Are veneers used in guitar making?
The answer is yes. In the lower price range of guitar and even the entry level of the more top well-known brands, veneers are used on the tops, sides and backs. These are known as laminated tops and backs. This is done primarily to cut production costs due to the high volumes produced compared to increasing scarcity of good solids used in instrument making. This makes the instrument look as if it was made in solid and often these instruments, if made well, have a fairly good sound. Some manufacturers also use high pressure laminates (HPL) on their backs and sides. HPL is a laminate that is made under very high heat and pressure, and example of this is Formica, which is covered with a paper foil and then covered with a melamine.
On instruments that are handmade by individual luthiers, they are made using well-chosen tone woods that are solid, the top being the focus of creating an above average tone.
But, many people are not familiar with what a veneer is, so I thought I would give a brief outline of what veneering is.
What is a wood veneer?
Veneer is a thin slice of solid wood that is glued onto a substrate, like chipboard, mdf (medium density fibre), plywood etc. The thickness can vary up to approximately 2mm – 5mm. When people who are specialists in selecting veneer, choose logs for slicing that are the prime. The reason for this is that they will get the best optimisation out of the log and hence the quality will be good – minimal defects such as knots, crack, rot, defective grain etc. The word veneer, according to Merriam Webster’s dictionary dates to 1702. However, adding a thin sheet of a superior wood grain to a lesser quality wood is a much older craft. Today, adding a veneer of wood is commonplace on many high-quality solid-wood furnishings as well as less expensive items constructed from particle boards. A simple wood veneer can unify the appearance of a piece or serve the design of the furnishing as a work of art.
How far back does veneering go? The ancient Egyptians were the inventors of veneer wood according to the David R. Webb Company, a modern manufacturer of wood veneers. Though the Egyptians enjoyed the beauty of wood, trees were scarce in the Nile region. By carefully cutting exquisite wood into thin sheets, it could be crafted into delicate boxes, inlaid or applied to the top of less beautiful wood or materials. Ken Melchert of the Harp Gallery notes that fabulous veneer work in ebony” a dense, black wood, was put into King Tut’s tomb.
So, as you can see, veneering is not new, but what has changed, is the substrates and glues used today are more efficient and stable. Also, it is a lot more environmentally friendly, compared to a 1 inch (25mm) thick piece of solid, you get approximately 30 – 40 times the area using veneer, which the standard thickness that is cut today is 0,6mm.
Wood is becoming a scarce commodity. In the furniture and decorating industry, there is definitely a need for veneers. Many of the top manufacturers use it for the consistency and variation that is available – it is definitely not inferior, in fact, if done properly, in many instances it can be better.