Two of the most popular wood types for acoustic guitar tops are spruce and cedar. There are several differences between the two kinds of wood, which have to do with the structure of the wood itself. Choosing one over the other won't make you a virtuoso overnight, but understanding the subtle differences between the two can help your decision.
Both cedar and spruce are cut and then sawed into thin pieces, which make up the guitar top. Though the thickness of the two types of wood remains relatively the same, cedar wood tops have a tendency to crack more than spruce tops. This is due to the physical structure of the material, and cedar is a stiffer material than spruce. Where spruce might bend because of its flexibility, cedar is more likely to crack and need repair.
The true "sound" of an instrument is a subjective assessment, but there is some consensus on the difference of sound in spruce versus cedar tops. Spruce is known to have a brighter sound, one that separates the different tones on your guitar and brings out clarity in the higher frequencies. Cedar has a warmer sound, in such a way that different tones seem to blend together with a slightly lower sound. Cedar also produces a crisper sound, and one that is slightly louder.
One thing that is said about spruce tops is that they improve in tone quality over time, because their flexibility allows them to settle. Acoustic Guitar Central states that this is not true, but that spruce is more able to resist the effects of wear, such as fingernail and pick marks. Still, it is the inflexibility of the cedar top guitar that gives it a crisper sound, which may be worth it for some guitarists.
You may wish to bring out the subtle tones of your musical style, and guitar tops can help you accomplish this. If you are, for instance, playing music in which tones need to be distinguished, such as baroque music or even lead guitar in pop music, then a spruce top may fit you the best. If you wish to have a warm, crisp and louder tone, such as in romantic music or on rhythm guitar, then a cedar top may fit you best.
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