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About the Plywood thing..


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I've been wanting a Casino but after I discovered that they're made out of plywood I feel a bit disappointed. It just doesn't seem very classy. Why do they make them out of plywood? What are the pros and cons of making a guitar out of plywood? What were the ES-330s made out of?

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As far as I know, every archtop that I have ever heard of has been made of plywood ("laminate"), including Gibson L-5, ES-5, etc. (correct me if I'm wrong). Any flat top acoustic worth it's salt will usually have a solid piece of wood (cedar, spruce, maple, mahogany, etc.) on top, braced by flat pieces of wood underneath. An archtop, on the other hand, is formed by steaming the arch into the wood. Laminate will shape easily with steam and is stronger than solid wood - it is unlikely to split like solid wood. Hopefully, Epiphone uses high quality 3 or 5 ply laminate and not Home Depot G1S plywood or sheathing.

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I've been wanting a Casino but after I discovered that they're made out of plywood I feel a bit disappointed. It just doesn't seem very classy. Why do they make them out of plywood? What are the pros and cons of making a guitar out of plywood? What were the ES-330s made out of?

 

It's technically plywood, but not like you would buy in Home Depot. It's made of thin pieces of hardwood, same way the vintage ones were made. Same as Gibsons like the ES-335. Guild Starfires. Gretsch Nashvilles & Country Gents. Most thin lines will have a laminate body although some top of the line hollow body guitars like the L5 or Gretsch Country Club might have a solid spruce top. So don't be disappointed, some of the greatest guitars ever made had plywood bodies.

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Several years ago, I asked a salesman in the local Gibson/Epi dealership what the differences are between the two brands and why Epi's are so much cheaper than their Gibson counterparts of similar style. By that time, I had already owned 4 Gibsons (Gibson ES-125, SG, Les Paul Deluxe and ES-335). He stated that basically, Gibson uses superior electronics, hardware, wood, etc. He also said that while Gibsons are usually solid wood, Epiphones are usually laminate (plywood). As we have seen, this is not very accurate. [blink]

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I've been wanting a Casino but after I discovered that they're made out of plywood I feel a bit disappointed. It just doesn't seem very classy. Why do they make them out of plywood? What are the pros and cons of making a guitar out of plywood? What were the ES-330s made out of?

 

Plywood to me is a "slang" term for an old timber working method. As others have said in this thread, the quality of the timber laminate layers is high and laminating is the only cost effective way to make a hollow body guitar.

 

Maybe the correct term should be "laminated wood" rather than plywood which conjures up hardware store images of cheap panels of scrappy timber made from leftover wood that is pressed into sheets, glued, and steamed flat.

 

As "motowntom" says - his is 44 years old and hangs together just fine. Hardware store plywood won't last 44 years.

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As far as the Gibson dealer's story goes, I have a story of my own: I used to own 2 Gibson Les Paul Custom guitars, one made in 1968, one from 1971 or 72 - never quite got that one straight. I own a Gibson Les Paul Special and an Epiphone G400 Custom/Les Paul SG today.

The quality of the hardware, construction and materials on my Chinese Epiphone is as good as the '68 - except for teh cheap looking plastic inlays on the fingerboard of the Epi. The Gibsons were real MOP. The actual construction and design of the '71 Custom was not as good as my 2007 Epiphone and not as good as my '02 Special, either.

 

So far as I can tell,the actual wood - mahogany - used in my SG-style Epiphone is first rate .It sings and rings, and I can hear my wife finger-picking it unplugged from across our living room, and I love to feel the vibrations through the entire instrument whenever I play it. It is one of my favorite guitars of my 50 some years of playing.

 

The gold plated hardware, Grover tuners and pickups are as good as the Gibson versions I remember from years ago-I think the pup's tone may be slightly different, but Epiphones have always sounded different from Gibsons, even models from back in the old days. There is almost no difference in quality that I can tell at all.

 

Plywood tops: The old Gibson jazz hollow body guitars were first made using a carved solid spruce top, later - in the '60's, IIRC, some -such as the Barney Kessel Model-were made with the laminate top. They were several hundred dollars less, and supposedly "inferior" because they did not change tone or "mellow" over time. Turns out they do anyway, more slowly, and they don't split or crack.

 

I used to work in a guitar shop, and have played maybe 40 differeng electric guitars, and I don't believe the story about the "cost of the wood" - the difference per guitar would be about $75, maybe.

