About the durability of thin tops

The question about Thin Tops often comes up. Do they last? Do they sound better? Advantages and disadvantages…

Some general information and thoughts:

1.  Traditional, 2. Modern: Lattice & Double Tops

1. Traditional tops have thicknesses usually between 2,0mm and 2,5mm, but we have also examples under 2,0mm from Torres, Friederich and many Flamenco makers. Thicknesses go down to 1.6 – 1.8mm, and these guitars can last for decades, with some examples exceeding 100 years.  Very important is the quality of the top material, and that it has a good quarter grain. These tops become wavy with time but it doesn’t mean they break or collapse. We have very good examples of thin tops that last and sound great.

2. Modern tops with lattice bracing can have thicknesses between 1,0mm and 1,6mm, using a lattice of many braces for reinforcement and often carbon strips to secure durability. The technique was developed in the 80’s by Greg Smallman from Australia and followed by many others.

Double Tops (or Composite Tops) are made of two extremely thin sheets/layers of wood glued together with a core material in between. The core is usually Balsa or Aramid honeycomb material. The aim is to produce a very light top that is strong enough. This technique was developed in the early 90’s by German luthiers M. Dammann and G. Wagner.

Thicknesses of the sheets of wood can be as little as 0,3mm, so you can even see the bracing through the wood.

Now, in 2020, that we have these guitars for over 25 years we can say that they are able to last and sound good for many decades.

Of course along the way of experimenting and going to the limits of each construction there have been tops which have not withstood the test of time.  These tops were either too thin, had the wrong bracing, or inappropriate material.  They usually lose their sound or collapse in their first decade. Of course, That has happened with all types of top building. We all learn with what we do and the results we get.

Back to the question: Do the thin tops last?

I would say, definitely yes! If built properly and with a good choice of bracing and material.

How do they sound?

There would be a lot to say but the most important, in my opinion, is that these tops are more efficient in the way they use the energy. And the energy you can input in a plucked instrument is very limited!

Is a thin guitar top more sensitive or delicate?

Yes, of course. It’s similar to a racehorse that needs different care than a farm horse. Or a Ferrari compared to Volkswagen. What I would fear more is a guitar that is too thick and never develop its full potential.

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