The Vacuum Press Laminate Top

   I have always been a blues man at heart. Some of my favorite guitars are the laminate arch top  guitars of the 50s and 60s. The tops and backs were stamped out in factories, built of thin layers of wood pressed by a hydraulic or steam press to achieve the arch top shape.

  When the blues went electric the laminate top was at the forefront of the movement.  When the British invasion hit, every English blues guitarist came equipped with an f -holed laminate top electric guitar. The iconic sounds of these guitars are the basis for early rock and roll.  They are also a staple in jazz, country, rockabilly, and western swing.

   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 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. ( It is said that Wes Montgomery developed his playing style by playing unplugged with his thumb, so his neighbors wouldn't complain.)

  Intrigued by this style of instrument, I set a goal to reverse engineer these factory guitars from a handmade boutique stand point. 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. A hydraulic press 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 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, I believe that the full potential of the laminate top can be reached. I have dedicated myself to exploring the many variables within the layers to produce an instrument that is truly unique.