Is Maple A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass


Guitars are made of numerous different parts, many of which are made of wood. The choice of wood in the guitar body (the solid body and laminate in electric guitars and the sides, back and top of acoustic guitars), neck and fretboard all contribute to the overall playability, feel and, of course, tone of the instrument. Since maple is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it’s worth investigating whether it’s a good tonewood or not.

Is Maple a good guitar tonewood? Maple is a heavy hardwood with a tight grain pattern. It is one of the brightest tonewoods and offers superb sustain and tight low-end. Maple (especially Hard Maple) is used as a laminate top for electric guitar/bass, tops and sides of acoustic guitar, and as necks and fretboards (often one piece).

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how maple tonewood is used in electric, acoustic, classical and bass guitar construction with a keen focus on its tone.

Note: in my research for this article, I used Sweetwater’s extensive guitar database to find examples of guitars with maple in their construction. The links to the guitars in this article will send readers to Sweetwater’s site for more information. Sweetwater is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 10 Best Online Audio Gear/Equipment Retailers.


Table Of Contents


Characteristics Of Maple Tonewood

Maple comprises many different tonewoods, typically from the genus Acer. Among the most used maple tonewoods are silver, bigleaf, Queensland, red, sycamore, Norway, field, and hard maple. Let’s discuss each in a bit more detail.

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is also known as creek maple, silverleaf maple, soft maple, large maple, water maple, swamp maple, or white maple, and is considered a “soft maple”. It is native to central and eastern North America (the United States and Canada). Silver maple has a light golden or reddish-brown colour with a fine, even texture. Its gain is usually straight, though the grain can also be wavy and quilted.

Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) is also known as Oregon maple and is considered a “soft maple”. It is native to western North America, mostly near the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada. Bigleaf maple has a near-white to off-white cream colour, often with a reddish or golden hue. Its grain is typically straight, though it can be wavy or quilted, and its texture is even and fine.

Red maple (Acer rubrum) is also known as swamp maple, water maple or soft maple. It is considered a “soft maple,” too. It is native to central and eastern North America (the United States and Canada). Red maple colour ranges from near-white to light gold to reddish-brown. Its gain is usually straight with a fine, even texture, though the grain can also be wavy and quilted.

I was unable to find any mass-produced guitars with red maple specifically, though it is a tonewood that is available for custom builds. I’m sure there are some guitars on the market with red maple that are simply listed as “maple.”

Sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) is also known as European sycamore and is considered to be between “soft” and “hard” maple. It is native to central Europe through western Asia. Sycamore maple colour ranges from near-white to light gold to reddish-brown. Its gain is usually straight with a fine, even texture, though the grain can also be wavy and quilted.

I was unable to find any mass-produced guitars with sycamore maple specifically, though it is a viable tonewood available for custom builds. I’m sure there are some guitars on the market with sycamore maple that are simply listed as “maple.”

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is considered to be between “soft” and “hard” maple. It is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia. Norway maple colour ranges from near-white to light gold to reddish-brown. Its gain is usually straight with a fine, even texture, though the grain can also be wavy and quilted.

Field maple (Acer campestre) is also known as hedge maple and is not quite hard maple, though it’s much harder than soft maple. It’s native to continental Europe, North Africa, and much of western Asia (north and south). Field maple ranges from light golden or reddish-brown in colour with a fine, even texture. Its gain is usually straight, though the grain can also be wavy and quilted.

Hard maple (Acer saccharum) is also known as sugar maple, rock maple, birds-eye maple, sweet maple, or curly maple. It is native to northeastern North America (Canada and the United States). Hard maple colour ranges from near-white to off-white and often features a reddish/golden hue. Its gain is usually straight with a fine, even texture, though the grain can also be wavy and quilted.

Hard maple tonewood is often taken from beautifully figured pieces, including birds-eye, quilted, and curly figures. Let’s discuss each to further our understanding of this amazing tonewood:

Birdseye maple: the tiny knots in the wood’s grain resemble a small bird’s eyes. This is caused by unfavourable growing conditions with low light. Though birdseye maple is not only possible with hard maple, it is nearly always harvested from this species (Acer saccharum).

Quilted maple: the grain resembles patchwork-type patterns seen on fabric quilts. Quilted maple can be found in hard maple, though it’s much more common in the soft maples species.

Curly (fiddleback, flamed) maple: the ripples in the grain pattern create a three-dimensional effect as if the grain curls along the length of the board perpendicular to the grain. Curly/fiddleback grain patterns can be found in all true maple tonewoods.

