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Maple Figure Grades


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Sorry, I know this is probably a really dumb question and everyone knows the answer but me, but I've searched and can't find it. What is the difference between the different grades of maple? Sites always say low figure/high figure or AA/AAAA, etc. But what does this mean? Does more figure mean more 'lines' on a flamed top, and bigger 'waves' on quilted tops? I'm confused. :D Could somebody please post pics and/or explain the difference to me? I want to do a maple top on a guitar, but don't know what kind to get....they all look pretty much the same to me. Thanks, and pardon my stupidity. :D

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Figuring is not an exact science, it's all in the eyes of the grader, the most important thing the grader should have is consistency.

The grade mainly refers to the strength of the figuring, i.e. the visually stronger the flame/quilt/crotch etc. the higher the grade.

There are also other aspects to take into account though, such as the quality of the wood, the uniform pattern of the figure, the defects etc...but for most purposes the higher the grade will mean the stronger figure.

hope that helps

wwood

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Grading is kinda silly these days when it comes to Maples. Really every company kinda sets it's own tone for their grading system and you have to kinda get a feel for it. When it comes to the highest grades or grading what makes "the best" figure that is also very subjective. Everyone seems to have their own idea as to the best type of figure (especially when you get into quilted and burled wood). One persons "unique" is anothers "defect".

So things to help grade wood-

Curly/Flamed/Fiddleback/wide band curly- The terms all desribe basically the same figure. Difference being width and look of the curls in the wood. When you are looking for Curly Maples. The strongest and most consistent(verticle) figure will be found in quartersawn straight grain material. Typically the lighter the color the better. You will find three types of color. One is the actual woods natural color, the other is staining from the drying process (too rapid), and lastly rot or decay. So the highest grade (technically) should be a near perfectly quartersawn, straight grained, vertical figure (strong throughout the wood) and full even coverage, small dense fiddleback (narrow frequent curl), bright white with basically no color. Now that is one way to look at the ideal. The trick is that you have to downgrade from there. So how much color does it take to downgrade? How out of quarter can it be before it drops? How wide and spread can the curl be? If it has no color, full strong figure, but is rift sawn (way out of quarter). How much does it downgrade? These factors are all so subjective that grading is really not consistent. So look for the piece that you like the look of and go from there.

Quilted/ So many names for the figure.... First off Ideally the strongest figure found in quilted Maple is found at the outer edge of the tree and is flatsawn. The trick of course is that is where you will find bark inclusions, live edges, discoloration from rapid drying and or rot and on and on. The ideal would of course be free of defect from any of the things I mention above. As far as the figure itself. Smaller, denser, even. That would I suppose be ideal. It really would depend on the look you prefer. Some guys like Tubes, some Popcorn, some Angel wings or Stepped. I believe all figure types could be considered of the highest to someone, so go for what you like. This is one of the most subjective woods to grade because of all these factors. I would have no idea what I would get if I ordered "5A" blindly (without looking at it).

Burl, Burled, Crotch, Fethered Crotch, Spalted, Marbled, Pink, Red..... I can't even start to describe most of what would grade up or down on most of these. Just plain crazy subjective.

A couple things to think about. Most people want certain standard dimensions, and 100% clear wood (which is all good). If you want to get the most bang for your buck. Look at your guitars design. Figure out what widths and lengths you really need and let yourself buy closer to the size you need (extra width can make cost rise and it is pretty much a waste). Evaluate whether a "defect" is actually going to be cut away when you cut to the shape of the body, or route for PU's, Neck and so forth. Adjust your allowable color in the wood based on finish. If you are doing a tiger eye finish on quilt a little color is probably not a factor. If you are doing a lemon burst color could be nasty. When it all comes down to it choose what you like and don't worry about what grade it technically is.

Hope that made some sense,

:D Rich

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^Hey, thanks for the clarification guys. :D That helps a lot.

Some guys like Tubes, some Popcorn, some Angel wings or Stepped.

But what do these terms mean? I don't suppose any has any pics to show the difference.....?

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^Hey, thanks for the clarification guys. :D That helps a lot.

Some guys like Tubes, some Popcorn, some Angel wings or Stepped.

But what do these terms mean? I don't suppose any has any pics to show the difference.....?

I will have to upload pics when I get home to give you some better reference shots. I don't want to hot link to someones pics.

Here is a description of some of those quilted figure names.

Tube- As it sounds, The figure looks like long tubes setting next to each other. The size of the tubes can vary from what would compair to a roll of pennies to maybe a 3" diameter roll. This is a poor picture, but you can get the idea.tubish

Popcorn- Small roundish quilts. The smaller and denser the better. Size can be as small as a dimes to maybe golfball size. This figure is clustered. Another poor picture, but popcorn- maybe a hint of tube tward the bookmatch-Popcorn

Angel wings or stepped- Look kinda like flames that step in an angular pattern. (kinda looks like wings). This figure is most commonly found next to a knot (the knot may be cut away from the board, but that is usually where you will find its origin). Another so so pic, but if you look to the right side of the pic you will see a bit of stepped figure. Not a great example but you should get the idea.stepped

Hope that helps a bit

Peace,Rich

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The toughest guitar to build with bookmatched, figured maple would be a carved top, especially if you get the wrong maple. You can start out with a symmetrical pattern but by the time you are finished carving the top the figuring and grain could wander away from symmetrical. The BEST figure grade has uniform pattern INTO the wood. It doesn't happen very often. I guess thats what veneers are for. :D

Edited by Southpa
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The toughest guitar to build with bookmatched, figured maple would be a carved top, especially if you get the wrong maple. You can start out with a symmetrical pattern but by the time you are finished carving the top the figuring and grain could wander away from symmetrical. The BEST figure grade has uniform pattern INTO the wood. It doesn't happen very often. I guess thats what veneers are for. :D

This is very true. That is why with Curly varietys Close to perfect quarter sawn and straight grain increases grade. Same holds true with Quilted and flatsawn. Although Quilted is much less predictable. If you can try to look at the back of the topwood. You can at least tell if the figure is strong throughout the wood. This of course is not very improtant on thin sets (that will not be carved). As mentioned close to perfect is pretty darn rare.

Peace,Rich

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