PDA

View Full Version : Solid vs. Laminate - Let the struggle continue



lindydanny
12-10-2010, 05:19 AM
As a builder, I can tell you that I like solids better. On the small scale of my shop, plywoods are just too much to work with compared to solid woods. I do use plywoods in some furniture, but I'd never use it for an instrument.

As a player, however, I would go laminate over solid (if I have the choice) every time. I like their durability and consistency and, honestly, I don't think anyone could hear the difference*.

The sound of the instrument seems to be the argument that is used most often. However, I think the builder is the real issue here for me. If the builder builds quality, then he/she builds quality regardless of type of wood. I'll submit the following example for Benedetto guitars as proof of that:
http://proguitarshop.com/andyscorner/files/2010/06/knotty.jpg

Yep, that is a Benedetto** guitar made of knotty pine. From what I've read, it sounds just as great as his regular solid body archtops (even if not, it would still likely sound a lot better than any solid you could buy at Guitar Center).

I know that I'm only expressing my opinions and experiences hear. But I'd like to hear from people on what they honestly think. Not just I like "x", but actually why you like that. What convinced you one is better than the other?


~DB

* Audiophiles will disagree and say they can, but they also buy CD Mats (http://www.agoraquest.com/viewtopic.php?topic=32540&forum=65).

** Benedetto (http://benedettoguitars.com/) is regarded as The master of archtop jazz guitars.

knadles
12-10-2010, 06:15 AM
DB,

First, as someone who considers himself to be something of a minor audiophile, yet owns no CD mats, cable lifters, or even $200+ power cables, I have to take issue with your apparent assumption that sound quality is an illusion. I would suggest nothing more elaborate than a side-by-side comparison between a cheap microphone and a high quality one would be illuminating to you. Then extrapolate that difference to include speakers, acoustics, quality electronics, and yes...the instruments themselves. In this iPod generation, I think the concept of quality has been buried under the earbuds. (And before you ask, I do own an iPod. In fact, I own several. Like everything else, they have their place.)

Laminates have their advantages, and I agree that a well-built laminate instrument may indeed blow away a poorly built solid. Construction and design are important factors, and tossing them out the window in favor of a hunk of koa woud be a mistake. But I would also argue that, all other factors being equal, a well-crafted solid instrument has (in my experience) a more desirable tonal quality (whatever that means to you) than a well-crafted laminate. Part of that may be due to the fact that there are relatively few laminate instruments that achieve the highest levels of quality...top makers who charge the most usually work with solids.

Randall Smith, the founder of Mesa Boogie, made a similar argument regarding point-to-point wired amplifiers. He explained that because hand-wiring point-to-point (Mesas use circuit boards) is more expensive, hand-wired amps are almost universally high-grade. The difference, he said, is not that they're hand-wired as such, but that there is really no such thing as a lousy point-to-point amp, while amps with circuit boards can run the gamut from crappy to awesome. Hand-wired is therefore perceived by many as the mark of a good amplifier, but the hand-wiring itself isn't the factor that makes them good.

On the other hand, I'm also prepared to believe with very little stretch of the imagination that the factor that gives laminates their greater strength and durability also affects the sound in a way that a majority of listeners would perceive as negative. There are probably very few of us who have ever been involved in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of ukuleles. If they have, I'd love to hear from them. Or take part if someone is setting one up.

-Pete

Chap
12-10-2010, 07:21 AM
Well, if you really want to compare, you'd have to go away from the top-level stuff, and go down to something where you can get what is essentially the same build-quality uke, in the same size, one in laminate, and the other solid. You have to remove as many variables from the equation (except for the laminate vs solid) as you can.

Just my opinion, but the best test of this might be comparing a fluke/flea...the standard laminate-top version versus their mahongany or koa tops. As I believe they'd be the best chance to have everything else between the two as similar as possible. Personally, I think "better" is probably a large part personal taste. They're going to sound different, but better/worse is really subjective.

lindydanny
12-10-2010, 08:49 AM
Pete,

I'm not proposing that sound quality is an illusion. Far from it. There is definitely a difference between my Kala tenor and my Mitchell concert just as there is between my Rogue acoustic guitar and my Alvarez acoustic. But in those examples as with your example of microphones, you are comparing quality rather than materials. Take that a step further and I'll say I can hear a difference between woods themselves (acacia v. koa v. maple etc.)...

