In the acoustic guitar world, there are typically 3 types of guitars: The laminated guitar, the solid top guitar and finally, the premium all solid body guitar.
Laminated guitars are entry level guitars that usually aren’t very expensive. They usually range from RM100 to RM1,000.
A laminated guitar is made of pieces of wood that are glued together to form the top, sides and back of the guitar. Because of it’s layered nature, the wood does not vibrate as freely as a solid piece of wood might, and therefore is not as resonant as their solid top or full solid siblings.
That said, laminated guitars are quite hardy and do not need a lot of care. They are less susceptible to humidity and moisture. All this, of course, is at the expense of sound & tone.
A simple way of telling if a guitar’s top is solid, is by looking at the wood grain line around the sound hole. The line should end right at the edge, and NOT run through the piece of wood. Like so:
Solid Top Guitars
Next up in line in the ‘acoustic guitar scale of goodness’ is the solid top guitar. These would cost between RM1,000 to above RM2,000.
Solid top guitars are built with a solid piece of wood as its top, just as the name suggests. The back and sides of the guitar, however, are laminated.
The top of a guitar is generally considered to be the most important component of an acoustic guitar, and solid top guitars usually produce a better sound than laminated ones. They are also louder and have a richer tone.
You usually are able to tell if a top is solid by again, looking at its grain line. The lines should run through the piece of wood around the sound hole. Like so:
Lastly, we have got the Holy Grail of acoustic guitars.
Full Solid Acoustic Guitars
A full solid acoustic guitar’s body is made entirely out of solid pieces of wood in various configurations. This means that the guitar’s top, sides and back are all made of solid wood.
Some common variants are: Spruce or cedar tops with mahogany, rosewood or maple sides and backs. We will explore the tonal qualities of various guitar tone woods in a separate post.
The Toss Up
The question that usually follows is: Which is the best type of guitar?
Unfortunately, there are no straight answers. The best guitar should be the one that makes you want to pick it up and play all the time. As the amazing acoustic guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel, once put it: “It is the guitar that you don’t want to put down”.
Also, the construction of the guitar itself plays a huge role in the way it sounds. A well constructed laminated guitar by a master luthier will sound better than a shabbily put together full solid by a less experienced maker. (Fortunately, it is quite rare to find a badly made full solid guitar! Wood is not cheap!)
Bear in mind too, that acoustic guitars made out of solid wood require a lot of care, especially if you live in a humid country like Malaysia. Humidity causes wood to bloat, making the guitar sound muffled, and the neck of a guitar to warp.
A trustworthy advice would be to try a guitar before buying it. You should be able to tell the quality of one by picking it up, feeling the way it’s put together, the wood and finish, the sound, and of course, the way it vibrates in your hand as you play it!