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Thread: Veneer back different than Laminate?

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    Mando-afflicted lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Question Veneer back different than Laminate?

    Hi folks, So many of you know more than I, so I thought I would pose a question. I am not posting to debate the difference between solid body woods and laminate alternatives. I believe in playing the instrument that makes one happy, and am not one to judge.

    However, I was curious if there is a difference between a solid back with a veneer for adding beauty, i.e. a flame maple veneer over solid maple, or a plywood laminate where the back is not a solid tone wood? How common is it for the former to take place and to accurately be referred to as solid maple back and sides?

    Thanks for indulging me with your thoughts. Take care!
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    It should not be called solid. It is laminated - just laminated from the same type of wood.
    Bill Snyder

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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    Thanks Bill. Is there as distinction to be made in terms of tone when you put veneer over solid maple? It would seem so... but what you are saying about the terminology does make sense. Thanks again!
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    Dan, all I can say about it is that there are some high end guitar builders that hand laminate their backs and sides out of tonewoods. They would not do it if they thought it took anything away from THEIR particular instruments. The Selmer/Maccaferi jazz guitars where done this way. I have a nephew that builds some classical guitars (mid priced at $5,000 and up) that hand laminates at least some of his backs and sides. It is not to save time or money as it does neither. For these instruments he thinks it gives a superior product.
    Last edited by Bill Snyder; Apr-29-2014 at 11:53pm.
    Bill Snyder

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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    That is good to hear, Bill. I love my Kentucky KM-650, 1980's Japan made, but it appears that the back flames don't match the inside maple wood. I bought it under the belief that it was solid maple back and the old catalog at Saga states that as well. Thanks for your reassurance that the sound doesn't have to be compromised. I love the instrument-- it has great action, tunes well and has good intonation all the way up the neck. I like it's sound, though it is still like new since it was a closet classic and seldom played I believe in those 30 years. I am playing it a lot to "open it up," as they say. Thanks again!
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    I think a good maker could do as you suggest, Dan. But the cost of wood vs. labor is such that it is easier to just use solid pretty wood for the back. It saves time vs. laminating a structural element that has to be laminated with a decorative layer. The cost of attractive wood is almost negligible when considering the time required to build a quality instrument.
    martinjacobson.com - Jacobson mandolins

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    Laminates do come in different qualities. On many cheap instruments (as may be expected) cheap laminates are also used. You may have a very fancy decorative veneer outer, but the core could be soft rubbish. Other makers (including Martin), however, have used high grade, thin slices of (for example) 'real' mahogany bonded together to form backs/sides. It is still a laminate - but not all laminates are equal. Such laminates may have some real advantages in some respects, resistance to cracking, for example. Laminates have got a bit of a bad rep in the instrument world partly because of the association with ultra-cheap 'beginner' guitars and mandolins, but as Bill points out, they can be used to structural and tonal advantage too in some circumstances. I have played some prototype guitars built with laminate back/sides that were really excellent. One was made from 2 layers of striped ebony sandwiched with maple. I think tops are a somewhat different proposition, but even there, there have been some interesting things done... spruce sandwiched with carbon fiber, etc.
    Last edited by almeriastrings; Apr-30-2014 at 1:31am.
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    Almeria, Marty and Bill, Really interesting, and in this case, encouraging replies. Thank you to each of you. I learn so much in this forum. I am convinced I have solid maple with a decorative veneer. Sometimes you wonder about things you purchase with regard to the price and what the seller claimed, etc. Starts to play on your mind and I take my instruments seriously as you all do, as well. Thanks so much.
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    I remember back in the 'Folk boom' of the '60's,Yamaha brought out a range of 'Folk' guitars that had a 'laminated' top. The laminates in that case were high quality wood veneers (usually 2) laminated together,so it was 'good' wood,but not solid. My first guitar was a Yamaha FG-140 & for it's price it was amazing. :- "The argument goes, though it possesses a laminate spruce top, the red label FG somehow exhibit aging characteristics of solid top instruments. Ehow claims the early FGs are solid tops but I believe they are mistaken." Excert from 'a Wood & Strings' article re.the FG140 laminated top .Possibly the same argument could be applied to a good ''solid wood / veneer instrument back / sides''.
    Almeria is right (as usual) in that there are many qualities of 'laminate'.They vary from cheapo plywood to the high quality 'solid wood' veneer laminates as per the Yamahas. Unfortunately,unless you remove the back you'll never know what's really under the outer veneer,all you can do is to go by what an instrument sounds like.So,yes,there is a difference between a purely decorative veneer over 'good wood' & the same veneer over plywood,
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    Dan I would not assume your Kentucky is a laminate just because the flame outside does not match inside. Figure does not always imprint all the way through. This can result from the way the wood was originally cut. Naturally a piece of wood like that would be carved so the most attractive figure faced the outside. It is unlikely your instrument has a figured laminate to hide plain wood. This woud actually be a much more expensive process than simply carving a solid piece of wood.

