besides reading the specifications when buying a guitar, is there any really good way to tell the construction of a guitar? solid wood or plywood? the reason i ask i have one that is solid all the way around, then i just bought one with a solid top and back , laminate sides. now with my all solid i can look in the sound hole and see the distinct wood grain same for the sides and back. However with my new one, , the side plywood actually has a similar grain to the solid back, its similar in color also? so for future reference, if i did not already know that this guitar had a solid top and back, how would i be able to distinguish exactly what is what?

ps. im sure someone will say the solid is heavier, (and obviously the tone) i understand that, but how do you tell exactly what part of the guitar is solid rather than laminate?

thanx in advance if you can help.
Last edited by Findinghomer at Jul 30, 2007,
Generally, if a guitar has solid tone wood components, it will be stated as such in the rundown at the mfr's site. This or that guitar equiped with a "Solid Sitka Spruce" top for example. If, however, the information simply says "Spruce" top, or "Mahogeny" back and sides, it's a good bet that it's laminate. Also, you need to be aware that laminate and plywood are different critters. Plywood, generally speaking, is made with multiple ply's of wood whose grain will run in opposite directions, while laminates will traditionally have 2 layers, the unseen backing, and the visible outer "laminated" sheet, and the grain of each will run in the same direction. Take my Alvarez for example. It's the RD20SL. It has a solid sitka spruce top, with mahogeny back and sides. The mahogeny could be solid, or laminate. I have yet to figure out which it is, because like you, looking inside of it it appears that the wood is the same, just unfinished. But I do know that the top is solid. It does get difficult to determine if what you have is solid or laminate when you can't actually see the layers if it's laminate. There is a reason though for all this, and that is simply conservation of resources. Some of the exotic tonewoods are becoming a bit rare, and it's more nature friendly to use laminates as the outer layer will be a very thin sheet, rather than one thicker solid piece. This way, one thick piece can yeild 3 or 4 guitars, instead of just 1.
To truely be sure, you need to buy higher end guitars from some of the big names, like Martin, Santa Cruz, Taylor and so on. The descriptions of low end, cheapo guitars is a bit pathetic, and should be taken with a grain of salt.
Hope this was helpful.
Last edited by LeftyDave at Jul 30, 2007,
I really do not know of a way to determine whether the back and sides of a guitar or solid without actually cutting into them so that you can see the end grain. You can look at the end grain of the top at the sound hole and often times tell if a guitar has a solid top. If the guitar is laminate top, you will be able to see distinct layers in the wood if you look very carefully. You cannot tell by simply looking at the top or back of the piece of wood though. All guitars will look like the wood is solid if you look at the back and sides through the soundhole. This is because the piece of wood that you are looking at really is one solid piece of wood. It's just that it isn't solid all the way through (thickness). It is solid in it's length and width though. Does that make any sense?
yes dave that is a little better understanding for me. but as ive stated, i do know the two i have are solid, one is a washburn, all solid, and one is a carvin solid top and back, theres no question about those . i was just hoping for future reference and personal knowledge there was a general indication incase i did not have the specs on a particular guitar.

and jim not sure i follow you on the end grain on the top back of the sound hole?
^-- haha yeah I was having trouble explaining it...

Ok, for the top, look at the soundhole. Since there is a hole cut in the top, you can see the top of the guitar's thickness. This is where you want to look. Looking at the end grain (the edge of the soundhole in this case), you can often tell whether it is a solid piece of wood or a laminate piece of wood. If it is a laminate piece of wood, you will often be able to see three or more distinct layers in the wood. Generally the layer in the middle will be a bit thicker than the outside two layers.

This obviously isn't a picture of a guitar, but it's the best picture I could find to show you what I mean. See how when you look at the edge of those two piece of wood you can see distinct layers in the wood. It looks like this is 5-ply plywood (5 thin layers of wood glued together). Alot of times you can see something similar to this at the edge of the soundhole if the guitar has a laminate top. You'll also notice that by looking at the top or bottom of those pieces of wood, you can't tell anything. It looks like a solid piece of wood if you just look at the top or bottom of it because you are looking at a solid piece of wood... but it's one of several thin pieces of wood glued together... and thus not solid all the way through.

If the guitar has a solid top, you will be able to tell that it is solid all the way through. It won't have any distinct layers where you can see that multiple layers of wood were glued together.
oh i see gotchya, thats actually what i thought you meant. that might be diffult with a high gloss finish, as it seems the finish is rolled into the hole to make it look seemless. so you dont see the exposed edge. thanx for the advice, i will keep my eyes peeled for this, it may help me or help me help someone down the road.
i guess other than this method, there really is no sure way to tell, besides weight and tone. we just have to trust the manufacture is giving us what they describe.
Last edited by Findinghomer at Jul 30, 2007,
To see if a top is solid look at the sound hole and see if the grain continues all the way through or if is ply, which is pretty easy to see. If it is hidden by a tinted finish, odds are it's ply.

For the back and sides, it is harder to spot. Look for major differences in the grain of the back on the inside and on the outside.