You may have never given thought to the different types of woods or materials a guitar can be made from.
But, as you dig deeper into what kind of sound, look, and portability features you’re after, you may end up preferring one type over another, or a combination of the available variety.
Naturally, you’re going to ask, which is better – laminate or solid wood guitars?
They each have their place in the industry, and we root for both materials.
It’s more than just about cost, so let’s see how they stack up in everyday life.
What is a Laminate Guitar?
Laminate is a general term for plywood use in building a guitar body. The process may be different from manufacturer to manufacturer, but typically, it involves pressed plywood adhered together with glue and then covered with a veneer.
Laminate allows for multiple benefits that includes:
- Grain and tonewood highlighting
- Imitate the look of solid wood
- Conservative alternative to tonewoods
- Strong, durable, stable
What is a Solid Body Acoustic Guitar?
When choosing tonewoods, the quality and the process it undergoes to be used for a guitar body is a process that is still being refined. Each manufacturer has their own production process, tonewood sources and selection, and quality controls. Essentially, a solid wood acoustic guitar consists of solid pieces of wood to construct the top, back, and sides.
Each type of tonewood offers their own unique tonal properties as well as the aesthetics that includes grain and color.
Solid wood allows for multiple benefits that include:
- Authentic acoustic tonal properties
- Unique grain patterns
- Sound development and maturation (tonewood aging)
- Considered high-end and professional
- Unique flavors, colors, and personalities
What is a Solid Top Acoustic Guitar?
Of course, there’s a middle ground. This is a guitar that has both solid tonewood and laminate construction. Laminate makes up the sides and back, and solid tonewood makes up the soundboard – the top. The combination offers the best of both worlds.
You have a solid top to lend its tonal properties and its vibrational benefits. The laminate offers durability and climate-resistant benefits. It makes for a great-sounding guitar that can withstand some abuse from children, traveling, and playing in environmentally exposed areas. It’s also in the middle ground when it comes to price range. It costs a little more than a fully laminated guitar, but it’s also cheaper than a solid one.
Laminate VS Solid Wood Acoustic Guitars
We’ll explore some personal preferences and some instances where it’s obvious what type of guitar you’ll need. It would be easy if it were this black and white all the time, but the unique experiences and needs you have will determine what materials will be suited for you. Since you’re the ultimate judge, weigh in and see if you agree with us about what makes the best acoustic guitar!
Laminate can be made to look just like real wood. Uniformed grain size and patterns, enhancing colors and stains that can look more vibrant than real wood, and it also allows for variations in multiple finishes and color options to be used.
But, there’s something raw, earthy, and authentic about the look of real, solid wood. Manufacturers often go for uniformed grains and patterns, but the reality of real wood is that it’s unique from one tree to another and even within layers of the same tree. No other guitar will be just like yours.
Unfortunately, while aesthetics can often be an important part of the buying process, it’s usually the reason why a guitar stays on the shelf or goes home with you – sound, tone, and appropriateness be darned. Looks are only one part of the equation.
Cost – Production Process
The painstaking process of having to identify solid, quality pieces of tonewoods in a pile of woodstock is harder said than done. The process of having to prepare it for production is another issue altogether. Obviously, it’s going to be expensive – not just for the wood, but for the labor and craftsmanship involved.
Laminate is cheaper. It’s also considered a conservative alternative because it helps to conserve tonewood resources. The process to produce a laminate guitar body is much more cost-effective than solid wood.
Cost – For the Buyer
All too often, laminate guitars are pushed onto beginner acoustic guitar players because they’re cheaper. Professionals are under the expectation that they should always choose solid wood guitars.
It’s true that a beginner will find some cost savings with laminate guitars, but both laminate and solid guitars provide different benefits and purposes for each type of player. It’s really about what you’re after and where and how you’ll be using your guitar most of the time. But, if it’s about spending as less as possible, the winner is…
Laminate Vs Solid Wood Guitars For Beginners
As previously discussed, beginner instruments and low-price points are often assumed to go hand in hand. However, it really depends on your budget and how serious the player is.
If it’s the start of a lifetime passion, you might want a solid top and laminate body guitar to really get durability and quality sound in one package. If it’s a for a child that may lose interest after a few weeks, a low-cost laminate guitar can still provide durability and fun for those recreational and casual practice sessions and performances for mom and dad – and it won’t break the bank.