 

Play a few Epiphones and I have little doubt you will be very happy with them

 

mark

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Also if you get a hollow (or semi) hollow body with a true carved top, they end up costing outrageous sums of money, like a D'Angellico or D'Aquisto. (One option if you just HAVE to have a solid top, is the Carvin Semihollow. Single piece back/centerblock CNC routed out of the same piece of wood, and a CNC carved solid top. They run about $1,500. Not bad considering...)

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Feedback is the biggest issue. Acoustics use spruce because its light and lively...too lively for an electric.

You can pick up some new guitars that are solid wood that don't cost an arm and a leg. Eastmans come to mind (and they are some unbelieveable guitars) but the solid tops make them prone to feedback.

Don't fear the laminate.

Here's a couple of Eastmans...

eastman10.jpg

eastman6.jpg

 

EG

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The acoustic archtops by Epiphone and Gibson (Gretsch, Vega, etc.) of the 30's-50's were solid, carved top guitars. I have a few (they're actually not crazy expensive, you can get a Broadway or Triumph for the cost of an Eastman). Solid makes a difference - on an acoustic guitar. When they started electrifying in the mid-late 30's, Epi went with laminate tops and backs, even on the high-end models, while Gibson stayed with carved for high-end (like the L-5 electric, which is still carved today). Later models like the Gibson ES-175 were laminated. Although some considered Epi laminated tops inferior, they produced them that way on purpose, to reduce vibration and thus feedback. The experiments Les Paul did with Epi archtops, using a solid center block to reduce feedback and increase sustain (ever wonder where McCarty got the idea for the semi-hollow?) are most interesting reading. Heritage makes some solid, carved top electrics, I have one of those and it does indeed feedback if you're not careful to control it. For most applications of the electric hollow/semihollow guitar, a laminate is not just more cost-effective, it actually makes a functional difference in a good way. Jim Hall can play anything, and he chooses a laminate Sadowsky.

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The use of laminates (plywood) has a very, very long history. Laminates are layers of veneer glued together crossing the grain of each layer. this technique has been found on wooden items removed from Egyptian tombs. Crossing the grain of each layer of veneer imparts a deal of strength and durability to the finished piece. Using veneers allows the more beautiful pieces of wood to be used for far more items. Wood with curly, swirly, interlaced grain structures tend to be very unstable and prone to cracking. When shaved into thin veneers and laminated onto a more plain or straight-grained piece of wood allows the veneer to retain it's beauty without cracking and makes an otherwise common piece much more beautiful.

 

For you fans of the Les Paul models made by Gibson and Epiphone and many other companies, you must realize that the beautiful maple face on those guitars is laminated on top of the mahogany body. If you look at the Epiphone Prophecy series you will see that all models have a laminated face. this is a common practice on many high end guitars and those of lesser stature and quality. A veneer is an inexpensive piece of beauty that does wonders for sales of otherwise dull and boring instruments.

 

My first encounter with a plywood solid body guitar was when a friend brought over his Memphis guitar for repair. It was pretty, lightweight and inexpensive. It had humbuckers mounted on it and I marveled at how good it sounded. I was somewhat taken aback when I opened it up and saw the multiple layers of the body. I couldn't wrap my mind around the use of plywood and more to the point the excellent sound that came from the guitar both unplugged and plugged in. Once I got past my cork-sniffing snooty attitude about plywood I was able to not only enjoy but spend my hard-earned money on laminate body and even laminate neck guitars.

 

This technique of instrument construction is used on many instruments like drums, violins/violas/cellos/bass viols, pianos, etc..

 

What it really comes down to is the choice of materials (wood and glue) and the techniques employed to make the laminate. would you be surprised to learn that Gibson's Kalamazoo brand of guitars were made with what is called today, MDF? The original Danelectro and Silvertone guitars were made with a Formica top. Fender tried laminated wood on "Wildwood"(?) series, Many thru-neck guitars and basses from many manufacturers are made up of different species of wood laminated together.

 

In the end the material used to make an instrument is considered to be good if provides 2 characteristics:

1) good sound and...

2) strength/durability.

 

Plywood has more than proven itself as an acceptable and good material.

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This thread reminded me of the "Stratabond" laminate necks that C.F. Martin is using on their current 1-Series guitars. They claim these necks are 25% stronger than solid Mahogany.

