Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

Might as well tap all the resources I have available, such as these lovely mustard boards!

Background: I am shopping for a guitar for my 11-year-old son. He has been playing DADGAD for about six months and is playing on a yardsale relic that he is quickly outgrowing. He plays at a weekly session, with the blessing and mentorship of the session regulars, who are remarkably supportive of his learning.

We’re headed out to check out the offerings at the second of two local music shops today. We’ve figured out that he wants a OOO or OM size Martin-style with 14 frets (he’s currently playing on an OOO size with 12 frets). Budget is around $500. They have about a half-dozen for him to try in our price range.

I need more input on all-wood (which I will refer to as wood) vs. wood-top-with-laminate-sides (which I will refer to as laminate). I realize that our all-wood options will be limited in our price range. We may go up a bit in price if we decide it’s needed.

I have gotten conflicting advice about which would be best and I would welcome more opinions. I’m not a guitarist and this is all new to me.

I am told wood is more responsive, gives a better sound, and will give him better feedback/reward for playing well as he learns.

Laminate seems sturdier/stronger and maybe more prudent for a typical 11yo boy, who, though he is generally mature and responsible, still ends up being a bit clumsy and rough with things (and has younger siblings and pets). I worry about bangs and dents, and I worry about climate-induced cracks.

We live in a climate with humid summers and harsh, dry winters, so humidification is an issue, but we have an all-room humidifier in the music room already and we would also humidify his case. I’m assuming we’ll try to get him a hard case to minimize potential “doorway bangs” and so forth.

How big a difference does all-wood make in the sound and responsiveness? Is it very significant (compared to laminate) or is it more of a subtle difference? Would it be significant to a relatively new player within a few years’ time?

How hard is it to keep an all-wood instrument safe from impact or climate damage?

Being the moneyspender, I want to make sure we make the right choice and a smart investment.

I’d welcome your thoughts if you have experience in this area. Thanks.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

listen, for $500 you can get a great guitar, but buy a used one. I say that because if a guitar is more than 10 years old and the neck is strait, then it was a good guitar. A new one, …well, you don’t know yet do you?

wood v laminate for climate is not even a reasonable concern. I grew up in Houston Texas. It is very hot with African style humidity.

I now live in Appalachia with hard winters and humid summers

I never had problems due to climate and my instruments stay out of their cases since I play them all every day

besides, guitars are made from tone woods. period.

so don’t go laminate because of climate or durability

also, don’t buy the thing online. Go to a shop and play several and buy the one that plays the best. Bring cash money so you can haggle

I preffer a stack of 10s and 20s. The shop owner has bills to play, too, and 500 knicker in small bills looks like it could choke a donkey.

its tough to let that kind of cash walk out of your shop, believe me. Think of it as leverage.

good luck and let him pick the one he likes to play and buy it

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

Good advice!

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

Please, go with wood. If your youngster has proper respect for the instrument (and it sounds like he does), then it shouldn’t be a problem. I will second all the advice already given. I live in Arizona, with extreme dryness. I have seen guitars crack and warp due to it, but my guitar took the transition just fine. As already mentioned, buying a used guitar in the area means that the instrument will already be adjusted to the local climate, so you don’t have to worry about cracking or warping, but keeping it in a controlled humidity environment on a regular basis is still recommended. You can get a very decent instrument used for $500.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

There are two aspects that you have to look at when buying a youngster a guitar, playability and tone.

Playability is by far the most important issue as a guitar with a very high action or poor intonation is discouraging to play (to say the least. ) Tone, on the other hand is a factor of both technique and construction. But it is better to start out with a guitar that plays well and sounds good.

For $500 you will not find a terrific sounding guitar, you have to pay thousands for such an instrument and even then may not get a killer instrument. But at that price you will find plenty of very good sounding guitars from a number of makers. The fact that there are so many guitars sold makes that price point especially interesting to guitar makers so they will try their best to sell you one by making the guitar sound and play good/well.

When I was playing bluegrass in the 60’s Yamaha came out with a line of Martin look-a-like guitars that were laminated. They were made that way to survive the trip over from Japan. A number of well known professional players started using them (Curtis Burch, for one) because they had a great sound in spite of having laminated sides. Today those are sought after guitars.

Blueridge, a Chinese maker (Saga), puts out a very nice line of guitars that are laminated by the definintion of this thread but sound and play well. The prices are very competitive and a used one an even better bargain. Don’t be put off by the construction, sound and playabilitiy are more important.

