Sound Advice

Sunday, November 26, 2006

To save money, inexpensive guitars are usually made of lesser-quality woods. You will rarelyfind an inexpensive instrument made of solid wood. Instead, laminates (a fancy name forplywood) are used. The appearance will be good, because quality woods are used to for theouter layer, and these guitars are very sturdy and unlikely to crack; but the sound of aplywood guitar is rarely as resonant as one made with solid woods. Sometimes the top, orsoundboard, will be solid with laminated wood for the sides and back, which is preferable toplywood throughout.

The best classical guitars have sides and back of Brazilian or East Indian rosewood. The topsare of spruce or Canadian cedar with even spacing between the anular lines of the grain. Theneck is usually made of Spanish or Honduras cedar, and the fingerboard of ebony. Folk oracoustic guitars can be made of spruce, maple, rosewood, or mahogany, each having adifferent characteristic sound. Folk guitars also use ebony fretboards, although cheaperinstruments may use a plastic substitute. As well as costing more, the solid wood guitar willneed more care since it is more susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity. Exces-sive dryness is a particular enemy of guitars.

At the very minimum, if you are playing an acoustic guitar, try to get a guitar with a solidwood face or top. This will give you the advantage of improved sound. The laminate body,meanwhile, will be better for you as a beginner because it is sturdier—less likely to crack orscratch with mishandling—and overall has less effect on the instrument’s performance.

For electric guitars, it doesn’t much matter what is used to make the body. In fact, the ideal isto have a strong, nonresonant body—the opposite of what you’d like in an acoustic instru-ment. Plywood, plastic, fiberglass—anything strong can be used. The body is more importantfor its decorative value—i.e., how it looks on stage—than its composition.