A better example than ukuleles or instruments may be speaker cabinets. (You can get them in solid wood, laminate, and particle board of any species, and a whole array more of odd materials.) Make the same cabinet design out of solid wood and another out of laminate and I will challenge you to hear the difference in the two. At that level, meaning quality, design, and all other things being equal, the sound quality (I believe) is the same. And I'm not saying this as a new listener in music (18 years of music experience in several areas including running sound boards).

I do like your example on the amps, though. It puts forth a very easy to understand principle of why hand made is (generally speaking) better than manufactured. Apply that same example to instrument building and you get the same result. A hand made ukulele/guitar/dulcimer is going to sound better than a manufactured one and will likely be built with better materials.

Oh, and we should totally do a blind listen test on ukuleles! That would be awesome.

Chap,

That's another good point. If I was one of the lucky ones that had a good shop with a lot of ukes to choose from, I might be able to do a comparison. Kind of like Pete's idea for a blind listen test. Maybe someone who happens to have a laminate and a solid fluke/flea could chime in.

And you're right, "better" is always a taste thing. Plus, as much as I believe that you shouldn't hear the difference, who am I to know what you really can hear or can't?

~DB

Vic D
12-10-2010, 10:49 AM
I owned a half size Santa Rosa guitar that sounded pretty decent and I played it for a long time before I Pete Townsended it after a few pints one night. Then I owned one of those laminated "flying V" ukes... gawd that thing sounded terrible, worse than screech cherry. ;) I love that knotty pine guitar! :drool:

knadles
12-10-2010, 10:53 AM
A better example than ukuleles or instruments may be speaker cabinets. (You can get them in solid wood, laminate, and particle board of any species, and a whole array more of odd materials.) Make the same cabinet design out of solid wood and another out of laminate and I will challenge you to hear the difference in the two. At that level, meaning quality, design, and all other things being equal, the sound quality (I believe) is the same. And I'm not saying this as a new listener in music (18 years of music experience in several areas including running sound boards).

DB- I'm with you on that. Depending on the speaker and the conditions, it could be very difficult to tell the difference. Not impossible I'm guessing, because the resonance point of a cabinet made of particle board would likely be lower than one made of solid wood or laminate, and that would affect the sound. But given that, which one sounds "better" would probably depend on a lot of other factors, such as how the speakers interact with the cabinet resonance, etc. Double blind, it would be very difficult to listen and say "Oh yeah. That's the particle board cabinet."

But in my opinion, the analogy doesn't quite hold up. In a speaker cabinet, the primary driver for the sound is the speaker cone(s). The cabinet resonance would be a secondary artifact, and most likely relegated to the lower frequencies. In any instrument with a sound board, the sound board is the primary mover. That's what you hear. So in your analogy, laminate sides and back would correlate to the same secondary characteristics produced by the speaker cabinet, and the sound board would correlate to the primary characteristics of the speaker.

And this is indeed what we find: instruments with laminate sides and solid tops tend to be closer to what most people would consider the ideal of all-solid, while laminate tops are a little further away, sonically speaking. I would bet that if someone decided to construct an instrument with a laminate top and solid sides, it would sound more like an all-laminate. That's just a guess, of course.


Oh, and we should totally do a blind listen test on ukuleles! That would be awesome.

I agree!

olgoat52
12-10-2010, 11:46 AM
Yep, that is a Benedetto** guitar made of knotty pine. From what I've read, it sounds just as great as his regular solid body archtops (even if not, it would still likely sound a lot better than any solid you could buy at Guitar Center).



I'm confuse by your comment about the knotty pine and "his regular solid body archtops". Did you mean his "solid wood archtops"? And are you assuming the Knotty pine is a laminate? Maybe you know that for fact but I would not assume that.