I have a $100 Fender acoustic which plays very well and sounds “OK”. 30 years ago a $100 guitar would have sounded like it was made from cardboard and my fingers would have been bleeding after a half hour of playing. No more. The use of CNC machines and modern materials means that a quality guitar can be made for a lot less. Martin, who value their reputation, are making the X line of guitars totally out of manufactured materials and the guitars sound fine.

Choose the one your son likes. Go to several stores and play a bunch of guitars in your price range. He will be satisfied with what he gets, for a while at least until he improves and wants more. :grin:

Mike Keyes

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

I completely don’t agree that you have to spend thousands to get a good sounding guitar. I’ll agree that you CAN spend that much if you want to, but it is not necessary

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

You have a budget, you reckon he’s a great kid, don’t try to second-guess everything, you Americans ( pardon me, I’m married to one ) try to over-intellectullise and work everything out beforehand. Just get the one that sounds and feels best in your budget. He’s only eleven, after all. By eighteen he could be a goth punk heavy-metal doomslayer, or something.
I was in this guitar shop in Manhattan, oh, 30 years ago, and this very smartly-dressed middle-aged man came in and asked if they had, and he’s worked out exactly what sort of instrument in advance, not make and model but type, a guitar for his boy. Much like you’re doing. And they just looked up and said “Nope”. Didn’t want to bother. And then they laughed as he turned away, and so did I.
Don’t be laughed at in a guitar shop, it’s so humiliating.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

PS my first good guitar came out of a Lower East Side pawnshop, for $112 and a few cents. Ok, it was 1977, but I’ve still got it, a 1967 Guild.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

If your son is playing guitar already, my advice would be to spend a few afternoons in guitar shops. Let him play guitars without looking at price tags or materials, and divide them into two types - the ones that get a second look, and the ones that don’t. Keep notes of the ones he puts in the second look pile.

After a while, he’ll have a few that stand out for him. If one of those is in your range, you’ve got an answer. If not, you’ve got a lot more information and some pleasant afternoons spent with your kid. Win-win, in either case.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

I concur with these wise comments:

• only buy a guitar your kid’s had a chance to play (i.e., absolutely avoid mail order)

• used will be as good or better than new

• at your price range do not shun a laminate if it sounds and feels good (I have one I treasure, sounds better after 35 yrs of abuse than most brand-new Martins/Taylors/Gibsons that I’ve picked up)

I’d prioritize this way (in descending order of importance): playability, sound, looks—dents add character.

Pete—Being laughed at in a guitar shop is akin to being laughed at in a video rental store, used comic book store, or (remember these?) record shop. It’s like visiting a circle of the Inferno that’s reserved for self-loathing, hygiene-impaired geeks whose only pleasure is/was in cackling at the unfortunate shoppers who haven’t the obscure knowledge which is only gained by those stuck in niche retail career hells.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

Mike Keyes, Guernsey Pete and Jon Kiparsky have pretty well covered it. Questions about laminate vs solid are largely moot - interesting, but no useful application in shopping on a limited budget. If you’re choosing options to have a luthier build you a custom instrument, then by all means consider the type of wood, where it was grown, how long it was dried, etc. But for 500 bucks, just let the young man try as many as possible and see what he likes. In the low-end guitar market, you never know where you might find something satisfying. If possible, take along a friend who knows guitars to evaluate the structural integrity of the instrument.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

I have a 10 year old Martin DM with the laminates that I picked up last year. Wonderful instrument-great action, magnificant tone (though the lows are not as deep as the wood Martins).

It is just fragile when it comes to bumps bruises and scratches. Probably the reason Martin used a matte finish.

(for US readers) Unless you are a stickler for “Domestic made” there are a number of brands that you can do really well natural wood.

In the $500 range, you need to be really careful though. The Asian imports range from total c**p to nice instruments. In that price range you have to shop around with an experienced guitar player.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

Just read Guernset Pete’s post

1967 Guild? Sounds like a candidate for the "antiques road show’. But with freinds who swear by old Guilds, sounds like you have a real find.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

FWIW, I know a well-known and respected Irish guitarist that travels with a laminate Martin that he picked up a few years ago. I think he found that his expensive guitars were getting fairly rough treatment on the road (and in the air), and while the laminate doesn’t sound quite as good, it really isn’t a bad guitar. So the tradeoff was worth it.

He has different criteria and motivations than your son, but it might be useful to know that he likes the laminate enough to make it his main instrument on the road (which is probably about 6 months out of the year).

