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Soundboard Grade

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I was looking at stika boards on StewMac and the prices range from AA-$19 AAA-$38 AAAA-$67 Master-88

i really don't have much of a budget here so i'm trying to get the best for my money

I know that Carvin uses AA stika for their acoustic top and they sound great.

Does the grade of a soundboard drastically effect the overall sound of the guitar?


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It absolutely does, but the talent of the guy building it has far more to do with it than the quality of the wood, ESPECIALLY with an acoustic instrument.

You could give a AA set to a master luthier, I would bet it will sound fantastic and ring like a hummingbird.

OTOH, you could give a set of AAAAA to a new builder and it would probably come out no better than so-so at best.

A builder knows how to tap and flex the wood (and will typically have several sets on hand with which to choose the most appropriate set from), listen to the story it has to tell him and work with what he has to it's fullest advantage, he can bring out the best in the wood, because he has experience at working with different pieces and what he can expect if he braces this way as opposed to that way, thins this top set just shy of 5/32" while leaving another set proud of 3/16" because that piece calls for a thicker top set, using different types and styles of bracing appropriate to what the particular pieces of wood tell him to use, etc...

The wood itself, in the hands of someone possibly just starting out, will not tell but a part of it's story.

Buy to your abilities and you will never buy wrong. :D

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I'd go with a more specialized tonewood supplier than StewMac (often have better prices), maybe Steve Roberson (Colonial Tonewoods), Shane Neifer (High Mountain Tonewood), maybe Bob Cefalu (RCtonewoods.com); most of the grading is cosmetic in nature, and says little to nothing about the qualities of the wood. No need to get master grade anything; some of the finest tops in my stash (hand picked at the supplier) are AAA grade equivalents, priced around the mark you've got there for AA.

AAA is usually a good starting point.

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Soundboard grading is a funny thing. There are outward signs that occur a little more often in stiffer sets(better weight to stiffness ratio), and these are associated with higher grade soundboards. This does not mean the sets are going to be stiffer it is just means in many cases these attributes are found in good stiff sets. A lot of the grading factors relate to cosmetic differences also. You could take a stack of master grade and whatever the dealer calls the next step down. Blindfold yourself and test each set and pick the most desirable. Odds are you are no more likely to find a higher percentage of one or the other(actually you may wind up with more lower grade sets as they made the cut based on their stiffness, and not by looks). I would say most any soundboard set you buy from a decent dealer has the potential to make a great sounding guitar. If you are very in touch with optimising thickness to get just enough stiffness to get the job done. Then you can do better by selecting the highest stiffness/weight soundboards. Most people have not built enough guitars to really push their soundboards really close to the edge of the required strength, and most professional builders would not do it anyway because of warrenty issues(unless it is a special instrument).

You will have a good buildable soundboard at any grade if the dealer is decent. Don't limit your options to Stewmac when choosing acoustic woods. There are many fine dealers out there that really specialize in acoustic woods(LMI is another larger dealer that comes to mind-LMI).


P.S. Someday if you ever get a chance to go through a large stack of sets at a dealer or show. Do so and get a feel for stiffness and looks. You will understand the grading system, but will not trust it as a selection tool. You either need to pick your own sets or have someone who knows what you are looking for help select them.

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