What Is a Spruce Top on a Guitar?

by Steven J. Miller

Having an understanding of what a spruce top on a guitar means allows you to evaluate different guitar models expertly. The type of spruce used will affect the overall tone production and you should be aware of these affects on tone before making a decision. The richness of tone, and physical characteristics of the instrument are greatly affected by your choice of materials. Understanding these differences will make your buying experience less stressful.

Spruce Top

Most guitars tops are made of spruce, which provides an ideal balance between the flexibility and strength of the wood and the overall weight. Using a wood that has too much mass will put unnecessary strain on the musician who has to hold the guitar during a performance. Also, using materials that are weak would require the performer to be more careful not to break the instrument. The top must be strong, since the strings create tension that pulls upon the wood. Using a weaker wood results in premature breakage.

Wood Types

The type of wood used affects the tone production of the instrument. The two most common types of wood are spruce and cedar. Spruce produces more volume and better defined high notes with a bass that is clear, but not booming. Cedar produces a more mellow sound in comparison and has more effective low, bass tones. You should not select a wood based on the appearance of the guitar. Each spruce instrument will have a slightly different sound, due to the nature of the wood. There are several different grain widths, degree of flexibility and overall thickness of the wood that contribute to the sound.

Grain Type

The size of the grain on the spruce guitar top also affects the instrument resonance. The size of the grain can be determined simply by looking at the spacing between the grains on the guitar. A narrow grain will produce more powerful high tones and subtle low tones. A medium wood grain delivers a fairly balanced tone with highs and lows both compromising a small amount of power, in exchange for an even tone production. A wide grain creates resonant bass notes.

Sitka and Red Spruce

Sitka and red spruce each lend themselves to different characteristics and tones. Sitka spruce is more commonly used for guitar tops, and has a penetrating tone that is effective and clear, but is also thin and lacking in density. In contrast, the red spruce has a denser and richer tone color, but it also adds physical weight to the instrument. Red spruce tops provide a more consistent, balanced tone throughout the register and dynamic range of the instrument.

About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.

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