So, as others have mentioned, let your son play a bunch of guitars in your price range, and find one that he likes. If it’s one of the laminate ones, then I wouldn’t reject it just because of that.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

10 years ago I bought a Seagull guitar for $300. They are Canadian. The thing is that I tried about 10 of the exact same model. Randy lined them all up for me. I picked the one with the tightest wood grain, like how Ted Williams used to pick out his baseball bats (and Teddy Baseball would know)

It has aged wonderfully and is as loud as a cannon now

Neck is still strait and true, too.

The moral of the story is that not all guitars are made equal. That’s only us men who are made that way

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

You didn’t pick the one that sounded the best?

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

I’d go with the nicest sounding guitar you can get for the price range, but all-wood will do more justice to DADGAD (or any open tuning) than any alternative because it resonates better. I have a Martin OOO series with a cutaway. I got it at 18 and have lugged it all over the world without being the most diligent about humidifiers. It’s still fine, although the finish is coming off in some places (not my carelessness, according to my guitar guy - they were experimenting with a new finishing process when my guitar was built and a lot of them have the same problem.)

Yamaha made an affordable rip-off of the style of my guitar and a friend of mine picked up a used one for about $300 bucks. It sounded exactly as good as mine does. (Boy was I annoyed.)

Anyway, your son wants a ooo style probably because it has a slightly narrower, shorter neck, which is easier for smaller hands to manage, but it still has a full sound. I’d say keep your eyes peeled for one of those Yamaha knock-offs, but make sure he plays it before you whip out the cash. The good Yamahas are very good. The bad ones are probably not much of an improvement on what he already has.

Also, Simon and Patrick make decent affordable wood guitars.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

Good luck with buying the guitar. Everything written here is pretty good. A few things to add:

1. I wouldn’t buy a second-hand guitar at this price. Being old and having a straight neck is not really a reliable way of determining quality. And you have said you don’t know much about guitars, so you won’t know what to look or listen for.

2. Laminate/solid wood: for this budget the most important consideration is the soundboard (the top of the guitar). This has the largest effect on how the guitar will improve over time. A laminate top will not generally improve with age. At this price you should also buy a guitar with a flat top. An arch-top (curved) solid-top guitar at this price will almost certainly be moulded or pressed in a factory, rather than hand carved. This drastically impairs its ability to improve with age. Also, if possible, buy a guitar with a solid top that has been ‘quarter-sawn’. Quarter-sawn wood is more expensive (it yields more waste wood) but has a deeper, more complex tone and will also improve well with age.

Don’t worry if the back and sides of the guitar are laminated. Some of the most expensive guitars have laminated back and sides (I recently saw one worth £16,000!)

3. Don’t worry about bangs or dents! They add a certain something to a guitar, and they are unlikely to affect the tone (unless they are very large or in unfortunate places). The worst thing that can happen is that the guitar falls over and lands on the headstock (the end of the guitar with the string winders), in which case it may break off (an expensive repair job). If your son doesn’t have a guitar stand, he should get one soon!

4. Humidity/cold. Don’t worry too much about this either. Not worth loosing too much sleep over for $500. In very humid weather, keeping the guitar in its case should keep it protected (as well as making the strings last longer). In cold weather, the greatest threat to the guitar will be the heating in your house. It’s a good idea avoid leaving the guitar near to heaters or radiators.

I hope your son finds a great guitar. It’s not impossible at this price. Joel

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

I’ll second most of the advice here. Go out with your son and spend some time playing guitars and see what floats his and your boat. In the $500 range, there’s lots of good word of mouth on the guitar lists I frequent for the “Recording King” series of guitars. You may even be able to get all-wood one at that price. Lots of folks also seem to have good things to say about the Martin “1” series guitars.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

when you have newish guitars, they might sound equal. That’s when I pick the best grain. I can see the future in the grain of the wood, Bob, so I pick the one with the best grain from the small group of those that sound best.

after a guitar has been around for 30 years, its all sound. The wood has cured and that is that. It is what it is at that point

but newly made factory guitars…that’s a different story

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

New Pure Drop: “Being laughed at in a guitar store…” The funniest thing I’ve read in a while, and oh so true.

Kerri Brown: We used to have a Kerri Brown here in Calgary. Nice fiddler, but up and vanished one day leaving an empty chair at the session. Very sad, really.

Posted by .

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

The absolute best I’ve heard in the $500 range are the Breedlove “Atlas” series acoustics. My favorite is the AD20SM, it is a Dreadnaught shape/size with a solid spruce top, SOLID mahogany back, & laminate sides. For the price, I’ve never heard better tone in that price range. The playability is excellent as well. If you see one of these in your travels, don’t pass it by without letting the kid play it. They might not have the “brand recognition” of Martin or Taylor, (although I think one day that they will: check out their website & look at their more high-end instruments, it is what the phrase “eye candy” was invented for!) but I don’t think anybody gives you more “bang for the buck” in that price range. Let us know what you end up deciding on, this should be interesting!

