The wood that an acoustic guitar is made from is one of the biggest factors which impacts the tone of the instrument. There are many species of wood such as mahogany, spruce and maple to consider, but one of the main things you’ll need to decide is whether you want a guitar made from solid wood, or a laminate wood guitar.
In this article I’ll explain the differences between solid and laminate acoustic guitars so you can decide which is the best option for you.
The Quick Answer
Solid wood acoustic guitars sound more resonant and have better sustain compared to laminate wood acoustic guitars. However, laminate acoustic guitars are more resistant to temperature and humidity changes and are cheaper and easier to produce so they cost less in comparison to solid acoustic guitars.
|More resonance and sustain
|Less vibrant tone
|More susceptible to environmental changes
|Less susceptible to environmental changes
It’s possible to get guitars which use both laminate and solid wood. Some mid-range instruments use solid tops and laminate back and sides. However, you won’t find guitars which use solid back and sides with a laminate top. This is because the top of the guitar contributes more to the tone than the back and sides.
Solid Acoustic Guitars
High-end acoustic guitars are made from solid wood which is carved and shaped to form the body of the guitar. Some guitars consist of a single piece of wood, whereas others consist of two pieces which are mirrored so you’ll be able to see a divide in the middle of the body.
You can identify a solid top acoustic guitar by looking at the soundhole. You should be able to identify the cross-section of the grain when you look at the edge of the soundhole indicating that the top is made from solid wood.
Advantages of Solid Acoustic Guitars:
- More resonance and sustain
- Sound better as they age
Disadvantages of Solid Acoustic Guitars:
- More expensive
- Susceptible to heat and humidity changes
Laminate Acoustic Guitars
Laminated wood can be used for either just the top of an acoustic guitar, or the back and sides as well. Laminate wood consists of many very thin layers of wood which are joined together using adhesives and heat.
Laminate acoustic guitars are cheaper to produce. It is still possible to get an attractive looking finish on a laminate guitar by using a more expensive wood on the top layer, over less expensive woods like plywood.
An acoustic guitar with a laminate top can be identified by looking at the soundhole. If the grain of the wood cannot be identified on the edge of the hole, then the top will be laminate wood.
Advantages of Laminate Acoustic Guitars:
- Less expensive
- More resistant to the environment
Disadvantages of Laminate Acoustic Guitars:
- Less resonance and sustain
- Cheaper woods are often used
Tone of Laminate vs Solid Acoustic Guitars
Acoustic guitars made from solid woods have a superior tone compared to acoustic guitars made from laminate wood. Solid acoustic guitars have better sustain and are more resonant and harmonically rich because the wood is allowed to vibrate more freely.
Solid acoustic guitars also sound even better as they age as the wood dries out. That’s why older solid acoustic guitars tend not to lose their value nearly as much as laminate guitars, and in some cases will appreciate in value.
Check out this YouTube video to hear a comparison of a guitar with a solid top and laminate back and sides (Taylor 114) and a guitar with a solid top, back and sides (Taylor 314). Both guitars have a spruce top and sapelle back and sides.
You’ll notice that the all-solid guitar has more low-end which makes it sound a bit warmer and smoother than the guitar with laminate back and sides. This is most evident when strumming.
Wood is highly susceptible to temperature and humidity changes and can warp if kept in humid conditions or exposed to dramatic changes in temperature. Although all acoustic guitars are susceptible to the environment, solid wood guitars are more at risk of warping compared to laminate guitars.
If you are travelling frequently, then a laminate guitar may be a more suitable option because it is less likely to get damaged when not stored in the optimal conditions compared to a solid wood guitar.
Solid wood acoustic guitars are more expensive to produce due to the carving and shaping process involved. Laminate acoustic guitars are often made of cheaper materials and are easier to build. Some laminate acoustics are not made from the same type of wood and consist of cheaper woods layered together which are topped with a more expensive wood to improve the appearance.
Hence, solid acoustic guitars are significantly more expensive than laminate wood acoustic guitars.
Here is a table showing the starting price of guitars with solid and laminate woods from various popular brands.
|Solid Top and Laminate Back and Sides
It can be hard to tell the difference at first glance between a solid and laminate acoustic guitar. Laminate acoustic guitars can have very nice looking grains because a more exotic and expensive wood may be used on the top layer over cheaper and less attractive woods.
Hence, unless you look very closely, solid acoustic guitars don’t really offer much more than laminate acoustics in the looks department.
How to Tell if an Acoustic Guitar has a Solid or Laminate Top?
You can tell if a guitar has a solid or laminate top by looking at the edge of the soundhole. If you can see the grain of the wood as a cross-section, then the guitar has a solid top. If you cannot see the cross-section of the grain then the top is laminate wood.
Which Type of Acoustic Guitar Should You Get?
There are three options to choose from:
- All-laminate acoustic guitars
- Solid top and laminate back and sides acoustic guitars
- All-solid acoustic guitars
If you want an inexpensive entry-level guitar, go for the all-laminate construction. These guitars are the cheapest and most resistant to the environment and work perfectly well for beginners.
If you aren’t willing to make any sacrifices in terms of the tone of your guitar, then you’ll probably only be happy with an all-solid acoustic guitar.
If you don’t want to pay a premium for an all-solid wood guitar, then go for a solid top and laminate back and sides. This offers the best compromise in terms of the tone and price.
Remember, it’s not just the construction which affects the tone of the guitar. You’ll need to consider the species of wood, and the body shape as well to make sure you get the kind of guitar which sounds the best to you.
I’d encourage you to try plenty of guitars in a store before making any decisions. This way you’ll get a feel for the best types of guitar and the tone woods which appeal most to you.
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