Laminate versus solid wood guitars

The original guitar and its predecessors, such as the lute, were built from solid wood. From World War II, pressed plywood, also called laminate, became increasingly popular for guitar building. Laminate consists of several layers of thinly processed wood that has been pressed and then glued together in thin layers for strength and stability.

Why laminate?

In an all-solid wood acoustic guitar, every piece of wood is solid, and not layered or laminated. That means the top, back and sides are all made from solid wood components. Using laminate wood simply means that wood has been saved on your guitar and is therefore much cheaper than solid wood. Selecting a good quality piece of solid tonewoods requires skill that can actually take a lifetime to refine. That costs time and money. The high price of the solid wood is therefore the only reason to use laminate.

It is well known that beginning guitarists usually opt for a cheap laminated guitar, while advanced players opt for an all-solid wood instrument. But there is also an intermediate form.

In fact, we can distinguish three types of acoustic guitars:

  • Full laminate. These are the cheap entry-level models. Prices vary from € 75 to € 250 per guitar.
  • Laminated sides and back with a solid top. Most acoustic models come from this category. A solid top improves tone and volume, even if the rest of the guitar is laminate. They sound clearly better than the entire laminate class and we count them among the middle class. Price indication: €250 to €1,000.
  • Completely solid. These are the highest-midrange and top-class guitars with the very best sound. Prices are in general, depending on the quality of the wood and specifications, from € 800.

You will never find a guitar with solid back and sides and a laminated top. This is comparable to a Mercedes with a Lada engine.

What difference is there in sound?

It is generally agreed that solid woods lead to more resonance and sustain and that it brings more expression and balance, especially in the highs. Solid wood translates the sound into sparkling, piano-like tones that are very pleasant to listen to. A laminate guitar sounds much flatter.

Other differences

Laminate guitars are a bit lighter in weight and more resistant to extreme drought. During periods of frost, the air can become very dry and solid wood can crack. It is therefore very important with solid guitars to monitor the humidity and to moisten extra when it falls below 35-40%. Laminate guitars can withstand drought better.

How can you tell if your guitar is built from solid woods?

With the top, it’s not that complicated. If you look in the sound hole to the side of the top and you see that the grain continues along the edge, then the top is built of solid wood (see photo 1). On the sides and back, you should pay particular attention to the slight curve that the grain makes (photo 2). Laminate guitars, on the other hand, have straight grains.

Solid top, grain continues into the sound hole

Solid back with slightly curved veins

If catalogs and websites do not indicate that the woods used are solid, then you can assume that they are laminate. Many guitar brands do not present their laminate guitars with the word “laminate” because that simply degrades the guitar in value.


Javatar only builds solid guitars

Javatar builds all its guitars only from solid tonewoods. The top is made of the highest quality (AAA) Engelmann spruce (solid spruce) and the sides and back are made of solid mahogany. With a price of well under a thousand euros, Javatar can offer a top guitar made of solid wood, a guitar that has been rated with the maximum five stars by the renowned Dutch magazine “Gitarist” (Gitarist 362, May 2021). >>Read test