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

I think the assumption was that we’re talking about laminated sides and back, not laminated top.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

amyamanda, Newer Martin’s tend to be very fussy about humidity, mine MUST stay in the case with a humidifier at all times unless being played, and I have heard this from others as well.
Don’t be afraid to buy a laminate guitar, mine is, and fussy as it is about humidity, it sounds great.
Look at a Taylor Big Baby as a possibility, or like others say, let him try things out, don’t be afraid of used instruments, and get what sounds best.
Thank you for encouraging a youngster to play music!!!!

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

Thanks, all! I greatly appreciate your responses, and I am open to hearing more if anyone else wants to chime in.

We went to a reputable shop today and my kid tried out a bunch of different guitars. One in our price range seemed like a good option to consider - a Martin 000X1. It has laminate back and sides, but I was highly impressed with the sound compared to the other ones we tried, and I later found smashingly good reviews online. I was surprised that it sounded better than the all-wood models in our price range.

I did let him try an all-wood Martin (OM-1) that was out of our price range, just for comparison, and he instantly fell in love. But we have a potential lead on an affordable used all-wood Martin through a friend, so we’ll see how that measures up. I’m resisting the urge to just buy one to get it over with, as many people have said I should let him try out a number of instruments to really get a feel for the process.

Pete, point taken about over-intellectualizing. But I’m not at all afraid of being laughed at in a guitar shop. (Motherhood has erased all pride.) The shop that can work with me is the shop that will get our business (for repairs and accessories, if not for an instrument).

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

I would vote for an all wood Blueridge, they come in dreadnaught or OM or 000. They may have gone a tad over $500 now, I got the BR-160 in 2004 and it’s a great “I don’t have to worry about it too much guitar”. I never met one with bad playability, the action on all I tried were great.

They make laminate back and side ones too for less. The key is the model numbers on the solid wood are three digit… so there is a solid rosewood/spruce BR-160 or the same in laminate back and sides would be BR-60. Same for all the models.

Some friend unwittingly bought two digit models which proved to be laminate back and sides, I really didn’t hear much difference. the ads are not quite deceptive, but not quite fully honest though from many of the Ebay dealers… as in, they say on the laminates “Rosewood back and sides, solid top”. the solids will boast all solid wood.

I wouln’t walk away from a laminate Blueridge if that’s the budget…. they sound great. It’s mostly about the top and the bracing, where most of the sound comes from. That’s the art of it. They know what they are doing apparently. I build guitars and am very fussy…. the Blueridge makes the grade. You can often find one used on Ebay in all solid wood, but watch the model numbers for three digits. I’d make sure you can return it too if not liked. Most will let you.

I remember a really GREAT ragtime and blues guitar player friend calling me that he couldn’t believe he got a BRAZILIAN Rosewood 000 model Blueridge. It sounded great and played like butter…. he had just bought a $5000 Martin 000-45 and was kicking himself because the Bluerigde sounded nearly as good, had lots of pretty inlay (most of them do) and the action was BETTER. When I saw the model number and knew it was laminate I didn’t have the heart to tell him. What was funny was he showed it to another friend, who then went and ordered the same. That was years ago, and to this day they think they got solid Brazilian wood! They are that nice really.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

Those Blueridge guitars really are very good for the money.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

They record very well too by the way if that’s a concern.

I just checked ebay, new BR-160s are about $635.00 I saw one used coming up for a lot less. They are rock solid too.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

There you have it from Iris, herself. I’ve been impressed with every Blueridge I’ve tried, even the cheapest. Be sure to include them in the search.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

Thanks, I know Blueridge guitars are available locally, and we’ll give them another listen. They did not impress me yesterday in the mix of what he tried out, but we will try them again. I appreciate the endorsement.

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

as others have said…. take your son to as many guitar shops and pawn shops as you can…. let him play as many guitars as he can get his hands on…. when you find the right one, both of you will know…. don’t take any pre-conceived notions about brand names, materials, size or anything else with you…. just you and your son…. have fun with it.

be well,

Re: Question about buying a guitar - all-wood vs. laminate?

The last time I was in a guitar store, I picked up a sweet low mellow toned guitar, It was heavy, and all wood, and I believe it was under a grand, Had I been employed at the time I would have bought it on the spot.