A lot has transpired through the years in the debate over acoustic guitars in the area of laminate versus solid wood construction. It is not a secret that the type of materials and craftsmanship affect the quality, durability, sound and price of acoustic guitars. However, there is probably no other discussion bigger than this.
The question that many players ask themselves is whether a solid body is worth the price? Despite the better sound, they require care and regular maintenance to prevent cracking. When using laminated you run the risk that it will separate over time. There is no clear answer to this question and as long as there is a discussion about acoustic guitars, it will always be at the forefront.
The Debate – Uncut
Laminated is several pieces of wood glued together and solid body is exactly that, one piece. There are pros and cons to both kinds. It is a fact that laminate is known to produce a ‘dead’ sound that does not sustain or project sound very well and the one-piece body is known for its richer tone. Laminate is more used because it is more durable and less sensitive to humidity and change in temperature. A body that is made from one-piece timber is very sensitive to humidity and climate change. The top is like a sponge that you can’t let dry out.
A Bit Of History
Years ago the debate was not about sound quality or durability, it was about price. The one piece timber body guitars were very expensive so many musicians did not have a choice but to buy one made of laminate. A one piece is coveted because of its rich and beautiful tone that only seems to become better over time. However, times have changed quite a bit in the world of laminate including the craftsmanship. Better quality laminate is being used and more detailed craftsmanship has been applied so they are sounding better and better everyday.
It is evident why this debate is becoming less spectacular, but the fact will always remain the same that a laminate will never be able to sound as good.
The Main Problem
When building a guitar you want the soundboard, better known as the top, to be as lightweight and strong as possible. Creating this ratio with laminate is often difficult because in order to make it strong it ends up too heavy. The wet glue used to secure the pieces of timber together can become to heavy when too much is used. Unfortunately, when too little of the glue is used, the timber pulls apart. Recently new adhesives have been introduced that have helped to solve this problem and ensure lightness. This is one of the ways that laminated construction is becoming more popular and competitive.
Necks, Sides & Backs
Acoustic laminate necks are very common and widely accepted. This has become a popular way to make the neck stronger. Hybrid guitars are also extremely common. Many models are made with one piece body tops and laminate sides and backs. The sound quality is 90% dependent on what the top is made of, so as long as the soundboard is one piece the rich sound will be present. This is also a great way to make solid body tops affordable.
How Do You Tell The Difference?
Depending on how dark the timber or stain is, telling the difference between them can be a difficult task. First, you need to look at the inside edge of the sound hole on the top of the body. If the edge has a natural finish it is a one piece body and if it has two or more layers it is made of laminate. To determine what the back and sides are constructed with you need to first look at the back of the guitar. Next, look inside the sound hole at the same spot on the back and see if the wood grains are the same. If they are the same it is a whole body. You can do this same technique with the sides.
It’s a Wrap
Everyone’s opinion is different. Many believe that there is no need to buy an acoustic made of laminated timber when solid bodies are so affordable now. Others believe that the sound quality of laminate bodies on their own and in a hybrid model is comparable. Each individual needs to evaluate the pros and cons of both, and decide what makes sense for them. For example if you travel often, perhaps it makes sense to purchase a laminate model for its durability. When buying there are always a lot of questions that need to be answered, this is just another one.