If you have been shopping for acoustic guitars recently, you may have seen models with different-looking tops. While some instruments feature tops made from mahogany, koa or other woods, the vast majority have tops made from either spruce or cedar. Generally speaking, spruce is the more common, particularly with steel-strung instruments; but what are the differences? It’s time for these two top woods to go head to head: spruce top vs cedar top, game on.
Top of the tops
Spruce is a stronger wood than cedar, so is more durable. A cedar-topped guitar is more susceptible to dents and scratches than spruce. There are also differences in the type of spruce used, from the very tough Sitka, to softer species such as Engelmann.
The difference in hardness also leads to differences in sound. The harder spruce-topped instruments are often brighter, with cedar producing a ‘warmer’ sound with less high-end. The dynamic response of the wood can also sometimes be heard, with cedar ‘maxing-out’ before spruce when you start to strum it hard, but with characteristics that can work very well with fingerstyle playing.
Depending on your playing style, and your ears, differences can be slight and subjective, and may pale into the background against other aspects of the guitar’s construction. As it usually is with guitar shopping, it comes down to what instrument you prefer the sound and feel of when you start to play. If you can find an instrument that, while otherwise the same, comes in spruce-topped and cedar-topped versions, such as the Tanglewood TVC Koa-S and Koa-C, you might be surprised at the differences, or similarities. Spruce top vs cedar top? The answer is in the ears of the beholder…
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