Why 5 Ply?

Discussion in 'THE Gretsch Discussion Forum' started by SaltyDog, Feb 9, 2020.

  1. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Country Gent

    Aug 23, 2008
    Between F sharp and G flat
    Whilst playing my g2420t and marvelling once again at the very low action attainable on this beauty, I began to ponder the construction of it. The top, of course, is a 5 ply. And I began to wonder why. I would think it would be a cost saving measure for Gretsch to make all of their guitars with a 3 ply top. Or is it a ploy to get the consumer to upgrade - something to the effect of "If you want a really resonant top, you'll have to spend the big bucks for a pro-line."?
    Ricochet, Charles Conner and ishtar like this.
  2. Lockupyourfatdog

    Lockupyourfatdog Synchromatic

    Aug 8, 2016
    Everett wa
    Five ply is a stock item. They can get it in bulk. Most hollow bodies on the market are 5 ply. 3 ply has to be made by hand so it takes longer. I saw an old video interview about this a few years ago as to why the pro models cost so much more than the electromotics and the 3 ply top was a big factor because it was more time consuming to make it
  3. swivel

    swivel Country Gent

    May 13, 2018
    Usually more plys = higher quality. ES335's etc are 5 ply. "Don't look a gift horse......" There are cheap archtops made with 3 ply though.
  4. section2

    section2 Country Gent

    Dec 21, 2016
    My understanding is that pro line Gretsches are 3-ply and Electromatics are 5-ply, so I'm not sure that more plies = better.
  5. swivel

    swivel Country Gent

    May 13, 2018
    That's interesting, traditionally it seems my statement is true, but that's like Gibsons etc. Maybe the 3 ply Gretsch is using is better material than their 5 ply, even though it's 3 ply construction. Hard to say I guess. There must be a reason you would think.
    But my guess is that, 3 or 5 is of less effect than bracing, centerblock and other stuff . Anything short of a carved non ply top is a shortcut! :eek::D
    GlenP likes this.
  6. jarrodtaylor

    jarrodtaylor Gretschie

    Mar 14, 2019
    Delray Beach, FL
    It depends on what you mean by "better". For Gretsch, 5 ply is cheaper and easier than 3 ply. And yes, bracing makes a bigger difference than ply count. As for why, consider what it's doing.

    In an acoustic archtop you need volume. A thin carved top does that, similar to how a flat top acoustic does it.

    Now add pickups and... feedback. The top vibrates, the sound bounces around inside, the pickups vibrate, the strings vibrate again when the sound wave comes back up from the back, and so on.

    Switch to a stiffer multi-ply top and the feedback dies down a bit. Add a sound post to connect the top and back so they move in sync and it dies way down.

    Stiffen it up some more by adding trestle bracing and you start getting some real sustain going. Less vibrations means the notes don't die off as fast (I'm pretty sure this is why they added trestle bracing way back when, not to fight feedback).

    So assuming each ply is the same and the bracing is the same, more plys will be stiffer, sustain longer, and feedback less.

    But at some point you could just get a Cabronita instead of a Gretsch, right? That solid tele body will hardly vibrate at all, will have loads of sustain, and won't feedback unless you really try.

    There's a handful of people around here (myself included) who like the thinner top + tone post models specifically because they move around more. It's that little bit less focused and more growly sounding.

    Or maybe no posts, like the Eddie Cochran model? Or maybe a thicker top with posts like the Electromatics? Or a thinner top with more bracing, like most of the pro models. Is there a 5 ply with lots of bracing? Or does that get too close to center block territory?

    And which pickups go best with what amount of vibrating? And how does the neck set change things?

    I think of it like this. A string vibrates, then everything else after that in the chain either adds overtones and/or dampens the vibration. A hollow body adds overtones, a vibrating top dampens sustain. A tube amp adds overtones, a solid state amp mimics them. Your sound is somewhere on the spectrum between a D28 and a Telecaster. Go find it.

    Now for more coffee.
    Gretsch Kiwi, capnhiho, ronbo and 6 others like this.
  7. BorderRadio

    BorderRadio Country Gent

    Mar 6, 2014
    Phoenix, AZ

    I’ll add that the electric guitar pickup does not care about ply count, it only senses the string vibrating (not even in all directions), with some extra tiny small amount of body resonance if the pickup is unpotted. Just enough to matter to the player, not much else. What the vibrating top does for the electric guitar is change the string attack and decay (I’m ignoring the feedback factor). All that acoustic zing the player hears is probably because the guitar is against the player’s body and/or low volume enough to hear some acoustic overtones.
    ronbo and Rock Lajoint like this.
  8. afire

    afire Country Gent

    ES-335 bodies (and I believe most laminate Gibsons) are three ply.
    new6659 likes this.
  9. Henry

    Henry I Bleed Orange

    Apr 9, 2014
    Very interesting. You seem to imply that sustain has a negative relationship with feedback, which seems counter intuitive to me. Can you elaborate?
  10. jarrodtaylor

    jarrodtaylor Gretschie

    Mar 14, 2019
    Delray Beach, FL
    More a loose correlation than causation.

    On an acoustic or archtop guitar, vibrating the strings causes the top to vibrate. The top bounces sound waves into the guitar body (like a drum head), the waves bounce around and create overtones, then come back out the sound hole. The overtones are what create the richness in an acoustic guitar sound.

    Given the same string tension, a top that vibrates more will create more sound waves. I'm sure there's a better technical way to say that.

