Guitar Making Tip No. 162 Grading a Guitar Top

Guitar Making Tip No. 162 is about Grading a Guitar Top. There are a lot of things that go into grading a guitar top for sale. However, the one thing that is missing is what you should really pay attention to as you shop for guitar making wood.

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Grading a Guitar Top

guitar making tip number 162 grading an acoustic guitar topThe top of the guitar is a major focal point on the instrument. The color is typically pretty uniform, and seeing figure is fairly rare. Even so, the top is such a big surface that it will draw attention.

As you look around for tops, definitely pay attention to the look, because you would not want to have a bad looking focal point on your guitar.

Each place that you look for guitar making wood will have a grading system. Read how they grade their wood, and you can be assured of at least how the guitar will look. The missing factor however, that’s all up to you…

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Guitar Tops are Graded on Looks

Guitar tops are graded on their looks. Nothing more. One guitar top is not guaranteed to sound better than another just because it looks better. In fact, the maker of the guitar has so much control over that aspect that it is impossible to grade tops on how they will sound.

This is actually really good news for you, and is something I touch on in The Secret to Guitar Making. As a new guitar maker, you should not be concerned about the grade of the top. Well, you should a little, but maybe not in the way you think. The aspect of the grading that you need to be concerned about is the look.

As you are thinking about tops, see how they look. If you like the look of the piece, you are buying a good guitar top. In this stage, nearly all tops are going to be the same for you. Pick something that you like, and don’t worry at all if it’s not “master grade.”


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Grading and Marketing

Master grade is marketing. That’s all. A “Master Grade” top is just one of the best looking tops that has been produced by the seller. This is the best they have, so they call it master grade. There is nothing about that top that makes it sound any better, or guarantee a better guitar.

Also, you are not guaranteed to make a “Master Grade” guitar from that top. You can still just as easily make an awful guitar with a three hundred dollar top. On the other side, you can make a tremendous sounding guitar from a twenty dollar top if you build it well.

Don’t let the name fool you, guitar tops are graded on how they look, not how they sound. As long as you like the way they top looks, feel free to buy it. You have so much control over the sound that the tops you buy, and especially in the beginning, they are going to be nearly all the same.

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What Criteria are Used to Grade a Top

Some things that sellers look for in grading acoustic guitar tops are color, grain lines per inch, uniformity of grain lines, and grain direction. All of these factors contribute to what most players and makers consider a pleasing looking top.

A perfect top would have very straight grain, a high number of grain lines per inch, even coloring across the entire board, and a very uniform and cohesive look. That perfect board would give you the best possible look, and it’s up to you to make it sound good.

There are some arguments to be made for grain lines and board stiffness contributing positively to the sound of the guitar. However, until you make several guitars you are really never going to appreciate the minor differences that a board like that can make. Even later in the game it’s still hard to do.

Your Homework Assignment

Your homework is to look in a few of the online guitar making suppliers and read about their grading systems. When you buy wood, you need to know what you are getting. The only way to do that is by understanding the grading system.

Get ready to be surprised, because grading systems differ between sellers. Some care about more aspects than others, and some will grade based on what they have. This means sometimes lesser boards will become top grade because that is the best they currently have in stock.

When you really understand what kind of wood you are buying, and why you are paying for it, you can make better decisions about how to spend your money. If you don’t care about certain aspects of wood grading, then don’t pay for them.

Guitar Making Tip No. 162 Wrap-Up

Guitar tops are a focal point of your instrument, so you want to pick out a good looking piece that makes you proud to show off your guitar. Beyond that, the wood that you buy is not guaranteed to make a good sounding guitar.

Wood is graded on looks, since that is the only way it can be judged objectively. A great piece of wood can be made into a lousy guitar just as well as a poor board be made into a great guitar. It’s all about you, and how you make the guitar.

Learn about the grading systems that the different sellers use, and it will help you make better buying decisions. Pay for the qualities that you want, and skip those that you don’t. This is how you can get a great top, and feel confident using it.

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