European pine was a favorite of violin makers in the golden age for tops.

olgoat52
12-10-2010, 11:50 AM
DB,

First, as someone who considers himself to be something of a minor audiophile, yet owns no CD mats, cable lifters, or even $200+ power cables, I have to take issue with your apparent assumption that sound quality is an illusion. I would suggest nothing more elaborate than a side-by-side comparison between a cheap microphone and a high quality one would be illuminating to you. Then extrapolate that difference to include speakers, acoustics, quality electronics, and yes...the instruments themselves. In this iPod generation, I think the concept of quality has been buried under the earbuds. (And before you ask, I do own an iPod. In fact, I own several. Like everything else, they have their place.)

Laminates have their advantages, and I agree that a well-built laminate instrument may indeed blow away a poorly built solid. Construction and design are important factors, and tossing them out the window in favor of a hunk of koa woud be a mistake. But I would also argue that, all other factors being equal, a well-crafted solid instrument has (in my experience) a more desirable tonal quality (whatever that means to you) than a well-crafted laminate. Part of that may be due to the fact that there are relatively few laminate instruments that achieve the highest levels of quality...top makers who charge the most usually work with solids.

Randall Smith, the founder of Mesa Boogie, made a similar argument regarding point-to-point wired amplifiers. He explained that because hand-wiring point-to-point (Mesas use circuit boards) is more expensive, hand-wired amps are almost universally high-grade. The difference, he said, is not that they're hand-wired as such, but that there is really no such thing as a lousy point-to-point amp, while amps with circuit boards can run the gamut from crappy to awesome. Hand-wired is therefore perceived by many as the mark of a good amplifier, but the hand-wiring itself isn't the factor that makes them good.

On the other hand, I'm also prepared to believe with very little stretch of the imagination that the factor that gives laminates their greater strength and durability also affects the sound in a way that a majority of listeners would perceive as negative. There are probably very few of us who have ever been involved in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of ukuleles. If they have, I'd love to hear from them. Or take part if someone is setting one up.

-Pete

LOL!! I could make a crappy point-to-point amp. Guaranteed ;)

olgoat52
12-10-2010, 11:58 AM
DB- I'm with you on that. Depending on the speaker and the conditions, it could be very difficult to tell the difference. Not impossible I'm guessing, because the resonance point of a cabinet made of particle board would likely be lower than one made of solid wood or laminate, and that would affect the sound. But given that, which one sounds "better" would probably depend on a lot of other factors, such as how the speakers interact with the cabinet resonance, etc. Double blind, it would be very difficult to listen and say "Oh yeah. That's the particle board cabinet."

But in my opinion, the analogy doesn't quite hold up. In a speaker cabinet, the primary driver for the sound is the speaker cone(s). The cabinet resonance would be a secondary artifact, and most likely relegated to the lower frequencies. In any instrument with a sound board, the sound board is the primary mover. That's what you hear. So in your analogy, laminate sides and back would correlate to the same secondary characteristics produced by the speaker cabinet, and the sound board would correlate to the primary characteristics of the speaker.

And this is indeed what we find: instruments with laminate sides and solid tops tend to be closer to what most people would consider the ideal of all-solid, while laminate tops are a little further away, sonically speaking. I would bet that if someone decided to construct an instrument with a laminate top and solid sides, it would sound more like an all-laminate. That's just a guess, of course.



I agree!

Case in point might be the much beaten to death demonstration by Torres using papier-mâché for the side and back of an instrument with a solid wood well braced top. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Torres_Jurado

ksquine
12-10-2010, 05:10 PM
I agree that sound and performance are personal tastes. I think most of the fancy and pretty wood is just to satisfy the ego of the owner.
But as a hobby builder, I like nice solid woods. I put a lot of my valuable personal time into a uke and the finished product will be around for a long time (hopefully). Spending an extra $50 in materials isn't that much compared to the time and effort. I might as well satisfy my ego for all the effort.
Plus...people in the market for a hand built instrument tend to be ultra-conservative about materials

Alison
12-10-2010, 07:06 PM
Well, if you really want to compare, you'd have to go away from the top-level stuff, and go down to something where you can get what is essentially the same build-quality uke, in the same size, one in laminate, and the other solid. You have to remove as many variables from the equation (except for the laminate vs solid) as you can.

