What is the different between quilted maple and flamed maple? Trained ears can discern subtle tonal differences between Quilted and Flamed Maple acoustic guitars. The harder Flamed Maple creates a crisp and clear sound with a nice sustain. Meanwhile, the softer Quilted Maple sounds soft and smooth, yet punchier.
Who would have thought the wood used in making guitars held a significant impact on how the guitar will sound like? While others contest this, several guitar enthusiasts swear by the tonewood’s effect on the guitar’s tonality.
Is it purely for aesthetic reasons, or is there actually more to it than that? Let’s find out.
Quilted Maple vs Flamed Maple Differences
Understanding the Tonewood
To truly understand the difference, it would be helpful to look into the science behind it.
When you strum the guitar strings, it creates vibrations that travel from the guitar’s bridge toward the tip of the headstock. Now, when we strum chords or play individual notes, these vibrations shake the wood (you can sometimes even feel that when you play the guitar) and bounce all around the sound hole. And these waves, the vibrations, produce the lovely tones we hear.
Here is a good video explaining this (the part starts at 0:38):
And what does the wood have to do with this?
As also mentioned in the video, the sound quality of the guitar will vary depending on the wood used. Some woods are lighter and thus, porous. Meanwhile, some woods are denser and heavy. The wood used in a guitar can influence the way it will sound; lighter woods hold vibration better, while denser woods do not absorb vibrations easily so they reverberate differently.
Many discerning guitar players have specific preferences of tonewood for specific guitars. Some guitarists prefer a combination of tonewoods to achieve the desired sound and playing experience, whereas others tend to stick to just one tonewood for the whole build.
Maple Tonewood in Guitars
Stunning and highly-regarded, maple is popularly used as backing and sides of guitars. It is dense and hard, and therefore, does not allow much room for vibrations. But the beauty in this is that the resulting tonal quality is sharp and crystalline that can easily cut through the noise.
There are two types of maple used for crafting instruments, in this case, guitars: the so-called “Quilted Maple” (Bigleaf Maple) and the “Flamed Maple” (Eastern Hard Rock, also known as “Tiger Maple”). These names were derived for the figuring (the quilting and flaming) that they create in the wood. This figuring occurs naturally in wood and is typically assigned with different grades: A, AA, AAA, and so on. The more rare and expensive the wood is, the more As in the grading.
Quilted Maple Profile
Quilted Maple is easily recognizable by its attractive, undulating, “quilted” pattern. It is a popular choice for electric guitar tops, and as such, makes for one of the most beautiful wood tops in the world. The rippling wood figures lend a distinct look to the instrument that cannot be easily duplicated. Guitar makers Gibson, Ibanez, Jackson, and Schecter use this highly-esteemed wood.
Quilted Maple is said to show up in only a tenth of trees. It is softer than the Flamed Maple, and its grading is based on the “3D-ness”, or depth of the quilting and the purity of the wood color.
The Quilted Maple is processed by cutting the wood to shape and is coated with lacquer as a finishing touch and as a protective laminate, as well.
Flamed Maple Profile
Flamed Maple is recognized by its striking, flame-like, or tiger stripe-like pattern caused by a rather strange occurrence called chatoyancy. It is harder than the Quilted Maple, so the sound quality the Flamed Maple produces is said to be crisper, clearer, and with a little more treble in it than the other. It has a good tonal balance, and in combination with other woods, Flame Maple guitars can create an even better sound.
Companies that are known to use Flamed Maple in guitar-making include Gibson, Gretsch, Epiphone, and PRS. Its rise to fame was attributed to Gibson Les Pauls when he re-created the instrument to improve its “position” in the band. During his time, guitars were relegated to fillers or backing music. He worked to improve the sonical characteristics of guitar; after some experimentation, he came up with “The Log”—a two-piece, book-matched version with carved tops that can be heard louder and clearer amid the other instruments.
Flamed Maple is manufactured by cutting the wood to shape and often forming it through mold-warping to retain its shape. A coating of lacquer forms a protective finish on the Maple wood.
Quilted Maple Versus Flamed Maple: The Lowdown
Although both are Maple tonewood, you should have known by now that the similarities between the Quilted and Flamed Maple end there. Each has distinct properties in the way they look, and even in tactile and tonal aspects, albeit to a small degree.
Since Quilted Maple is softer and less dense compared with Flamed Maple, it is also less resonant. Flamed Maple is harder and denser, making it ideal for acoustic application.
Both have their charms, of course! Flamed Maple, with its incredibly arresting chatoyance, looks best when quarter-sawn. The beautiful wavy pattern in Quilted Maple, meanwhile, is best emphasized when flat-sawn.
Quilted Maple gives a smooth, soft, and dark, rich sound. Flamed Maple has a bright, tight, swirly, and hot tonal quality about it. Quilted is found to have more punch and bass snap, while Flamed has a great sustain. Take note that these differences are more pronounced in acoustics than electric.
The Verdict (Final Thoughts)
Maple tonewood imparts a charming, old-world sound to guitars. It also helps that Maple tonewood is gorgeous, strong, and luxurious, as well.
For beginners, the differences between the two Maple tonewood are less noticeable and may even be deemed negligible. But for the truly trained ones, the nuances in its top range, midrange, and low range sounds are remarkable.
But remember that these nuances are insignificant in electric guitars, and are instead more perceptible in acoustic guitars.
And even so, no two guitars sound exactly the same—the same Quilted or Flamed Maple guitars may sound a bit different from one another.
That’s because, more than just the tonewood, the sound quality is also influenced by a myriad of other things: slight variations in manufacturing, the strings, and the way the instrument is played, among others.
So, don’t be too absorbed with all these technicalities. In the end, the best guitar for you is the one that sounds good and feels good for you, whether it’s a Quilted Maple or Flamed Maple guitar. Get the one that feels right for you. Enjoy!