Plywood vs solid guitars

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by jzucker, Feb 12, 2010.

  1. jzucker

    jzucker Silver Supporting Member

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    Just curious why folks usually assume solid wood is better? Some of the best tones EVER were made on 335s and 175s. I have a 339, an HR Fusion (recently sold) and a Painter archtop, all plywood and they all sound fabulous. I have played $10k guitars that don't sound as good. I hope we can discuss this without a bunch of back-stabbing and snide comments.

    When I discussed this with Tom Painter, his comment was that he could make any kind of guitar he wanted but he chose plywood because he thinks it sounds better.

    Discuss...
     
  2. enharmonic

    enharmonic \m/ \m/ Gold Supporting Member

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    I personally think it's horses for courses. It's the same kind of discussion with drum shells. Maple sounds great...so does birch...so do acrylic vistalites :D

    I would think that there's a certain rigidity with laminate bodies that would be hard to replicate with solid wood. Likewise, there's some resonant qualities of solid wood that would be difficult to duplicate with laminate. Both have their place, and as a general rule, i wouldn't consider one "better" than the other. Either material in the hands of a skilled luthier will produce favorable outcomes...just as either material in my hands will produce a lot of sawdust :D
     
  3. Flyin' Brian

    Flyin' Brian Member

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    I've been looking at the Sadowsky arch tops lately, which as you know Jack are pretty nice and made of fairly thin laminates. I also own a Heritage Sweet 16 which is carved, and also I've played Henry Johnson's carved Heritage and a Bendetto.

    I'd say that in addition to structural soundness, most laminated guitars sound better plugged in while the carved tops sound better unplugged.

    The cool thing about the Sadowsky guitars is that they sound great unplugged too.

    If sound was ever "in the hands" it truly applies to luthiers.
     
  4. mg550

    mg550 Supporting Member

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    I prefer the term "laminate". :D

    Anyway, it's stronger, less prone to feedback, more dense, which improves sustain. Not to mention it sounds glorious.

    In my view, a guitar could be made out of plywood off the rack at Home Depot. If it sounds good, it sounds good!
     
  5. jzucker

    jzucker Silver Supporting Member

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    Luthiers like Holst, Moll and Painter make their own plywood and it's thin like the plywood gibson used to make in the early '60s. If you pickup a modern gibson 175 it weighs a couple lbs more than it's '60s counterpart. Plywood let's you make a light, resonant guitar that's more resistant to feedback than it's solid wood counterpart.

    With archtops, a lot of the solid top guitars are designed as acoustics and then a floating pickup is added. Many of those end up sounding nasally to me when amplified.

    Of course, to play devil's advocate there are many bad and nasally sounding plywood guitars out there too but there are a lot of good ones as well...
     
  6. sahhas

    sahhas Member

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    yea, i always wonder this debate.
    i've been loving my semi-hollow tele-it's plywood top and bottom w/ mahogany core. sounds great.
    s---
    www.myspace.com/scotthansen
     
  7. jzucker

    jzucker Silver Supporting Member

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    I'd love to see your tele. I haven't seen one like that.
     
  8. gixxerrock

    gixxerrock Member

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    Not exactly the same thing, but I have played a bunch of acoustic guitars and IMO, the plywood ones sounded no-where near as nice as the solid wood ones.
     
  9. gulliver

    gulliver Supporting Member

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    Yes, "laminate" when talking hollow bodies ... but if you wan to talk solid plywood, I can tell you I had a plywood body strat copy with the exact same bridge PU as a solid maple Carvin. Certainly, apples and oranges as they were different styles, but the plywood strat used to tick me off because it sounded much better for a fraction of the cost.
     
  10. jzucker

    jzucker Silver Supporting Member

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    Was the carvin neck-through? I've found the neck through guitars to have a peculiar resonance that I can't get used to.
     
  11. PixMix

    PixMix Member

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    Perhaps because laminate is generally less expensive, and you know how it goes... the more expensive the materials, the better the tone. :rolleyes:
    Was the same assumption made during 50s, 60s and 70s, though? Does anyone know when did it start?

    I have Benedetto's book on making archtops, and one of the guitars fetaured in the book is made of construction grade pine, full of large knots and of a very inconsistent grain. According to Benedetto, that guitar sounds as good as any other one made of premium grade woods. Laminates are at least quite consistent in density and thickness.

    Personally, I'd go for an ES-175 rather than a solid wood equivalent of it. But that's just me.
     
  12. GA20T

    GA20T Supporting Member

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    Late 60's Yamaha FGs. Great, if not better.
     
  13. mattmccloskey

    mattmccloskey Gold Supporting Member

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    I think you are right. Lots of really nice sounding 335's, 175's and similar out there.

    I have a really gorgeous Walker archtop that is solid, but it has a mounted non-floating humbucker. Kim Walker was the first one to admit that the sacred floater would likely just be a thin sounding, feedback-prone pain in the butt for my application, even though most guys buying this type of guitar would never want to cut into the top for a pickup.

    The solid top, in this case, is nice for very low volume playing, because it is acoustically louder than the ply tops, and I like the blend of the acoustic sound with the amp sound when playing in duos or with a vocalist.

    That said, for amplified sound with a drummer, etc., I don't think it matters that much, I dial in the same general sound with all of them.
     
  14. 101Volts

    101Volts Member

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    My Sears LP Copy is made out of plywood (Not sure about the neck) And it is very loud when played acoustically. The guitar sounds good, Its just not a player right now due to the neck being so warped. That being said, I'd build a guitar body out of plywood (Or Laminate, As some folks would like to call it) or Pine... Or any kind of wood I can get my hands on.
     
  15. duaneallen

    duaneallen Supporting Member

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    When it comes to semi-hollow and archtop guitars, I definitely go for laminates. Has a thicker, more dryer tone that I like. But when it comes to acoustics, nobody can tell me that laminates sound better. I can hear the difference instantly. The solid woods (especially the solid top) has more sparkle, more overtones, and just a more "sophisticated" sound, for lack of a better word.
     
  16. toneboy

    toneboy Member

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    i had a hand in the design of a new gretsch model back in 2007.
    one of the reasons gretsch/fmic is using laminates for the tops on the pro line guitars is because it adds more sparkle and more overtones,that is all part of that gretsch sound.
     
  17. jzgtrguy

    jzgtrguy Silver Supporting Member

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    I'm a pragmatist. If it works it works. I have never understood the anti laminate mentality when so much great music has been produced on plywood guitars. I couldn't agree with you more. Especially for electric guitars where feed back can be a problem.
     
  18. EADGBE

    EADGBE Member

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    I don't know about hollow bodies but when it comes to solid body electrics I'd pass on plywood. It tends to lack bass and warmth. Too stiff and dense I suppose.
     
  19. Secret Ingredient

    Secret Ingredient Member

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    Cheap plywood will have voids that cause issues. My first electric guitar was a very cheap Les Paul copy. You could see the plywood layers on the edges. It looked like the plys were alternating layers, one layer of "solid" wood and then a layer of chips and glue, then another "solid" layer. As you can guess, it was a pos. Bad plywood construction taints the overall impression of the material.
     
  20. jzucker

    jzucker Silver Supporting Member

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    Well the 335 isn't exactly a solidbody but it certainly doesn't lack warmth...
     

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