This is an excellent point. I've always assumed that laminates are inferior, but then I've only ever heard cheap laminates. Perhaps, if you remove the variable of quality, they are more alike. Having said that, if I was spending a lot of money I think I would still prefer to get a solid wood ukulele. Maybe I'm just a wood snob.
However if anyone has one of these nasty laminate knotty pine guitars lying around that they want to get rid of, I'd be willing to take it off your hands :drool:

Alison
12-10-2010, 07:57 PM
The uke in this thread certainly sounds excellent. Judging by this, I would agree that good quality laminates sound as good as solids.

http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?39074-Building-a-Laminated-Uke/page2

Kekani
12-11-2010, 10:58 AM
In the realm of process management, one data point does not make a trend.

In the world of lutherie, two basic schools abound - factory, and custom. I'd like to see a custom builder put together a laminate instrument, not be satisfied with the sound our the way the soundboard is moving, or not moving, then go an thin out said laminated soundboard from the top (because its not likely to be done from the inside) to his/her liking.

When the statement is made "laminates sound as good as solid", the question is not a matter of sound, but who built it?

For the OP, laminates don't allow the custom builder to do things to the instrument that factories normally wouldn't do anyway. Of course, if the builder was putting together a factory "style" instrument, yeah, go ahead and use laminates - David Hurd used to laminate his sides (easy bending, stable, can be made thicker, etc), which I'd do, maybe.

Aaron

Bradford
12-11-2010, 06:05 PM
You make some excellent points Aaron. As the builder of the uke mentioned in the previous post, I'm not ready to come to any conclusions yet, as that was the first and only laminate instrument I have built. As you know the materials used in the construction are only one of many factors that determine sound quality.

Brad

Alison
12-11-2010, 06:55 PM
The statement is made "laminates sound as good as solid", the question is not a matter of sound, but who built it?

If this is a response to my post, perhaps I should clarify: I wasn't trying to imply that they all do. Like you say, it's a matter of who builds it. I would argue that this is true of solid topped ukuleles too. But perhaps this would be to a lesser extent; I'm no expert.
Sorry for posting my unverified opinions. When I wrote the above messages I didn't realise that this was in the luthier section (I saw the thread on "New Posts") - sorry.

Kekani
12-11-2010, 11:40 PM
. . .As the builder of the uke mentioned in the previous post, I'm not ready to come to any conclusions yet, as that was the first and only laminate instrument I have built. As you know the materials used in the construction are only one of many factors that determine sound quality.

Brad

I didn't know this thread was in reference to a previous post. Sorry, haven't kept up with that one.

As for building materials being one of the many factors, I'd probably throw it higher on the list than just a "factor" - materials are the basis of the build. Yes, there are builders that can take crap material and end up with a better sounding `ukulele than others starting with good stuff, but given the same builder, I'd rather use the good stuff, and not always for reasons that may seem obvious.

As a businessman, there is are aspects called marketing, and demand. Personally, materials are the cheapest part of the build, running anywhere from $150-$400+, depending on the hardware and inlay material(s). All things being equal, a "solid" will probably draw more than $1000 more than a laminate. I'm not too sure about this because most laminates I've seen are cheapo's less than $400 or so. Lets say that the cost difference between laminate and solid is $100, yet generates $1000 more at retail, then laminates, as a builder, is not even part of the equation, unless its laminating sides for stiffness, then you can actually charge more because that laminate is actually two pieces of the same solid wood. . . this would work for me because I like what stiff sides do to an instrument (although I've a different method utilizing the lining instead).

dave g
12-12-2010, 03:54 AM
I think a lot more small-time builders (myself included) would dabble in laminates if it weren't such a daunting task; who's got the machinery to make 1/16" plywood? (I know - BradFord just did it, but he used store-bought veneer :))