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Thread: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Everyone seems to drool over mandolins with highly-figured backs, sides, and necks... anybody have some insight into why no one seems to use maple for mandolin tops?


    Personally, I'm not a big fan of spruce with a sunburst finish and I'd love to see something a bit different on the top. What really got me thinking was playing my Les Paul with a flamed maple top-- it's got way better tone than my other Les Paul.

    Mando luthiers, help me out!

  2. #2
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Irf you are talking about a solid-body or even a hollow-body electric then, yes, it would be fine. Acoustically, I would say generally no or else the tonme would be quite different. The same would hold true for a guitar with a maple top. The builders here could tell you better why that is, but generally hardwoods are used to the backs to reflect the sound whereas you want a softer wood to vibrate and transmit the sound.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Hmmm, first post, I suppose the benefit of the doubt is in order here, but I think I'm going to have to wait and see if this is a "real" question before making any comments.

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    Resonate globally Pete Jenner's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Hi abdavis,

    I'm sure there will be many replies to this thread, but I'll kick things off.

    Solid bodied instruments such as your Les' Paul don't work the same way as an acoustic instrument. Someone else can talk about Helmholtz resonators etc. I'm sure there are many threads on the subject.

    Most soundboards/tops are made spruce for sound acoustic reasons. Other timbers are as good or better (King Billy Pine comes to mind) but are relatively rare and are sometimes threatened species.

    Soundboard timbers have a high strength to weight ratio which translates to stiffness. I believe the straightness of the grain is a factor here too. Using stiff timber allows the top to withstand the various forces exerted on it while remaining relatively thin. The result is more efficient energy transfer.

    That's my attempt to explain it. I'm sure other more knowledgeable and experienced members will be able to give more in depth information.

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    Pete Jenner

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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by abdavis View Post

    Personally, I'm not a big fan of spruce with a sunburst finish and I'd love to see something a bit different on the top.
    Welcome to the Cafe, abdavis....


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    Registered User dcoventry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Man, that's purty. What is the top wood?
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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Curly redwood....
    .....very curly...

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    Registered User StevenS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Following on the curly redwood theme --

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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Essentially, I think you would lose a great deal of warmth with a maple top on a mandolin. Using acoustic guitars as a reference, you generally get a brighter, punchier, more cutting sound with lots of clarity with maple compared to spruce, at the expense of warmth and low end. This could take the mandolin tone over the top, but it could be interesting as well. Surely there is an all maple mandolin somewhere.
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  10. #10

    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Thanks for the replies. I knew there had to be someone out there not just following the same boring formula...

    Those redwood tops look awesome! How does the tone of a redwood top compare to a cedar one?

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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    abdavis, FYI, the "cedar" used for soundboards on acoustic stringed instruments is Western or Pacific Red Cedar, and it is not a "true" cedar. It is an evergreen coniferous tree like redwood and spruce.
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    When I was at the Big G we tried a number of interesting ... or not so interesting experiments. One was an F5 mandolin with a highly flamed maple top. The guy who followed Charlie as GM came from a long time in the electric guitar division. He knew players liked flame maple guitar tops. He thought it would be good to do this with mandolins and the players would be excited to get a mandolin that looked so good. It did look good. It did not sound good. It was like playing a 2x4 tonally. One one the back was spruce and it would scratch and dent pretty easy as you can imagine. The top was pretty, but there was no market for it. We also tried a full maple. It sounded even worse. Both of these mandolins looked great... if you were looking for a Les Paul, but not so good for mandolin players.

    I think it is great to experiment with anything you can imagine. Lloyd Loar did, and look what it did for him. Les Paul did, and it certainly did not hurt him. Most experiments will not be much, but occasionally something comes along and there you go. My favorite words are "what if?". That question has altered the world many times. If you have an idea it is certainly worth trying. The worst thing that can happen is it goes nowhere, but who knows what the next big thing will be. Many of us have laughed at the inventions that have come along in the last 50 years. Have fun and love the venture. Whatever comes from it should be fun at the very least.
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Well said Joe; a nice change from some of the dogmatic conservative design ideas that some folks hold on to so dearly around here.....

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    What became of those maple-topped mandos, Joe? Throw a P90 and some knobs on it and you'd have a saleable instrument, methinks.
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Goist View Post
    abdavis, FYI, the "cedar" used for soundboards on acoustic stringed instruments is Western or Pacific Red Cedar, and it is not a "true" cedar. It is an evergreen coniferous tree like redwood and spruce.

    "True" cedars Cedrus spp. - Cedar of Lebanon, Atlantic Cedar etc. - are also evergreen coniferous trees. "Spanish" or "cigar box" cedar Cedrela spp., as used for classical guitar necks, are tropical broadleaved trees.

