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Thread: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

  1. #1

    Default Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    Greetings All -

    With a Birdseye mandolin in the works by White Mandolins out of Bloomington, Indiana, (http://pinehouseguitars.squarespace.com/) I am now growing (of course) very interested in my next commissioned build, and I'm trying to learn about quilted maple. I'm told it's a softer wood, which will impact the tone of the final product significantly. My question to you is HOW will it change the sound? I've heard that it will be a darker tone, but other than that I'm not finding much. Given the masterful work that I've seen produced by the likes of Ellis, I have to believe that quilted, solid backs can still generate strong volume, projection, etc., all of which are critical considerations, especially as a bluegrass player. Would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you!!

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  2. #2
    Registered User George R. Lane's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    My Weber Yellowstone has a quilted back, ribs and neck and it is on the dark side, but with enough volume for me. Has a very strong G chop. Other than that I can't give you anymore info. One of the builder should chime in soon.
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    I maybe wrong, but it is highly doubtful.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    Quilted figure is found in big leaf maple, and on average, big leaf is one of the softer and lighter (less dense) maples.
    As for sound, that is up to the builder. A builder who likes soft maples and uses them regularly will be able to tell you more-or-less what type of sound to expect. I can give you a pretty good idea of what sound to expect if I build a mandolin using soft maple, but that doesn't have much to do with the sound your chosen builder might get.

    Quilted figure shows best on the flat sawn, or "slab" surface of the wood. That means that the back and sides must be flat sawn if you want a good display of quilted figure. Many builders have no qualms about building with flat sawn backs, but for reasons of stability and longevity of the instrument, I (and some other builders) prefer using quartered wood for instruments. It would probably be best to choose a builder who is OK with flat sawn wood, is familiar with soft maple, and has enough experience to predict the sound with some amount of accuracy. Or, choose a builder who's sound you like and let him/her use the wood he/she prefers.

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    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    As for sound, that is up to the builder.
    Read those words carefully. The luthier is the primary determinant of the sound of your instrument. You cannot predict the effect of using a particular kind of wood in an instrument because no "type" of wood has predetermined characteristics. Every tree is different. A particular piece of wood is a different matter and only someone who has worked with that wood a lot and has a real feel for it can judge what character it has and how to carve it to produce a desired effect.
    IM(NS)HO

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    Registered User StevenS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    A good builder should be able to work with you on your tone, power, and play-feel targets to develop the build specs that will exceed your expectations (and be up front with you if your expectations are not realistic or appropriate).

    I, personally, like using quilted maple for bluegrassers who appreciated that complex woody woof . . .

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    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    I think it was Big Joe who said Gibson only uses rock or sugar maple for their backs, for tonal reasons. It does indicate there may be some slight differences in sound based upon density/mass ratio. Or it may be that Gibson carves wood in such a way that rock and sugar maple gives them the tone their looking for.

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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    fscotte, did you really intend "density/mass ratio? That would have units of (mass/ volume) / mass which reduces to reciprocal volume and predicts tone is inversely proportional the volume of the the piece of wood making up the back. I'm sure you meant something like density to stiffness ratio.

    I suppose all woods have tonal properties that could be classified in some way but first we need a clear definition of tone and ways to measure it objectively.
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    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    Yes sorry, getting old.

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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    I definitely appreciate the notion that builders are by far the biggest variable in defining the tone of an instrument. However, they're clearly limited by the type and quality of the woods they use. Otherwise one would be making the argument that "wood is wood, it's all the same". Not a builder myself, but I'm gotta believe that wood type plays a role in the final sound.

    Would be great to hear some audio that compares mandolins from the same builder, same model, similar age, but built with different woods. Anyone know of anything like that out there?
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    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    Quote Originally Posted by mandoglobal View Post
    I definitely appreciate the notion that builders are by far the biggest variable in defining the tone of an instrument. However, they're clearly limited by the type and quality of the woods they use. Otherwise one would be making the argument that "wood is wood, it's all the same". Not a builder myself, but I'm gotta believe that wood type plays a role in the final sound.
    Often this 'wood type' game provides a simple rule of thumb.
    But it is not all the same in fact as others said, it is all slightly different. No two pieces of {fill in the blank} are the same.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    Quote Originally Posted by mandoglobal View Post
    ..."wood is wood, it's all the same"...
    Compared to other materials, wood is pretty similar from one piece to the next. In other words, compare wood to concrete, and by comparison, "wood is wood". Compare wood to steel, glass, leather, stone,... I could go on and on, and we will find that "wood is wood" by comparison.
    I have built pairs of mandolins together using different woods, in fact I have two right now. The two I have now; one is red spruce and sugar maple; hard and heavy woods both. The other is European spruce and red maple; both soft and light compared to the woods in the other mandolin (but not compared to stone or steel...).
    The two mandolins sound very similar, as all of mine do, with differences in the details of the sound. I had both mandolins at Galax this year and got quite a few mandolin players to play both (not the first time I've done this). Some thought one mandolin was head and shoulders better than the other, but it wasn't always the same mandolin. In other words, some preferred mandolin #1 to mandolin #2, and some preferred mandolin #2 to mandolin #1. Some held their opinions very strongly, others though there was not so much difference in the sound. Some though there was little difference between the two.
    So, which one sounds better? depends upon who you ask.
    What is the difference in the sound? To me, my personal opinion, the one made from the softer woods has an even sound across the sound spectrum, good depth of tone, good balance, and can be played with dynamics from very softly to very aggressively. The one made from the harder woods has everything the softer one has, but with the addition of more upper mid-range and treble, and I believe it can be played louder (but, of course, I haven't done any sound pressure measurements).
    What would I expect from quilted maple? More like the softer of these two mandolins... as long as I use similar spruce for the top. With harder wood for the top, probably more like the other mandolin.
    As you might be figuring out, there is only slight difference in sound to be had from using different kinds of maple for mandolins, and if there are other changes made also, predicting gets more complicated.

    As I said earlier, your builder will very likely get a similar sound to other mandolins that he/she has built using soft maple, as long as the top wood is also similar. That's about all we can predict.

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    Registered User Nick Gellie's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    I agree with you John having owned many mandolins and built a few myself. It just comes down to what you want do with each piece of wood and how the back matches the soundboard. I have a Northfield Model M mandolin made from Engelmann Spruce and Red Msple that sounds very similar to my F5 built with a Red Spruce top and Sugar Maple. The graduations of the tops are different which probably compensates for the different woods used.
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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tonal Properties of Quilted Maple

    Quote Originally Posted by mandoglobal View Post
    I definitely appreciate the notion that builders are by far the biggest variable in defining the tone of an instrument. However, they're clearly limited by the type and quality of the woods they use. Otherwise one would be making the argument that "wood is wood, it's all the same". Not a builder myself, but I'm gotta believe that wood type plays a role in the final sound.
    Wood "quality" has nothing to do with how a mandolin is going to sound...
    "Quality"--in the tonewood world--is nothing more than a beauty contest...
    It's all about how psychedelic the figure is in the maple, or how straight and even the grain is in spruce...
    Is there some blue-ish discoloration in the Engelmann or Red Spruce sapwood?
    Toss it...

    In other words, one can build as good of a mandolin as you could possibly build from wood out of my stovewood pile, if the wood meets your mechanical criteria...

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