Queensland maple (Flindersia brayleyana) is also known as maple silkwood or red beech and is not part of the Acer genus. It is native to northern Queensland, Australia, hence the name. Queensland maple is rather soft, similar to the soft maple varieties. It has a yellow to golden or reddish-brown colour, interlocked grain, and medium to coarse texture, making it an outlier in the “maple family” of tonewoods.

None of the above maple tonewoods are listed in the CITES Appendices or the IUCN Red List.

Maple hardwood is relatively easy to work, though it is prone to burning. It finishes incredibly well. Note that softer maple varieties (silver, bigleaf, red) are slightly easier to work with than harder ones (hard, field, Norway, sycamore).

Queensland maple is perhaps the most difficult due to its interlocked grain and medium-to-coarse texture, which may lead to tear-out. However, Queensland maple is still relatively easy to work.

Maple is considered to be very stable when subjected to changing temperature and humidity, making it a durable choice for guitars.

As a tonewood, maple produces a bright tone with strong upper-mids, remarkable sustain and tight low-end. The harder the maple, the brighter the tone. It produces a bright, cutting tone with sharp overtones and fast decay. It sounds “fast,” with a clear distinction between notes and a balanced tone from the largest to thinnest string.

Queensland maple, being the odd one out, is a bit soft in the high-end, making it the least bright of the maples (though, again, it’s not a true maple). It has a quick decay that makes it sound similar to the “true” maples, offering a bright tone with strong mids, balanced bass, and loud projection.

Here are a few notable specs of the various types of maple tonewoods discussed above:

  • Type: Silver Maple
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: almost white to light golden or reddish brown
  • Grain: generally straight, sometimes wavy
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores:
  • Density: 530 kg/m3 / 33.1 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 3,110 N / 700 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 7.86 GPa / 1,140,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Bigleaf Maple
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: almost white to off-white cream, sometimes with reddish or golden hue
  • Grain: generally straight, sometimes wavy
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores:
  • Density: 545 kg/m3 / 34.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 3,780 N / 850 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.00 GPa / 1,450,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Red Maple
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: almost white to light golden or reddish brown
  • Grain:
  • generally straight, sometimes wavy
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores:
  • Density: 610 kg/m3 / 38.1 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,230 N / 950 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus): 11.31 GPa / 1,640,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Sycamore Maple
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: almost white to light golden or reddish brown
  • Grain: generally straight, sometimes wavy
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores:
  • Density: 615 kg/m3 / 38.4 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,680 N / 1,050 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 9.92 GPa / 1,439,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Norway Maple
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: almost white to light golden or reddish brown
  • Grain: straight
  • Texture: fine, uniform
  • Pores:
  • Density: 645 kg/m3 / 40.3 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 4,510 N / 1,015 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.60 GPa / 1,537,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Field Maple
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: almost white to off-white cream, sometimes with reddish or golden hue
  • Grain: generally straight, sometimes wavy
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores:
  • Density: 690 kg/m3 / 43.1 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,110 N / 1,150 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 11.80 GPa / 1,711,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate to high
  • Type: Hard Maple
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: almost white to off-white cream, sometimes with reddish or golden hue
  • Grain: generally straight, sometimes wavy
  • Texture: fine, even
  • Pores:
  • Density: 705 kg/m3 / 44.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 6,450 N / 1,450 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 12.62 GPa / 1,830,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate
  • Type: Queensland Maple
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: yellow to golden or reddish brown
  • Grain: interlocked, sometimes wavy
  • Texture: medium to coarse
  • Pores:
  • Density: 560 kg/m3 / 35.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 3,620 N / 815 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 10.83 GPa / 1,571,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): bright
  • Price: moderate to high

Sources: wikipedia.org and wood-database.com

Here are links to the official website of the IUCN and Cites:
IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)


Is Maple A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?

Before we begin, I should mention that tonewoods don’t have nearly as much of an effect on the overall sound of an electric guitar as they do on an acoustic guitar. The guitar pickups, strings, the signal chain and the amplifier all play a huge role in the overall tone of an electric guitar. It’s not all about the wood, though it is a factor.

Maple is one of the few tonewoods that is found in the bodies, necks and fretboards of electric guitars. It’s just that good. It gives an electric guitar a solid, bright attack and sustain without sounding brittle like other bright tonewoods. It’s strong enough to be a fretboard material and light enough for use in bodies.

Is Maple A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Maple is not overly common in solid bodies due to its heavy weight. Rather, it’s more popular as a laminate top that helps to brighten up other body woods.

From my research, the original Gibson Les Paul models were built with red maple tops, though the tonewood was listed as “Michigan maple” at the time.