For Pros/Advanced Players
It’s assumed that experienced players would invest in expensive guitars because they’ve been playing for a long time, and they know what they want and would appreciate. The most expensive guitars are usually the solid tonewood ones. Experienced players can bring out the unique tonal properties of an aged and well-played guitar, and they should know more about how to care and maintain a solid one.
However, just because it may be the most expensive guitar in the collection, it doesn’t mean it’s the most-played one. Often, a versatile and casual guitar, like a solid top guitar, is easily the “go-to” instrument – even for a pro. When hitting the road, a laminate guitar may be the pick of the day to handle the abuse of travel.
It really depends on what purposes the player has in mind for the guitar. But, we all know the pros like to sound good while strummin’ it, and we all know that solid wood guitars know how to get that done.
Tone of Laminate Versus Solid Wood
On that note, no one can deny that a solid wood guitar in the hands of a seasoned player invokes music magic. Tonewoods and expert craftsmanship with quality materials can make for an otherworldly experience. But, tone is subjective.
There are solid top laminate guitars that have been highly rated and even compared in tone to some all-wood guitars. From this, we learn that pleasing sound is subjective, not just to the player, but to the listener too.
This has a of different aspects that can shape what you think sounds good and how you identify and develop your personal signature. Playing style, tonal properties, resonance, and skill can all affect how you perceive the overall value and potential of the guitar and how you shape your talent.
Solid wood guitars can maximize every aspect of creating your own authentic signature. They should resonate, add to the tonal range, and amplify and sharpen every movement your fingers make.
Laminate guitars are good, especially quality-made ones. But, there’s good reason why a solid wood guitar is known for expressing a tonewood’s complex personality in the most powerful way – it delivers the purest levels of music fidelity. It’s also a lifetime instrument that deepens its flavor and color over time.
An all-wood guitar needs a lot of love and care to last a lifetime. If you’re going to spend the cash to get a solid wood guitar, you’ll need to invest in properly caring for it. This means a hardshell case, hygrometer, and an acoustic guitar humidifier. There are many types and variations of this equipment, and you’ll need to do the research.
But, laminate machined guitars are less susceptible to drying out, warping, and cracking. Each laminate layer adds to the strength and overall durability of the guitar. A veneer also takes away the worry of harming particles ruining the finish or penetrating the pores of an all-wood guitar.
Laminate VS Solid Guitars for Travel
A laminate guitar is going to be the obvious choice. It’s more resistant to climate and environmental damage. Traveling can present a lot of risk to a guitar. Overhead cabins, car trunks, and shuffling between hotel rooms allows for a lot of bumping, knocking, and dropping opportunities.
Even with that said, solid top and solid wood guitars can be travel acoustic guitars if it’s well protected. A quality case and a travel or mini size/shape can make all the difference. You will have to be prepared to properly humidify your guitar while on the road, and make sure the wood is cared for and protected if you’re playing around salty air like at the beach or around smoke like at a bonfire.
But, because a laminate guitar is often more travel friendly because of its construction, it requires less maintenance to take on the road.
There are many tonewoods protected under CITES. Regulations and policies are heavy on guitar manufacturers, and there’s a very fine line between what can be used and what’s off limits.
Certain tonewoods are now harder to source, and consequently, it’s inspired a movement of sustainability that many noted manufacturers support and are actively participating including Martin, Taylor, Gibson, Yamaha, Seagull, and more.
Laminate is, of course, an alternative, but it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a veneered guitar for the rest of your life. There are also other solid tonewoods that are up for guitar production that we may be seeing more of these days. For more on this topic, check out our “Sustainable Tonewoods” article to get clued in.
The Finish Line: Solid Wood VS Laminate Guitars
As you can see, there’s no hard and fast rule on which is better. It’s your playing and lifestyle that will determine which guitar construction will best suit your needs and budget. But, aficionados don’t limit themselves, they humbly start somewhere and move on between guitars as their skills and interests guide them.
Your first buy will always be remembered, whether it’s a splurge on an all-wood guitar or a more than capable laminate one. We’re not teaching you to be a guitar snob or purist. Instead, we want you to be well-informed and open to any instrument that helps you create your own music magic!
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- Guitar Tonewoods Guide: Which Tone Wood is Best for Acoustic (& Acoustic-Electric) Guitars
- Sustainable Tonewoods for Eco Friendly Guitars (& the Companies Who Make Them)
- How to Practice & Play Acoustic Guitar Quietly (DIY Home Tips & Products Available)
Trent is a music lover, musical instrument player and passionate audio afficionado.