Maple is a well-reputed Tonewood with a stunning appearance to it. Craftsmen use two types of Maple when crafting instruments; Bigleaf Maple which is called “Quilted Maple” & Eastern hard rock which is called “Tiger Maple” aka “Flame Maple”. These are called wood “figuring”, some craftsmen claim that this something called “Tension wood”. Maybe it is more like how the trees live, but hey, how it happens shall be left for wood and tree specialists to decide, but what do we aim to discuss here is the difference between the two Maple patterns and how that affects your guitar playability and tones or, does it at all..!
Let’s first understand the characteristics of the two kinds of wood briefly.
Flame Maple (Hard Maple)
This is also known as flamed maple, curly maple, ripple maple, fiddleback, or tiger stripe. Some recognize this to be part of the grain of the wood, but it is more appropriate to be called “Figure”. The accurately sewn true pattern is restricted to uniform, straight-grained/figured wood of high quality. Quite frequently used for guitar manufacturing, thanks to its leading appearance and tonal balance. Flame Maple when combined with other woods such as Myrtlewood and Sitka Spruce creates more sound energy and a greater tone.
6 types of flame maple categories according to the Beauty Of The Burst by Yasuhiko Watanabe: Curly, Ribbon curly, Flame, Tigerstripe, Fiddleback, and Pinstripe.
Quilted Maple (Soft Maple):
The grain affects the tangential surface instead of the radial surface of the wood creating a wavy “quilted” patchwork-like pattern on the wood giving a 3D effect as ripples on the water. The highest quality of this figure can be found in the Western Big Leaf species. Also frequently used for guitar and other instrument manufacturing. There are different grades of Quilted Maple based on the depth of the quilt as well as the purity of the color of the Maple wood.
2 types of flame maple categories according to the Beauty Of The Burst by Yasuhiko Watanabe: Blister and Bird’s eye
The purest version of Maple wood is “white” and is the most expensive. They are often dyed to achieve incredible colors and looks.
Flame Maple vs. Quilted Maple
The two wood types may not have really obvious differences between them, but they literally do look different, feel a bit different, and sound slightly different too. These little differences are indeed significant for serious guitarists.
Soft & Hard/Stiff
Quilted Maple is soft and less dense in comparison to Flame Maple. Dense wood is naturally more resonant and best for acoustics. Dense wood allows the body materials to get thinner and thin materials could theoretically be less noisy.
Cut & Figure
“Figured wood has been sought and worshipped for its beauty for centuries. Any design, pattern, or distinctive mark that appears on the surfaces of wood may be described as a figure, and it results from combinations of color, luster, texture, and grain.” Beautifully expressed by the writers in Les Paul Forum.
In general, there are three types of figures in common woods; NormalFigure, Pigment Figer & Specific Figure. The cut is quite important as it determines if the natural wood pattern is exposed beautifully or remains hidden.
Different cuts expose different patterns:
Flame Maple is the most common Maple wood and looks best when the wood is quarter sawn. Quilted Maple is less common and shows up best when it’s flat sewn (more like the only way to reveal the pattern). This cut is a little risky but Maple, in general, is quite stable when seasoned properly.
Quilted is sounding rich and smooth and has more punch and bass snap. It gives more of a lineal tone and a darker, warmer, softer, fluffier Top End. Flame tonality is more towards bright, shimmering, super clear, and tight with a great sustain, praising its rigidity and reflection quality. Less bassy but gives more of a chorus swirl to your tone and hotter or more molten Midrange. But the difference is very light and most significant on acoustics. Electric guitar tones normally have no tangible effects from their body woods.
Flame Maple as the top material. Bassy, natural, and brighter tone.
Maple Quilted wood as back material. Achieved a bright and balanced sound through the combination of spruce and maple tonewoods.
Fascinating Maple wood in general produces old-world sounds to the guitar which are quite pleasing and very satisfying to the ear. The differences between Flame & Quilted Maple guitars are hard to disregard, yet, if you are a beginner you may find the tonal differences less obvious to recognize instantly.
As a tonewood, Maple is highly regarded and well-reputed for its stunning appearance, tonal qualities, density, and also for its amazing strength. Natural unique curls and strips of Maple wood not only visually appealing but also gives an outstanding expensive look to your guitar.