Maple of all varieties will pronounce the upper mids and high frequencies of the guitar’s tone while aiding in articulation. Maple can also be an incredible top material, visually speaking, particularly those with birdseye, curled or quilted grain.

In hollowbody designs, maple is often chosen for backs, sides and tops. Its weight is less of an issue in hollowbody designs, and its tone provides superb articulation across the notes of the guitar.

Examples of electric guitars with maple bodies and/or tops:

Is Maple A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Maple is a superb choice for an electric guitar neck tonewood, thanks to its heavy and stable makeup. In fact, it is by far the most common commercially-viable tonewoods for electric guitar necks.

Maple is stable, sturdy, and isn’t overly affected by changes in temperature and humidity. It’s hard enough to be a superb neck wood and works incredibly well as a solid piece or as part of a laminate with other tonewoods.

Its bright attack and strong midrange help bring out the individual notes of the guitar, and maple necks feel great under the fingers.

Maple plays well with a wide variety of fretboard materials and is regularly used in solidbody, semi-hollowbody and hollowbody electric guitars.

Examples of electric guitars with maple necks:

Is Maple A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Maple is a superb choice for an electric guitar fretboard tonewood, thanks to its heavy and stable makeup. When Maple is used as the fretboard tonewood, it’s often the case that neck and fretboard are both made from the same continuous piece of Maple.

Hard maple is typically the type of maple used for fretboards, which makes sense. Its Janka hardness is rated as 6,450 N / 1,450 lbf, which is hard enough for a fretboard. Of course, there are plenty of harder options out there (rosewood, ebony, laurel, and more), but hard maple is a fantastic choice, too. It even might have more tonal character than the aforementioned tonewoods. In terms of popularity, maple is about as popular as ebony, giving them both a “second place” status behind rosewood.

Examples of electric guitars with maple fretboards:


Is Maple A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Maple is an excellent tonewood for acoustic and classical guitars and is the only commercially-viable tonewood to be used in guitar bodies (tops, backs and sides), necks and fretboards. It’s a beautiful-sounding tonewood with a bright tone, and the figured pieces look stunning as well.

Is Maple A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?

Maple is the traditional wood used for backs and sides in the violin family. It’s been used for ages and will continue to be used. Though it’s not the most popular back and sides material for acoustic and classical guitars (the two most popular are mahogany and rosewood), it’s still an excellent choice.

Straight-grain maple pieces are relatively easy to bend. Additionally, they’re super-stable, resistant to changes in humidity and temperature, and they’re resistant to scratches and dents. Maple typically isn’t overly heavy either.

In terms of tone and projection, maple back and sides can provide great volume within acoustic and classical guitars. Its tonal characteristics shine through, allowing for enhanced brightness and clarity in each and every musical note.

Examples of acoustic guitars with maple back/sides:

Is Maple A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Maple is a viable choice for steel-string instruments, thanks to its bright tone and projection. It offers a fast attack, thereby imparting excellent clarity on the overall tone. It’s also rather hard compared to the typical softwoods used (spruce and cedar), so it’s more resistant to damage and deformation. Additionally, the figured piece can look absolutely stunning.

However, maple is rarely ever considered for classical guitar tops. Classical, nylon-string guitars benefit from warmer tonewoods like cedar. Even though maple provides excellent clarity, it also requires more energy for its true projection to ring out, something that isn’t necessarily sought-after for the gentle style of classical guitars.

Examples of acoustic guitars with maple tops:

Is Maple A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Maple is a superb choice for an acoustic guitar neck tonewood, thanks to its heavy and stable makeup.

Like with electric guitars, the bright, fast nature of maple gives acoustic and classical guitars that extra bit of clarity in their overall tone.

Examples of acoustic guitars with maple necks:

Is Maple A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Maple is a superb choice for an acoustic guitar fretboard tonewood, thanks to its heavy and stable makeup. When Maple is used as the fretboard tonewood, it’s often the case that neck and fretboard are both made from the same continuous piece of Maple.

Maple is a good option for acoustic guitar, though it’s not nearly as popular as it is with electric guitars.

Is Maple A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

Bass guitars are largely built on the same design principles as their 6-string counterparts. It stands to reason, then, that bass guitars are often built with maple, whether in their bodies, necks or fretboards.

Maple imparts a brightness to the overall bass tone and superb clarity across the low-end. It’s a great choice as a solid neck material, a fretboard material, and as the top/veneer of electric basses and back, sides and top of acoustic basses.

Examples of bass guitars with maple tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides maple. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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