One of the most important factors in the sound of an acoustic guitar is the ‘solidness’ of the wood used in its body. Guitars with a laminated body, ones with a solid top and all-solid models all have certain advantages and disadvantages and it’s a good idea to become familiar with these before you decide which type of guitar to buy. Once you’re armed with this information, it will be easier to narrow down the classical or acoustic guitar that’s right for you.

Laminated, solid top or all-solid guitar?
Photo (cropped): Taylor Guitar Factory, by Marcin Wichary, licence CC BY 2.0

The basics

The hollow body of an acoustic guitar is made up of different parts: the top, the back and the sides. These thin parts can be made from a single piece of wood or several layers which are referred to as either solid or laminated, respectively. Don’t confuse the term ‘solid’ with a solid-body guitar because that actually refers to an electric model that’s not hollow inside.

What is laminated wood?

A piece of laminated wood consists of several thin layers of wood that are pressed together with an adhesive used in between the layers. The grains of each layer of wood are overlapped before the pressing process to make the laminated wood less susceptible to damaging influences like changing temperatures and moisture. Generally speaking, if you’re after a guitar that’s less expensive or you want one that can tolerate more extreme environmental changes, you should consider buying a guitar that uses laminate wood in its construction. Note that laminate is often also referred to as plywood.

What is solid wood?

When a powerful, open sound is of more importance, you should look at instruments that use solid wood. Solid wood is more expensive than laminated wood simply because a larger piece of tree needs to be cut in order to fashion an instrument out of it. In most cases, even a solid top or solid back are made from ‘bookmatched’ pieces of wood. This means that a piece of wood is sawn in half and the two parts are glued together in mirror image. The perfectly mirrored wood grain not only adds to the luxurious appearance of the instrument, but it ensures that the forces exerted upon the guitar are evenly distributed over the entire body.

Laminated, solid top or all-solid guitar?

Fully laminated guitar

Beginners or those with a tight budget will probably be looking at a guitar with laminated parts. As we’ve already mentioned, these are generally cheaper to make and also more resistant to environmental factors. That also makes them a great choice for those who want to take a guitar with them wherever they go without having to worry about it too much.

Guitar with solid top

If you’re after a guitar that has a slightly fuller sound, then one with a solid top could be the way to go, although it’ll cost you a little more, of course. As its name suggests, a model like this will have a top made of solid wood, while the back and sides will still be made of laminate. This means that it’ll still be fairly resistant to environmental factors, but the solid top will give it a more lively sound overall. Incidentally, many advanced guitarists prefer to leave their expensive all-solid models at home and take a solid-top guitar with them when they’re playing intimate gigs or they want to take their instrument with them on holiday, for instance.

All-solid

When top-quality sound is paramount, you’ll want to get your hands on an all-solid acoustic or classical guitar. A model like this is perfect for use in the studio as well as at home and on stage. As you’ve probably already guessed, an all-solid guitar has a solid top, back and sides. That means it has exceptional resonance and significantly more sustain than laminated and solid-top models. An all-solid guitar is generally seen as the best-sounding instrument an acoustic guitarist can get. As you may expect, this also means you’re probably going to have to pay the most for an all-solid guitar.

Pay attention to humidity!

If you’ve decided to purchase an expensive solid-top or all-solid guitar, there’s a few things you should be aware of. In general, acoustic guitars are far more sensitive to environmental factors than electric guitars, especially when it comes to humidity. That’s why we recommend buying a hygrometer (a device that can measure humidity). Ideally, you want it to show a value of around 50%. Anywhere between 45% and 55% is perfectly acceptable, while between 40% and 60% is acceptable too. If the value goes above 60%, the instrument should be exposed to drier air, if possible. If it drops below 40%, you consider using a humidifier.

The importance of a good case

Naturally, you’ll want to take care of your expensive solid-top or all-solid guitar so we really recommend investing in a good guitar case. If you’re not planning on playing your guitar for a while or you’re taking it outdoors, putting a humidifier in the case is a good idea. Remember that solid wood is more susceptible to damaging environmental factors than laminated wood and it’s much better to prevent any problems from happening in the first place. That way, you’ll be able to ensure that you can enjoy your instrument for a long time to come.

Finally

Although deciding between laminate and solid parts on a guitar is important, don’t forget that many other things contribute to the overall quality of an instrument as well. Generally speaking, the more expensive an instrument is the better it should be. For that reason, you may want to consider whether a relatively cheap all-solid guitar is likely to sound as good as an expensive model with a solid-top, for instance. It never hurts to do a little research, check out reviews and, if possible, try out the instruments you’re interested in as well before you purchase them.

Do you have a laminated, solid top or all-solid guitar and do you like it? Let us know in the comments!

Also see

» Acoustic guitars: laminated, solid top, all-solid
» Electro-acoustic guitars: laminated, solid top, all-solid
» Classical guitars: laminated, solid top, all-solid
» Electro-acoustic classical guitars: laminated, solid top, all-solid
» Hygrometers
» Humidifiers
» Guitar cases
» All guitars & accessories

» Classical guitar buyer’s guide
» Acoustic guitar buyer’s guide

5 responses
  1. Nico says:

    Taylor has disprouved the all solid myth, what matter is the top where solid is better, but for the rest of the box, it simply does not matter. Check the martin with basically compressed paper side and back, they just sound great.
    BUT
    Always remember that a all solid guitar will probably have more care in choosing the wood and during the making process, and that is crucial. Solid guitar tend to sound better not because of the solid back and side, but because as premium instrument, they will have be premiumly built.

  2. Rainers Chroma says:

    Tone Wood composition of guitar significantly affects the guitar sound and character.
    Solid Sitka Spruce Top has a well rounded sound as compared to mahogany,Lutz, Cedar, mapple, redwood. For Sides and back Rosewood makes warm and rich sounding as compared to KOA, sapele, walnut, maple.
    Solid Top Spruce Sitka with Rosewood back and sides either laminate or solid are the best match and the way to go. Most top 10 guitars have this type of tone wood on them.

  3. Joey Frost says:

    I’m playing a 1997 Alvarez Regent all laminate and I simply love this little Dread. I have and play more expensive guitars but am always drawn back to the cheap Alvarez.

  4. Robert says:

    I have a decent laminate guitar that sounds good and is pretty resilient in different settings. That said the solid wood guitars are much louder and have a wider range of sound….I just don’t have the time or patience to baby one all the time. May try a solid top next time tho (and cutaway).

  5. col auty says:

    The effect of the solid / laminate construction with regard to pickups would have been an interesting add on, such as is feedback more likely with one than the other ?

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