Holst Custom Stringed Instruments 2007


Detail of cross grained layering




In recent years the popularity of the laminate archtop guitar has increased significantly. Many, including myself, attribute this to the great flexibility these guitars provide. In contrast to a solid topped guitar the laminate archtop will have a much higher resistance to feedback from an amplifier, better stability with regard to temperature and humidity, and will provide a more clear and articulate sound through the amplifier. Since many guitarists will spend the vast majority of their time playing and gigging through an amplifier the laminate guitar makes a lot of sense.

Initially I looked to outside manufacturers as potential sources for my plates. What I found was less than inspiring. Typically these plates were made of three layers of wood. A thin outer and inner layer of figured maple and a thicker middle layer of soft wood. This soft, thick inner layer gave these plates a dark, muddy sound that was tonally "dead" and lacked any dynamics.

In addition, many of these manufacturers used glues or contact cements to bond the layers together that were rubbery and never truly hardened. This made a bad sounding plate sound even worse.

Furthermore, some manufacturers of laminated plates held the false assumption that the best laminated plates would mimic solid spruce tops. They would go to great effort to include spruce veneers or cores of spruce with the idea that this would help the tone of their guitars. Nothing could be further from the truth. By using spruce or other tonewoods you completely defeat the purpose of a laminated plate. Instead of clear articulated tone you get a poorly rendered solid wood tone with none of the feedback resistance and strong fundamental note benefits you get with multiple layers of hardwood. I knew I needed to make my own plates in-house so that I could have complete control over my materials and processes.

What I did next was to look back at what made the older laminated D'Aquisto and Gibson guitars so special. What I discovered was that the type of material used and the way it is laminated is key. For me the secret to making a great sounding plate is in the use of multiple cross grained layers of hard wood, using a hydraulic press to mold the top into shape, and the use of a special glue that dries very hard. The result is a plate that is very dynamic to the player and sounds as good or better than the best vintage laminated archtops.







The plate pressed and trimmed


Cross section of the pressed laminations