Contrary to popular beliefs, a laminate arch top is not a lesser version of the carved arch top. They are two completely different instruments with different purposes. The laminate top is first and foremost an electric guitar. The overtones and acoustic nature of a carved arch top cause feedback at high volumes. The layers of a laminate top subdue the overtones and reduce feedback, while adding warmth and breath to the amplified tone. Many traditional arch top players prefer a laminate top for stage and touring. They are also great for late night song writing and tool shedding sessions. When played unplugged, laminates have an acoustic character all their own. With attention to voicing, construction, and wood pairings, a truly unique instrument can be achieved.
Intrigued by this style of instrument, I set a goal to reverse engineer these factory guitars from a handmade perspective. Instead of pressing 3 layers, I use 6 very thin layers of maple, alternating the grain orientation for added strength. Traditionally, the top wood of a guitar is chosen based on its strength to weight ratio. The six ply method produces a very light, yet stiff top. The tap tone of a plate can be altered by changing the core wood. For example, adding a mahogany laminate to the core will result in a slightly warmer tone, with more bass response.
A vacuum press is used to press each layer over a mold, one at a time, insuring that there are no voids or bubbles. Conversely, the traditional method of hydraulic pressing crushes the wood between two molds, leaving the possibility for voids and unevenly breaking the wood fibers. The use of a vacuum press results in a smooth subtle recurve with no kinks at the outer edge. The tops are molded in an air tight chamber, rather than stamped into shape. By voicing the braces as you would an acoustic instrument, I've found that a laminate top can be very responsive.
As a New England builder, weather and humidity is always a factor. Laminate guitars can stand up to drastic changes in humidity. Each plate is reinforced by the next in line, with the grain running opposite. This is the theory behind a traditional "cleat" used to hold together cracks in stringed instruments. Technically, a laminate top has been fixed before its even broken, making it the perfect instrument for guitarists in changing climates.
With attention to detail, and the application of traditional acoustic theories, I believe that the full potential of the laminate top can be reached.