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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Hey Mrmando... there was one on the cafe like that not too long ago from those experiments. It was a semi hollow body flame top with no F holes and a pickup installed. I believe it was a mini humbucker, which works very well on a mandolin. It was cool but still not what I would say was a great mandolin. It was intended to be used as an electric mandolin only... not really much in the acoustic realm with no holes in the body. Did look cool though!
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    I knew there had to be someone out there not just following the same boring formula...
    Boring to you is tradition to others. Have you ever asked yourself why so many mandolin makers use spruce tops and maple backs and sides? In my opinion it is because after many years and thousands upon thousands of mandolins made it has been found to be the golden standard of tone. Loar designs are kind of like Strad violins. Lots of people say that design is perfect, so why mess with it? They have been making violins for close to 400 years. Nobody that makes violins that I know of uses anything other than spruce and maple if they want to actually sell them to anybody. It's what's expected. Now I will admit there is more variety in mandolin making than there is in violin making. Way more. Mahogany, walnut, birch, and rosewood have all been used for backs and sides successfully. Good sounding tops have been made from cedar, redwood, and fir. But a mandolin just has to have a softwood species with straight grain on the top. There is no way around that. Hardwood like maple on the top would not have the necessary sonic or structural qualities. It is kind of a shame that the wood most likely to have interesting grain or figure is on the back where no one sees it! But that figured redwood was quite a find!
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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Not just mandos, but violin family instruments have had spruce soundboards now for nearly three centuries with lots of time for experimenting, so there must be something to it. Spruce can be finished in a burst for a beautiful traditional look, or left natural as this thread investigates.

    I'm partial to Western Redcedar. I have an OM and custom built mandolin with this as a soundboard. Natural finish on each. To me they look and sound warm and mellow. To others they may just be boring, I guess.

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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Bearclaw?
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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by crazymandolinist View Post
    Bearclaw?
    No thanks. Got any Bismarcks?
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    [QUOTE=Mandobart;1001694]Not just mandos, but violin family instruments have had spruce soundboards now for nearly three centuries with lots of time for experimenting, so there must be something to it.

    Piano soundboards too!
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    I wonder if anyone has experimented with Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) for instrument sound boards? The tree is also not a true cedar but actually a juniper. The lack of prairie fires in the developed areas of the eastern USA have allowed this tree to become very plentiful as it is a pioneering species. The wood is soft albeit very knotty -- but large pieces can be obtained and I'm just wondering if it has been tried...
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    There are several reasons to experiment. For one, it is nice to see what happens when you try A+B and see if it equals C. Sometimes it might, and sometimes it might not. You can learn an awful LOT by trying these experiments. You quickly learn what works and what does not and why. The opportunity to have this experience certainly gives me a better understanding of the instrument and how it functions.

    Another reason to experiment is quite simple and important. It may well be that we run out of spruce for mandolin and guitar building in the foreseeable future. With the Sitka spruce being almost gone from over cutting for houses and other products these woods we consider normal may not be available. That happened to Adirondak spruce and Walnut and even to Maple. These woods were so over cut in the east that they were not available in large quantities for instrument building. Just look at the price of maple (highly flamed or birdseye) in the recent years. It is nearly unaffordable and largely due to it becoming more rare all the time as we continue to chop down these trees.

    I don't know that this will be an issue in my lifetime. However, in my kids lifetime it may be really important to find something that will replace these woods that are getting more expensive and more rare. Look at just the last few years. We can't get Brazilian Rosewood, Madagascar Rosewood or Ebony, some Mahoganies, and even Indian Rosewood is on the bubble in suits with wood importers or thier end users.

    I don't know what the future will bring. I certainly have no insight that is not available to all of us. However, I do know that history has shown we may not always have our first choice of materials to build with. Therefore, experimentation is a good thing to see what my work for an alternative.

    Again, we may be ok for a few years. However, it is just a matter of time. I think years and not decades for some of these woods. What is a good alternative to Sitka Spruce? I don't know what might replace it, but most redwoods or cedars are not quite the same and offer a rather different tone. Is that acceptable? I don't know. Currently it is not as accepted as spruce, but as choices change accepted tones may change as well. It is really going to be interesting to see. I personally would not want a mandolin or guitar with a cedar top unless it was a classical guitar intended for fingerstyle playing. If there were not choice in the matter it may be different. We shall see what we shall see.
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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    Boring to you is tradition to others. Have you ever asked yourself why so many mandolin makers use spruce tops and maple backs and sides? In my opinion it is because after many years and thousands upon thousands of mandolins made it has been found to be the golden standard of tone. Loar designs are kind of like Strad violins. Lots of people say that design is perfect, so why mess with it? They have been making violins for close to 400 years. Nobody that makes violins that I know of uses anything other than spruce and maple if they want to actually sell them to anybody. It's what's expected. Now I will admit there is more variety in mandolin making than there is in violin making. Way more. Mahogany, walnut, birch, and rosewood have all been used for backs and sides successfully. Good sounding tops have been made from cedar, redwood, and fir. But a mandolin just has to have a softwood species with straight grain on the top. There is no way around that. Hardwood like maple on the top would not have the necessary sonic or structural qualities. It is kind of a shame that the wood most likely to have interesting grain or figure is on the back where no one sees it! But that figured redwood was quite a find!
    Because luthierie is an art, not a math equation. If somebody painted the Mona Lisa a billion times just because it is the most famous painting, art wouldn't be valuable at all. As we get older, we have to try things. I hate the idea of just copying the exact Loar plans or Stradivarius plans and such. Where's the fun in that? We shouldn't always follow tradition, if we did that, the world wouldn't progress at all. It is such an elitist attitude to believe that just because the Lloyd Loar or Stradivarius designs were the "best", we should keep doing exactly what they did, or else, we are breaking tradition, and disrespecting them.

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    Default Re: Flamed Maple Top on a Mandolin

    It has been said, in the past, that one reason that the body and sides of a mando are made from maple is because the grain needs no filling to make smooth and a lovely finish. Many Youtube videos show various other woods being treated with epoxy and other material to fill pores.

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