How Sandvik’s advanced materials technology and knowledge created the world’s first smash-proof guitar

Rock stars have been smashing guitars for decades, few with more enthusiasm than Swedish-born guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen. Sandvik decided to test their cutting-edge techniques by building the world’s first all-metal, unbreakable guitar and letting Malmsteen unleash his smashing skills on it.

Sandvik gathered experts from across the company to demonstrate how its engineers could use sustainable, cutting-edge techniques to make something both highly precise and amazingly durable.

“Our unique materials knowledge is exactly what it takes to create something as complex and durable as an unbreakable guitar for a master musician,” said Göran Björkman, president, Sandvik Materials Technology. “This project seemed like a perfect match for our skills and capabilities—and Yngwie’s.”

Yngwie Malmsteen

Rated as among the 10 greatest electric guitar players of all time by Time magazine (2009).

Read more about Yngwie at Wikipedia

Yngwie Malmsteen

Smash test

Strongest structure ever invented

Early in 2018, brainstorming sessions brought together engineers and technicians from across the company. Tomas Forsman, a research and development specialist at Sandvik, participated in those early meetings. Forsman realized that, to be smash-proof, the guitar would need a special structure that was strong, stiff and light to extend through the joint between the body and the neck.

Forsman proposed an Isotropic Lightweight Structure (ILS), the strongest structure for a given weight ever invented.

“It looks much like any framework structure,” Forsman said, “but it’s actually stiffer and lighter than anything we’ve seen before.”

Yngwie-Malmsteen-Tomas-Forsman-ILS-isotropic-lightweight-structure-880.jpg

Forsman also knew exactly the material the ILS should be made from: hyper-duplex steel, a grade only Sandvik produces. With its alloys of chromium, nickel and molybdenum, hyper-duplex steel is 30% stronger than Sandvik’s previous strongest stainless offering. It is also so corrosion resistant that standard tests cannot be used to gauge its durability.

“Sandvik has a history of developing extreme steels and other metals,” Forsman said. “This hyper-duplex steel is a great example of that. There is no steel like it anywhere else.”

The assembly challenge

Forsman’s idea was to sandwich the hyper-duplex ILS between the guitar’s neck and fretboard, concealing it inside that construction. But this raised another challenge. Welding was the best way to join all three pieces, but the guitar fretboard could not afford any torsion, a problem with welding long, thin components together.

Inspection of the ILS (Isotropic Lightweight Structure), an integral component of the guitar. The ILS is made from Sandvik hyper-duplex stainless steel.

The welds would have to be placed with expert precision, according to Mette Frodigh, a welding specialist at Sandvik’s R&D facility in Sandviken. And there was another challenge, Frodigh said—the ILS, neck and fretboard were made of different alloys.

“It’s very hard to get two different materials to bond with a weld,” Frodigh said. “In this case we also had one material that was 3 millimeters thick and one that was 0.4 millimeters. Where we applied the heat and how we affected the metal without destroying the materials was very important.”

After precise component analysis and repeated stress-testing, Frodigh was able to arrange the welds that maintained the guitar’s integrity. Forsman’s ILS was firmly sealed in place. Malmsteen would have his work cut out for him, smashing that element of the instrument.

Benefits of collaboration

Sandvik engineers worked with colleagues from across the company on the guitar project. Frodigh and Forsman consulted with engineers from Sandvik’s additive manufacturing division, who were 3D printing the guitar’s body, to discuss how best to attach the components. They also worked closely with Sandvik Coromant technicians, who were machining the neck and fretboard from solid bars of recycled stainless Sanmac® steel.

Yngwie Malmsteen discussing design details of the guitar neck and hub with members of the Sandvik team.

Forsman said that building a guitar, a product the company had never tried to manufacture before, indicates how Sandvik’s deep expertise and experience can solve unique, highly complex challenges, even faced with short timeframes.

“Collaborating like this is a key for the future,” said Forsman. “Our customers’ challenges continue to grow more and more complex. We need to bring our expertise to work hand-in-hand with our partners and customers and keep inventing new ways of meeting those challenges.”

As for the guitar, Forsman was never very concerned.

“I’m not worried about the guitar,” Forsman said, before Sandvik gave Malmsteen the guitar to play—and try to smash. “I think it’s smash-proof.”