Thursday, June 18, 2009

Les Pauls and Red Maple tops

Okay, here's one of my favorite discussions... Gibson wants you to believe that all Maple-topped Les Pauls sound the same. The original, highly-valued Les Pauls were built using soft Red Maple from the Michigan area. This tree's grain is substantially different than the much harder, denser Eastern Rock Maple and Western Bigleaf Maple varieties.

In no way can Red Maple sound like the other two. The flamed maple used on the '58, '59, and '60 Sunbursts wasn't even the best flamed maple that Gibson had. The best stuff went to their acoustics and semi-acoustic guitars!

When I asked Gibson if they're using "Red Maple" specifically on their very expensive Custom Shop VOS guitars they replied "we buy maple from all over". It all gets lumped into their drying facility with little distinction paid to the species. A Custom Shop builder can select whatever they want, but they're not forced to use any specific variety. I believe this accounts for the variation in tone that can be found in production Les Pauls today. Some sound like "strings over concrete". Others, like the 2008 Les Paul Standard I own, sound amazingly full and rich, with softened highs which simply sing. My guitar has the reddish "mineral streaks" in it common to the softer Red Maple, which grows in the mineral-rich soil of the Northeastern United States and Canada. Red Maple is known to have more inconsistent figuring than Eastern Rock or Western Bigleaf. In fact, if you see a guitar with wide, "quilted" figuring, it's almost a sure bet that it's Western Bigleaf!

You can do your own research online now, if you don't believe me. There are density charts which have been created by woodworker supply chains and conservation/management groups which indictate the density of Red Maple is several orders below that of the other main species.

Or, you can head to a guitar store which carries PRS guitars, and check out a McCarty model. The McCartys were supposed to be built with "Michigan Maple" as that's what Ted McCarty told Paul to use. And if Ted likes it, that's good enough for me!

No comments:

Post a Comment