What Solid Wood Means and Why You Need It (And When You Don't)
Author: Ian Bush Date Posted:30 December 2020
A lot of people are confused about what the different acoustic guitar woods are, and what they do.
When I first started working in guitars (it doesn’t seem that long ago but it’s close to 30 years now) I had no idea what the different woods used for acoustic guitars were, and what the differences actually did. I’m going to distil some of the information I have learnt over the years for you today.
What is the difference between Ply, Laminated, Solid Top and Solid wood?
Plywood and laminated wood is the same thing, in this type of wood there are 2 or more pieces of wood glued together. It's a cheaper way to make a guitar. Solid Top Guitars using a solid piece of wood for the top piece only (it’s usually split into 2 pieces and glued together, but it’s solid all the way through). And Solid Wood guitars use solid woods in all tone sections of the guitar
Does that mean a cheap guitar is more likely to break because it uses cheaper woods?
Actually, the reverse of this is true (strange isn't it?). A laminate wood guitar is super strong and hard to break, but this strength stops the guitar from resonating quite so well. A solid top guitar is a little more brittle, but it sounds so much better because the sound can reverberate more easily. Solid wood guitars are generally the most resonant.
Can I tell by looking if a guitar has a solid top?
If the guitar has a clear finish you can actually look at the grain on the soundhole, if it goes all the way through you have a solid top guitar
Can I tell just by looking if a guitar is a solid wood guitar?
This one is a little more tricky, but the key way to tell is to look for braces on the sides. Plywood back and side guitars generally don't need bracing on the sides, whereas solid wood guitars generally do (there are some exceptions to this though)
Why does a solid wood guitar get better with age?
Wood has a lot of natural oils in it. When we dry our woods to make our guitars it takes most of these oils out, but some are still left behind. When the wood matures all of this latent oil is lost and the wood becomes much more brittle (and sounds great!). The wood also benefits from being played as the fibres in the wood actually change with the vibrations through the wood.
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