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Guitar figured maple top

The use of maple wood tops (boards of small thickness within 20mm) which are glued over a guitar or bass body to fine tune the instrument tone to a specific frequency range, is very common for both a matter of look (especially when the body wood is not figured) and tone.

Woods like alder or mahogany are very neutral sounding and missing some of the brightness typical of harder woods like of maple.

The use of hardwood tops accentuates the string's presence, attack and brightness delivering a more even and balanced tone.

Maple wood is the most used wood for this purpose both for its tonal characteristic and for the wonderful look of its figured species like curly maple, flame maple, spalted maple, quilted maple, etc.

Frudua Carved Slave Pentabass with 25 mm quilted maple top
and mahogany body. Pictured above Frudua GFT-Semi Hollow Body.

Maple is a very clear and sometimes highly figured wood and we can take advantage of this to obtain wonderful aniline three dimensional transparent colours as you see on many very expensive instruments all around the world.

The irregular grain pattern due to a wood disease, is responsible for the beauty of these woods (see picture below).

Different grain pattern on figured and plain maple.

Here's a brief list of the woods used for tops on electric instruments:

  • Spruce tops: you can find them on super expensive handmade hollow body guitars. They are usually made out of spruce. This kind of top is called "sound board" and it normally carved on both top and bottom following very specific measurements using a thickness caliber to guarantee the best compromise between tone and stiffness (resistance). On the cheaper hollow body models or in mass production, these tops are made of plywood and pressed through a mould).

  • Carved tops: on electric guitars are mainly made of figured maple which thickness may vary from 10 to 22 mm. They can also be sometimes carved both on top and back but it's quite a rare solution (see photo below).

  • They are glued to a body wood core, which may have tone chambers inside or not and which commonly sports a totally different look (like mahogany for example) to achieve a very nice colour contrast.

A custom Frudua Carved Pro model which top is carved both front and rear.

Finally there is another solution called "drop top" or "contoured drop top": in this case a thin layer of maximum 7mm in heat bent over a guitar or bass body which was sometimes also beforehand carved for the forearm contour and are therefore most commonly seen over tele or strat shapes. Drop tops also offer the chance to "tune" the overall instrument tone by adding this bit of extra brightness and attack which some electric guitar made in neutral wood like mahogany, ash (swamp ash) and basswood may need.

An handmade Frudua GFT-SHB with tone chambers
and drop top.

When trying to thickening a blank of flame maple wood, no matter if it's maple or exotic one, instead of planing in the grain direction, try to plane at 45°. This will prevent the flame figure to get damaged by the plane.

A Frudua GFF-MIX quilted maple contoured top after aniline treatment
covered by the first sealer coat.

Galeazzo Frudua

Galeazzo Frudua

As a luthier and lutherie teacher, since 1988 he has been making about 350 boutique guitars and basses priced from 2,900 to 5,600 Euros and repaired and customized thousands of string instruments. His instruments and amplifiers are used by flagship artists, such as Chick Corea, Peter Gabriel, Ennio Morricone, Vasco Rossi. He owns two YouTube channels—where he teaches music—that count up to 25+ million views and almost 140.000 subscribers.

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