GEAR 502 • Aging of Guitar Top Woods

With all of the major acoustic guitar builders coming out with ‘pre-aged’ tops, I thought I’d compare some of the benefits that come with torrefied versus naturally aged guitar tops. Many guitar builders are now baking their spruce top wood to accelerate the aging process – this goes by various names such as torrefied/torrefaction, thermal treatment, and thermo treatment. The idea is that new guitars with treated tops will sound more like vintage guitars right out of the box. While some people think a guitar has to age over 50 years to sound ‘vintage’, aging is not just a function of time but also of how much a guitar is being played. For a guitar that’s being played regularly, I think the first and most significant amount of break-in often occurs between 2 and 8 years – give or take. I hear an interesting sweet spot in a guitar while it’s in the middle of this transition, as the top ages but before the top would be considered fully aged. It’s a matter of taste, I know, but somewhere around the 4-8 year mark I think the guitar will have a good combination of ‘new’ and ‘old’ qualities to its sound. I understand the desire for a ‘broken in’ and ‘vintage sounding’ guitar and agree that torrefied tops sound good on some models. Generally, though, I would prefer to break in the top myself, naturally, so it can meld to my playing and I can meld to it. I enjoy the natural aging process of the top and hearing, at least to my ears, the sweet spot in the aging process that occurs before the top is fully aged. Of course, it also depends on your style of music. If you play old-timey string band music, bluegrass, or old school blues/folk, then a torrefied top could be a plus. I’ve also played some guitars with torrefied tops that I really like, such as Taylor’s 612ce. Overall, it’s probably best to go on a case by case basis and chose a guitar that appeals to you.