 

There's a video review of the guitar and a discussion of the neck at about 1:40 of this video:

http://www.premierguitar.com/Magazine/Issue/2009/Jul/Sneak_Peek_Martin_1_Series.aspx

 

Pics from a factory tour last summer:

 

P1010011.jpg

P1010012.jpg

P1010013.jpg

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Somehow I can't see a maple neck on a Martin.

 

But you could write Chris Martin and suggest it' date=' I hear he answers all his fan mail...[/quote']

 

It's an option on their little custom shop builder flash game, I'm just sayin' if you want something stronger than Mahogany, you don't have to go all willy-nilly laminating everything in sight.

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It's an option on their little custom shop builder flash game' date=' I'm just sayin' if you want something stronger than Mahogany, you don't have to go all willy-nilly laminating everything in sight.

 

[/quote']

 

Maple was preferred over mahogany by the early archtop makers because it is indeed stronger, and could withstand the pull of the thick strings those guitars needed in order to be heard over trumpets and banjos and other instruments in a 30's and 40's jazz ensemble.

 

Maple is not as stable as mahogany, though; it's much more effected by changes in temperature and humidity, which is why maple necks are usually laminated (made of three or more pieces split along it's length).

 

From an acoustic standpoint, most builders (even the likes of the acclaimed Robert Benedetto) consider mahogany superior, but continue to use maple necks on big electric jazz boxes largely out of tradition, even though they utilize lighter strings than their purely acoustic predecessors.

 

Gibson has tended to use mahogany necks on full body and thinline models originally designed as purely electric models for this reason (acoustic superiority), and many if not the majority of flat top acoustic guitars have mahogany necks for this reason, too (the all maple J200 being an obvious exception).

 

Red 333

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Maple is not as stable as mahogany' date=' though; it's much more effected by changes in temperature and humidity, which is why maple necks are usually laminated (made of three or more pieces split along it's length).

[/quote']

 

I've always heard this, but I don't buy it. Fender necks don't tend to warp or shift that badly. They're single piece. Temp/Humidity aren't a problem if you care of it properly. Even if I was on TOUR, I would take Maple over Mahogany. I'd MUCH rather have to tweak the truss-rod than glue the headstock back together.

Cool history, BTW.

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[biggrin]

 

 

As the owner of one of those X1 series Martins, I like the neck on it. Have read much opinion on the contruction and looks. Found out it is the same material as rifle stocks. The HPL composite and laminated neck, do give it a bulletproof feel. I know I've whacked it too many times against the table, counter, my head, and so on. Temperature changes and the like really don't seem to effect it too much.

 

 

Getting back to the original thread, I read somewhere that even the Epi Elitist Byrdland has a "select spruce top"

 

which is a laminated plywood so to speak. So there really isn't getting away from the plywood construction on archtop guitars.

 

As Hungrycat suggested, carved tops are gonna cost you so much, you're really going to have to consider the cost vs payback part of that scenario. Most of the musicians I know are so deathly afraid of taking something like that anywhere, much less a crowded smokey, could get damaged enviornment, the guitar never sees the light of day.

 

 

Just some thoughts....

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[biggrin]

 

 

Getting back to the original thread' date=' I read somewhere that even the Epi Elitist Byrdland has a "select spruce top"

 

which is a laminated plywood so to speak. So there really isn't getting away from the plywood construction on archtop guitars.

 

 

[/quote']

 

The Elitist Byrdland and Elitist Broadway both have solid spruce tops.

 

The regular production Broadway has a select (laminated) top.

 

Red 333

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The Elitist Byrdland and Elitist Broadway both have solid spruce tops.

 

The regular production Broadway has a select (laminated) top.

 

Red 333

 

 

That factoid I'm quoting is from this very forum, an owner of a byrdland specified there was a veneer on his "solid spruce top"

 

 

 

therefore, not solid, not plywood, a laminate if you will.....

 

Not trying to create an argument, just suggesting don't let the wool be pulled over thine eyes.

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That factoid I'm quoting is from this very forum' date=' an owner of a byrdland specified there was a veneer on his "solid spruce top"

 

 

 

therefore, not solid, not plywood, a laminate if you will.....

 

Not trying to create an argument, just suggesting don't let the wool be pulled over thine eyes.

 

 

[/quote']

 

In deferance to the poster, he may be mistaken. If you look up the specs, you'll find it is solid. I have removed the pups from mine and confirmed this, too. I have an Elitist Byrdland, Elitist Broadway, and regular Broadaway, and have seen first hand.

 

Red 333

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