    Dont know about the Japanese ones but the modern Kentuckys are all advertised as solid carved with the lone exception of the KM 140. I don't think they could say that were it not true. My modern KM 600 was advertised as all solid but the flame is more prominent on the outside than the inside. There is flame visible on the inside but it is much more subtle. Also remember the inside is unfinished. Good instrument finishes can bring out flame and figure that otherwise would not show up nearly as well. Enjoy that Kentucky! I play the dickens out of mine!
    Don

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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    I agree. I believe the KM650 was always solid.
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    Thanks Ivan. By the way, I bought the same guitar - FG140 - mine was a '72. Stolen in 1975 with my D35 Martin from my apartment. I have missed both instruments all these years, though there have been others.
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    Wow, Multi-Don! I am so glad you posted. It makes sense what you are saying. I was going by my eyes, and didn't realize all that goes into the appearance of a piece of wood from the outside to the inside, and finishing, etc. This was very informative and helpful. I am going to stick with what the seller told me and what is in the Kentucky catalog-- solid maple back and sides. I love her, indeed. Just played and sang with my KM-650 at a convalescent hospital this morning. She sounded great!
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    Hi Almeria, That's what I originally thought. I don't know what got into me. I over-think things sometimes. Thanks, Dan
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    I am resurrecting this thread in the interest of accurate information. Further research has revealed that Saga did produce some F models using laminate. The km 620 seems to have been produced in two versions all laminate and solid top. The km 630 was originally solid top but later versions were all solid.

    I will reaffirm that Dan's km 650 is all solid carved as is my km 600. But I did want to put it out there that there is such a thing as a laminated Kentucky F style.
    Don

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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    I've noticed a well known guitar maker using the term "layered sapele back/sides" in the descriptions on their website. That way they don't have to say that the backs and sides are laminated. Kay actually sold their laminated sides and backs as a feature in the early 30's.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    A certain well known maker of student grade cellos and basses markets their laminate instruments as "crack proof".

    It's all marketing really. I used to work for a piano store. A certain famous brand of pianos has plastic parts in the action. The manager taught me, if you are trying to steer a customer towards that brand, talk about the sturdiness and stability of the latest space age materials. If you are trying to steer them away from it talk about how it's cheap plastic.

    So I don't think laminated is necessarily a negative. It would be ideal for an instrument that is going to take abuse.

    I used to teach a middle school level beginning guitar course. My school principal gave me permission to buy guitars so the kids wouldn't have to. I bought 99 dollar all laminate Epiphones. Cheaper meant more students playing plus the all laminate took a lot of abuse. Those kids rode those Epiphones hard and they survived. So laminate does have its uses.

    I always wondered if any mandolin makers ever experimented with aircraft grade Baltic birch laminate. This material is very high grade stuff with no voids and it is commonly used in the dulcimer and folk harp world. I have two folk harps one with a solid spruce soundboard and one with Baltic birch and the BB instrument sounds better.
    Don

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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    Veneers are layers of a Laminate , some Like Gibson Used in their A40
    may have been created in the factory for the back and sides ..


    I bought a Hodson Djangolin, where the builder to create the same construction technique Selmer used
    on the Guitars . made his own laminate with Mahogany on the inside and Rosewood on the out side ,
    because the original factory in France did that.


    FWIW my Built to order 4 string electric got a Swedish Baltic birch Plywood back .

    A 1/4" piece cut to be the whole back screwed to the front , it was used flat.

    so the later modification to add a 4 piezo RMC bridge ,
    with the pickups divided to one of each contact
    on an 8 pin DIN type jack and cable was fairly straight forward a job ..
    it used the output from the Magnetic pickup in the 7th contact into the cable.

    I can use guitar synthesizers with It and the black box, on the other end of the 8 wire cable,
    with the 13 pin jack in it.
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    yea Kay Basses have survived a lot of gigs transported in nothing more than a canvas cover.
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    Default Re: Veneer back different than Laminate?

    I think my problem was I didn't have a clue as to how to look inside through the F hole and know what maple can or should look like. I have seen lines inside suggesting three sections but on closer inspection these lines are slightly curved. I have seen examples of maple that had these lines in the grain that looked a lot like sections of a butcher block. The two sides match in the inside and on the back. The flame is subtle on the back and stands out more because of the stain. I am convinced this early 80's KM-650 is solid, through and through. Thanks friends.
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