    And a vibrating string will continue to vibrate so long as it still has energy.

    But there's the rub. To vibrate the top, the energy must transfer from the string through the bridge and into the top. So the top vibrating is a factor in dampening sustain. (Materials, tolerances, tension, etc are also factors - but ignore them for the sake of example)

    Stiffening the top reduces vibration and in turn improves sustain at the cost of acoustic volume and acoustic overtones.

    Now for the feedback part.

    Pickups are electromagnets. A magnet wrapped in a coil of wire. When the magnetic field vibrates it creates a current in the wire (another fun but longer topic). The current becomes the signal that goes to your amp.

    Guitar pickups usually have pole pieces the are designed to pick up the magnetic vibration from each string. So the string vibrates, the poles "read" the vibration and create the current in the wire wrap.

    If a sound wave were to cause a string to vibrate, or to cause a pickup to vibrate near a magnetic string, or to cause the wire coil itself to vibrate around the pickup magnet, it would also create a current.

    That sound wave could come from your amp speaker. Meaning the sound from the speaker creates more current and thus more sound, hence the name feedback.

    That sound wave could also come from inside the body. It's not technically feedback, but the extra vibration is what makes the tone post models sound less focused and more growly that the trestle models. And vice versa.

    Wax potting can act as a sort of sound proofing, or at least keep the wires from moving around.

    So stiffening the top will both improve sustain by maintaining energy in the string vibration and will reduce feedback by keeping the pickups from moving around and/or getting hit with extra vibrations.

    Just a loose correlation.

    And like @BorderRadio said, it's attack and decay. The pickups don't really do much with the acoustic sounds (except occasionally feedback). In the case of an electric guitar the body isn't the harmonic generator, the amp is.

    Side note and unsubstantiated theory: Tubes create those nice harmonics and solid state amps mimic them. Chew on that one for a while.
    DennisC and section2 like this.
  11. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Country Gent

    Aug 23, 2008
    Between F sharp and G flat
  12. jarrodtaylor

    jarrodtaylor Gretschie

    Mar 14, 2019
    Delray Beach, FL
    Sorry for the ranting. Here's the short version:

    Not a ploy, the pro models really are very good and not just because of the ply count. But if you want a resonant top you should find an old pre-FMIC tone post model, preferably with a thin top. But you don't *have* to have a super resonant top to get a good sound. It's just one option.

    Edit: Or the Eddie Cochran model. Or maybe the RHH model, I’m a little unclear as to whether or not they added trestle bracing to that one.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2020
  13. Ati EDGE

    Ati EDGE Electromatic

    May 23, 2013
    Budapest, Hungary
    Well, I have owned 5 ply pre-FMIC and vintage 3 ply hollowbody guitars at the same time. The 5 ply one had to go because it sounded like a cheap toy guitar compare to the 3 ply one.
    G5422T and audept like this.
  14. Ricochet

    Ricochet I Bleed Orange

    Nov 13, 2009
    Monkey Island
    3-ply or tri-plex is as common as dirt.
  15. calebaaron666

    calebaaron666 Country Gent

    Aug 15, 2018
    Portland, Maine
    I have a 5 ply 5420 and a 3 ply 6136.
    Even with top o’ the line electronics and pickups painstakingly added to the 5420, it doesn’t compete with my proline at all.
    MikeSchindler and G5422T like this.
  16. CalicoSkies

    CalicoSkies Gretschie

    Nov 18, 2019
    Hillsboro, OR, USA
    Why 5 ply when you fly high in the sky wearing tie-dye drinking a mai-tai using wi-fi?
    davenumber2 likes this.
  17. DennisC

    DennisC Synchromatic

    May 11, 2017
    5 ply + high does it for me, haha...

    Nah, seriously - all what @jarrodtaylor said is true.

    The conclusion of it is up to each one himself or herself.

    ... and ... a bit of blasphemy: trestle bracing is, kind of, a more elegant way to essentially do the same thing as a center block does. Or at least it is getting closer, seeing a solid center block as one extreme of bracing elements (mass, stiffness, ... are maximum here), coming from nowhere a trestle bracing is pretty close to it ... just look where it supports the top and how much motion will be possible between posts and bars - this is pretty stiff.

    And, of course - ply count is only one of the ingredients. Body size, body volume, thickness, bracing, ... ....... a lot of stuff hard to get into any mathematical model, for the sake of sonic details most people won't hear.
  18. jarrodtaylor

    jarrodtaylor Gretschie

    Mar 14, 2019
    Delray Beach, FL
    Not blasphemy at all in my book. If anything is a ploy to get people buying pro models, it’s trestle bracing. I wish I could get a 3 ply, tone post model with a floating neck, all the nice pro kit and none of the western look. I’d love to see the Setzer signature models keep the trestles and the hot rods go back to posts.
  19. BorderRadio

    BorderRadio Country Gent

    Mar 6, 2014
    Phoenix, AZ
    If it sounded ‘cheap’ it wasn’t only because of the ply count. I don’t know what cheap sounds like, or in other words, all I know are ‘cheap’ guitars for years and it’s good enough for rock n roll :)

    On another note, my Streamliner G2420 is basically an acoustic guitar, 5 ply no sound post, just parallel bar bracing and feeds back if you look at it wrong. It’s a Beast with Guild Dynasonics. :D
    calebaaron666 likes this.
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