Which Guitar Top is better, Cedar or Spruce?

In my experience, most buyers prefer cedar tops over spruce tops, not because they have done A/B comparison tests, but mostly because of what they have been told by others. The conventional view is that cedar produces a warmer, fuller, mellower sound, and spruce produces a sharper, brighter sound with more clarity. Generally speaking, this is true, but with many individual exceptions. Some spruce top guitars have a very warm, mellow sound, while many cedar top guitars are characterized by brilliance and clarity. Often, when visiting my home to try the guitars in person, buyers who originally intended to buy a cedar top instrument will end up selecting the spruce top version, and vice-versa.

In actuality, the differences between spruce and cedar are subtle in nature. My wife and I personally find it difficult to distinguish the difference, even when doing A/B blind sound comparisons. However, some players, especially those with a well-trained ear, are easily able to hear the difference.

The overall design of the guitar is equally important in determining whether a guitar has a fuller, richer, warmer sound vs. a brilliant, clear sound.

The spruce top version of one guitar model might have a significantly warmer, mellower sound than the cedar top version of a different model.

How does one go about deciding between cedar and spruce?

The best way, in my view is to listen to the recordings on my website. In most cases, there are videos of the cedar and spruce top versions of each model. Also keep in mind that the sound the player hears while playing is very different from the sound the audience hears. In my opinion, a guitar generally sounds much better from the vantage point of the audience. This is why my guitars come with a side port option. The side port directs some of the sound upwards towards the player and enhances the listening experience of the player. During recording sessions, when I listen to the videos, I am usually surprised at how much better the guitar sounds than when I play the instrument myself. Of course, some of the difference is due to the skill of the player. Fortunately, the sound I hear when listening to the guitar in person, from in front, is exactly the same as what I hear in the videos. This is partially due to the fact that the videos are entirely unedited in any way. So, if you are having trouble deciding between spruce and cedar, I would advise you to listen very carefully to the videos, or make the trip to my home in Pollock Pines, CA, to try the guitars in person.

One final thought

It has been said that spruce top guitars generally require a period of “breaking in” in order for the sound to fully open up. While some of the spruce tops in my inventory may start out with a slightly “closed in” sound, generally I cannot detect the difference between the spruce and cedar top versions of each model. Again, I would say that this might be an issue for the well-trained, finely-tuned ear, but it would not be an issue for the rest of us.

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