NOTE: This marks a new format for the Q&A Section. From now on, I will pick one question from the many fine ones I receive and write a more detailed answer to it. And please keep the questions coming in! Have a look at the Q&A Archive here.
From: "Gerard Ventura" (GJVentura@dnamail.com)
Dear Bob - great magazine, just found it. For Q&A, is there much
difference in sound between laminated and carved archtops for pure electric
playing, because as you know there sure is for price! Thanks and keep up
the great site.
Gerard, This has become a big question in recent years with the arrival on the scene of so many talented luthiers and the popularity of handmade instruments. The price difference is quite large, as you said, because of the amount of work involved in carving and tuning the top and back of a guitar. (Bob Benedetto says that this is one of the most critical aspects in making a guitar.) The acoustical difference is stunning. I'll never forget the first handmade guitar I ever played (a carved top Buscarino) and the effect it had on me. The sound filled the room almost like a Martin dreadnought, but with the archtop tone. I think no one will dispute that the carved top is superior to laminated in acoustic settings.
However, 99.9 percent of the time, we working guitar players play through amps. And we need guitars that sound good in that context. Now, while I can attest that such "carved top" pickups as the Ken Armstrong, Bartolini, etc. have a wonderful amplified tone, I still get chills when I hear Wes Montgomery or Kenny Burrell playing through nice fat Gibson PAFs. There's something about that powerful magnet that gives the pickup a milky-smooth tone. And those pickups have to be cut into a laminated top. Add to that the fact that the laminated top is far more feedback resistant than the carved one and you have a strong argument for laminated top guitars.
That fact is not lost on some luthiers. Bob Benedetto and Dale Unger (just to name two) offer laminated top instruments when requested. Two of Benedetto's most well-known endorsers, Jimmy Bruno and Ron Eschete, play laminated top guitars because of their lower cost (making them safer to travel with) and feedback properties.
When it comes down to it, if cost is a factor, a laminated top guitar is a good choice. You'll sound good going through an amp and won't have to hock your kids to buy a decent instrument. Although that's not to say carved top guitars don't sound great amplified. They do!