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Hard or Soft maple for back/sides

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Basschair, Feb 19, 2008.

  1. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    I feel like something of an idiot for asking, but I've got to...

    Which designation of maple should I be looking for, or is it not as black-and-white as that? If it's not, then what are the more common types of maple being used for backs/sides?
  2. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    I don't believe there is really a "hard" maple tree. The types of maple that grow in the USA are: Sugar, Red, Silver, Bigleaf and Norway. There are variations in hardness and density. I think Norway and Sugar are among the hardest, with Silver on the opposite end. European, or German maple (also called English Sycamore) seems to range toward the middle and harder end of the spectrum. Any of the maples will work fine (though I doubt the usefullness of Silver) so you should find some wood that you think is pretty. I'd also recommend you use quarter-sawn wood because it will shrink less across its grain. Ken Smith is a wood-nut and I hope will chime in here.
  3. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    Thanks Arnold: that's what I needed to hear.
  4. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Me? A nut?.. lol

    Well, Arnold is the Bass maker DB speaking and he has seen it all, old and new. I have supplied him with some nice figured Red Maple a while back, some of which ended up on one of his Ergo Basses. Red maple would be the least expensive and best figure for the money. Sugar maple is known as Hard maple in the wood industry and red maple is called Soft maple. Silver is not an issue. Norway is not sold commercially as it's only a tree here and there and usually has specific uses once cut. I have some of that as well as English Sycamore which is different than the Norway, I think. Also, we have that peeling bark one called Sycamore maple which is a Sycamore tree with a maple leaf and not that lace figured American Sycamore.

    I get confused with this stuff but at one time or another have seen it all. Actually, I probably have all of the above mentioned species right here in my building. Counting my Basses, I also have Italian Oppio as well. Most of what I have in figured lumber is Red Maple with Tiger strips (aka curly) of varying degrees of figure. Arnold bent some of this not too long ago so he should answer that question. Sugar maple is probably not the best for this use. Too hard and stiff. The more flexible Maple would be best. Quartered European or Big Leaf (British Colombian) maple might be best. Again, the Red maple is the cheapest and softest to work with. Oregon Maple with Quilt figure is even softer but not as easy to work with. The Tiger stripe curly version is slightly harder. I was told by one supplier in western Canada that there are about 13 species of Maple over there, all called Big leaf!.
  5. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    Thanks for that Ken.

    The supplier I was in contact with is in Oregon, and it sounds like her company has a lot of Big Leaf, so I've given her the dimensions and requirements and am waiting to hear back on it. The block for the neck/scroll came yesterday and is gorgeous, but has a totally seperate issue (thread forthcoming).
  6. I've always wanted to try Red Maple for backs, but my suppliers never seem to have logs big enough for bass backs. I've used Red for carving necks and neck grafts and what I've had looked more similar to European maple than the other domestic maples I've used. Big Leaf is readily available from Northwest wood dealers and is probably the most common domestic maple for basses.
  7. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Here's a decent, if dated, explanation of "hard" vs. "soft", varieties, and geography:


    I often use Hearne Hardwoods as a source for one-of-a-kind projects for my non-luthiery needs (custom woodwork for the stunningly rich):

    Here's a sample of a wide, thick maple board:


    Poking through their inventory can be pretty interesting. I recently bought a bunch of 12/4 walnut, 14" wide and better, for a job. Their pricing is fair, their service is responsive. I have done several oddball jobs with them with no problems...

    I know nothing about the realm of "tonewoods" (I am not a luthier), but if it's size you want, Hearne can often help...

    Everything I've gotten from them has checked out at between 6 and 7% moisture content...
  8. ah maples..."many are sawed but few are chosen..no pun intended but there's nothing sweeter than clear 8/4 sugar maple. Red (soft) Sugar (hard) both suited for your application as stated in previous post...workability about the same but as stated the hard maple can have shrinkage issues. as for the trees themselves, here in the mid-atlantic states they'll get huge. in a deep woods 40+" dia 50' to the first limb... why we don't see nice big slabs ..the wood industry sees yield & grade 1x3, 1x6 etc, etc...sellable product. now that it is winter you can head to any concentration yard and watch the containers getting stuffed with hard and soft maple veneer logs destined for the european community and southeast asia:eyebrow:
    least i forget norway(soft) junk, trashy street tree..almost considered invasive species IMHO... never met one i liked..silver(soft) has it's place in the scheme of the east (streamside).but always has something up it's sleeve.
    red maple (gets it's name from the leaf stem) .30 bdft in the woods..hard maple north of rt.80 Pa. 1.20 bdft
    ps check out ctregan..blackcherry sides/back
  9. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    Well this is really an interesting thread-- I am working with my first sets of Michigan Red Maple, and it seems much firmer/crisper than the Oregon Bigleaf maple I have used heretofore. I carved one scroll of Red Maple, then two more of Bigleaf, for practice, and was amazed at how much softer and "fuzzier" the Bigleaf stuff was. I am beginning another Red Maple scroll, and am again impressed at how much harder it seems. (These are violin scrolls.)

    The only bass I have made so far was Oregon Bigleaf and Englemann Spruce...the next will still be Oregon Bigleaf, but Sitka this time. We'll see what difference it makes if any.

    Dan Lawrence, of Kansas City, finally got to see/play/work on that bass-- he was very pleased with it. Made me feel good to get the good report back from him. :)

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