I would love to see the whole group kick in their opinion...
Please don't think I'm trying to start an argument here, but I had a couple of interesting conversations yesterday. We were discussing the merits of solid wood and laminate. The one fellow (he used to build guitars) mentioned to me that solid wood back and sides contribute more to bragging rights than anything else. As far as the voice of the instrument is concerned, you just can't hear much difference. He said that if you played the guitar held out away from your body then it might make a difference, but when you tuck it in to you, most of the vibrations are effectively dampened and the Type and surface of wood makes more difference than whether or not it is a laminate. So as the day progressed, I ended up at my local luthier who seems to really know his craft and I asked him for his comment. He agreed that laminate vs. solid in the box and sides makes very little difference and that "bragging rights" was a good description. He supported his opinion the same way.
Good topic! In fact, this was extremely relevant for me when I bought my last guitar. Solid wood was a requirement for me, among other things. However, I ended up with a mostly solid wood guitar...only the sides are laminate. During my research, I learned much of what you already mentioned, that solid wood vs. laminate do not have that substantial of a tone difference (in general). I learned that in order of sound, the most important to least important parts of the guitar are the top, then the back, and finally the sides. Thus, at the very least, the top should be solid wood. Apparently the sides have little to do with the sound, so it'd be very hard to distinguish between solid vs. laminate sides. The back, however, is worthy of debate. Vibration is the name of the game for guitars, and laminate just doesn't vibrate like solid woods do (hence the importance of a solid wood top).
For me, a spruce/rosewood combo was requisite, and I settled on a spruce top, solid rosewood back, and laminate rosewood sides. My guitar is loud, projects well, and is boomy as is typical of the spruce/rosewood combo. My sense is if the back were also laminate, the volume might suffer slightly, but the tone may be indistinguishable from solid wood (I don't know this for a fact, though!). That said, as an amateur woodworker, I prefer all solid wood to laminate for pretty much anything...furniture, cabinets, etc, so I'm slightly biased!
Laminate versus Solid: A direct comparison
As of a couple of days ago, I'm now in a pretty good situation to report on a direct comparison.
I have a Seagull S-6 with sold cedar top and laminate wild cherry back and sides.
I now have a Seagull Artist Mosaic with solid cedar top and solid mahogany back and sides.
As most of you know, other than the tone woods, these two guitars are almost exactly identical in all respects.
Honestly, I don't think there is that much difference and what there is could easily be attributed to the sonic properties of Wild Cherry versus Mahogany, more than those of laminate versus solid.
I've been alternating playing the S-6 and the Artist side-by-side now since Sunday evening and I love them both. If I closed my eyes, I'm not sure I could honestly tell which one I had in my hands.
BUT ... that much said, it's mainly a perception thing. I am still a "solid wood snob." I DO love the idea of having a solid wood guitar. For some reason, it makes me feel like I own more of an heirloom quality instrument if it's all solid. And it has nothing in particular to do with the sound ...
Hope this helps.
David --- I remember you telling me that if I was patient, an Artist would come my way that was priced to sell ... you were right. I got a nice used high-end Seagull with QII electronics for the cost of a new base straight acoustic Entourage. Sweet!
And, yes, I'm sure I'm not finished yet ... but shhhh .... don't tell anyone around my house, LOL.,
Never can tell just what might start calling my name. Rumor has it that 12-strings can suddenly have a certain appeal ;-)