To save money, inexpensive guitars are usually made of lesser-quality woods.
You will rarely find an inexpensive instrument made of solid wood. Instead, laminates
(a fancy name for plywood) are used. The appearance will be good, because quality
woods are used to for the outer layer, and these guitars are very sturdy and unlikely
to crack; but the sound of a plywood guitar is rarely as resonant as one made with
solid woods. Sometimes the top, or soundboard, will be solid with laminated wood
for the sides and back, which is preferable to plywood throughout.
The best classical guitars have sides and back of Brazilian or East Indian rosewood.
The tops are of spruce or Canadian cedar with even spacing between the anular lines
of the grain. The neck is usually made of Spanish or Honduras cedar, and the fingerboard
of ebony. Folk or acoustic guitars can be made of spruce, maple, rosewood, or mahogany,
each having a different characteristic sound. Folk guitars also use ebony fretboards,
although cheaper instruments may use a plastic substitute. As well as costing more,
the solid wood guitar will need more care since it is more susceptible to changes
in temperature and humidity. Excessive dryness is a particular enemy of guitars.
At the very minimum, if you are playing an acoustic guitar, try to get a guitar
with a solid wood face or top. This will give you the advantage of improved sound.
The laminate body, meanwhile, will be better for you as a beginner because it is
sturdier—less likely to crack or scratch with mishandling—and overall has less effect
on the instrument’s performance.
For electric guitars, it doesn’t much matter what is used to make the body. In
fact, the ideal is to have a strong, nonresonant body—the opposite of what you’d
like in an acoustic instrument. Plywood, plastic, fiberglass—anything strong can
be used. The body is more important for its decorative value—i.e., how it looks
on stage—than its composition.