One of the most often-asked questions I hear from people looking to buy their first guitar is the confusion around solid-top guitars and laminate guitars. These questions include:
- Is a solid-top guitar really that much better than laminate?
- Is it worth the extra $$ to purchase a solid top?
- Do I want solid back/sides too?
These are all excellent questions and ones that I suspect every guitarist has asked at one point or another. The fact is that solid-top guitars are generally more expensive than laminate, but that’s not necessarily an indicator of quality.
Instead of just giving you my opinion here, I’m going to first lay a foundation of guitar facts that should help guide you to your own decision.
Solid Wood vs. Laminate Wood
Fact #1: Quality Manufacturing Trumps Quality Materials
Taylor Guitars, a premier guitar maker based in California, once did a test that I found incredibly interesting. They created a guitar from scratch in their state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. Everything about the production of the guitar was the same as every other guitar they build except for one thing: they used wood from a warehouse pallet.
The surprising result was a guitar that fooled many people into thinking it was made from much better wood.
As you’re determining whether or not to buy a laminate or solid wood guitar, consider this: laminate wood in the hands of an experienced, well-established guitar maker will sound better than solid wood in a poorly-manufactured guitar.
Fact #2: Not All Laminate Wood is Equal
Laminate wood is manufactured, not milled like traditional wood. What this means is that everything – from the manufacturing plant to the glue and especially to the type of hardwood base – affects the quality of the laminate wood.
It stands to reason that a laminate maple will sound better than laminate sapele wood, for the same reason that solid maple will sound better than solid sapele. The biggest sonic difference between a laminate and a solid is that laminates tend not to resonate sound as well.
Considering the type wood during your solid/laminate decision is important. Although few, there are times when a high-quality laminate wood might be a better option than a low-quality solid.
Fact #3: Laminate Wood Resists the Elements
It’s almost impossible to escape the fact that solid-wood guitars are more susceptible to changes in humidity than laminate-wood guitars. And the results are often devastating – terrible, terrible cracks.
Laminate wood is well-known to resist the elements much better than solid woods, which make it a great option for people that prefer to hang their guitar on the wall or play it around the campfire. Both of these environments can expose the guitar to extreme dryness or extreme humidity – both difficult for solid-wood guitars to withstand.
If you do go with solid wood, you’ll want to pay careful attention to the way in which you store your guitar. This is especially true in humid or arid climates.
Fact #4: It’s the Top that Matters
The top of the guitar is often called “the soundboard” because this is where the majority of the sound resonation occurs in an acoustic guitar. Don’t get me wrong – every part of the guitar contributes to the overall sound, but none are as important as the top.
This is why you’ll see a lot of beginner guitars advertised as “solid-top”. What this means is that they have a solid-wood top even though the rest of the guitar is manufactured using laminate wood. This isn’t a bad thing.
You’re going to pay a heck of a lot more for an entirely solid-wood guitar than just a solid top. And, truthfully, you won’t be able to tell much of a difference in the long run. If you’re tight on budget but picky on sound, solid-top is the way to go.
Conclusion: Which to Buy
So as you’re searching around for a new guitar (and by the way, have you seen the GuitarAdventures guitar comparison chart?) I highly recommend you consider stretching your budget at least enough to get a solid wood top acoustic guitar. You may not be able to hear a difference right now, but as long as it’s a well-built guitar, you’ll thank yourself a year or two down the road.
Why? Here are my 3 top reasons to do so:
- It will sound better acoustically. Even if your ear can quite hear it yet.
- It will sound better with age. Solid wood is known to sound better with age unlike laminates which stay the same.
- It’s a much better investment of your hard-earned money. And an easier re-sell if it comes to that.
Don’t fuss over the back and sides as much unless you have the budget to do so.
I hope that answers the question for you! If you have anything to add here, please do so in the comments below. Otherwise I appreciate any “Likes” or a simple tweet to help promote this to others.