Veneer-based start-up to serve the future of guitar building industry

Jinquan Lin

Why is veneer the perfect material for a guitar? What are the criteria that define a good one? Which process is the key in veneer production in order to improve the profitability of your business?

In this article, we will enlighten you with the answers by Archtop Laminates' story, a Finnish guitar parts kit providing startup company. We spoke to one of the company's founders, Tero Siromaa, who is also a guitar building teacher, to take you closer to the guitar AND the veneer. 

A quick walk through Archtop Laminates, a company that aims to help their customers by adding value to handcrafted products. Its business model is somewhere between a subcontractor and small-scale woodshop production spiced up with years of experience in mechanical woodworking, engineering, forestry and coding skills.  


A student project that lifted the lid on the secrets of the Golden Age guitar  

How did it all begin? Archtop Laminates started as a student project of Tero a couple of years ago. “We were studying and re-engineering legendary laminated guitar models from the 50s' by 3D scanning and modelling two directional arched molds for hand laminating processes. After prototyping it was clear that we should switch the pressing method to the hydraulic press and that's where we are at the moment.” 

In this project, they discovered how those so-called Golden era guitars were manufactured physically but at the same time what made them tick acoustically and made them sound great even today. Most of these originals are highly priced collectibles today, one of the secrets being the quality veneer they have been using back in the day.  

Meanwhile, they had found out there were not too many commercial quality archtop guitar building kit options for sale in the DIY markets so later they decided to start running a business.  

“We have two main customer groups, one being established high end guitar makers around the world and another is a growing number of individuals in 'Do it yourself' scene, hobbyists making their first guitar projects.” 

Stability is the key and need for quality guitars 

Why wood veneer is a perfect fit for guitars. Tero stated, “When the lamination recipe is fixed and veneer quality is constant, the laminated guitar parts will produce a very even manufacturing process in a guitar making company.”  

When comparing veneer with solid wood for guitar manufacturing, he said, “Thin laminated structures are more stable than solid wood in periodically changing climate environments when winters are extremely dry and moisture content rises high in summer seasons. Solid wood guitars basically need more seasonal adjusting and maintenance.” 

Master Luthier Juha Lottonen is a client and a coperator for Archtop Laminates Ltd. Lottonen Guitars Ltd has built and repaired musical instruments for over 30 years.

Tero (left) and Jukka from Archtop Laminates ltd. are seeing more and more hobbyist building their own guitars.

Transparent veneer grading helps achieve profitability  

As a veneer-based business, Tero has seen challenges in providing good quality 1,5 mm rotary cut birch and aspen veneer. It’s important because, for example, knife checking strongly affects the stiffness of the laminated guitar tops. Same time the top laminate needs to withstand the forces of the string tension.

“The lighter and thinner the top, the more acoustically resonant and responsive the guitar will be.” Tero explained, “discoloration is far less harmful, and most cases can be hidden to the inner structures as far as the top layer is selected and visually perfect.”

Tero believed that transparency in the veneer grading process is crucial to the potential for dealers to make more profit. “If the veneer grading for customers would be more transparent, it would make it possible for veneer dealers to get more profitable products when higher graded veneers could be sold as a selected and customized product for a higher price.” 

As a small-scale company, Tero admitted that they were not too aware of the future trends in veneer business. “Our customers are quite conservative in the first place, but absolutely we are open to new ideas and old, probably already forgotten working methods with veneer could open up new windows too. If this kind of production resonates with some participants of a veneer-based products community, please don't hesitate to contact us.”