials, the instrument is certain to crush the bias that only wood is good. The clarity of each note throughout the Black Ice’s entire range is stunning, with the highest notes delivering a bell-like ring and the lowest notes producing deep overtones with piano-like projection. The guitar’s gorgeous resonance sounds like a guitar recorded with a high-end reverb unit, adding three-dimensional fullness and depth. The carbon-fiber top projects sound like a cannon, making the guitar surprisingly loud and dynamic. It’s conceivable that many players could get through gigs in small venues entirely unplugged with the Black Ice. When you do choose to plug in, the Fishman electronics complement the Black Ice’s natural tonal attributes nicely.
The fretwork, action and overall playability of my Black Ice example was almost inhumanly perfect. Because the fingerboard does not expand and contract, the frets had no sharp extended protrusions and were perfectly seated in their slots. The exceptionally stable neck makes it easy to lower the action without the annoyance of buzzing frets. The U-shaped profile is chunky enough to ensure outstanding string vibration transfer, but it feels exceptionally comfortable and offers fast, uninhibited playing action to guitarists accustomed to electrics.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Black Ice is a great investment for those who seek a green alternative to wood but don’t want to sacrifice tone or performance. It’s worth consideration for its arguably preferable sound and superior durability.
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