Irregularities in roasted maple?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by FretsAreFor, Sep 13, 2018.

  1. FretsAreFor


    Apr 26, 2017
    Hi wizards -- here's a picture from my roasted maple neck. There are a bunch of these odd occlusions throughout the neck that look like stray pen-marks. They aren't obviously structural (they don't feel any different), but I've never used this wood before, so I don't know what I'm looking at.

    So, what are they? Are they normal? A sign of over-roasting? Are they structural weaknesses?

  2. Stumbo

    Stumbo Guest

    Feb 11, 2008
    Suhr Custom Modern Blue Green Burst w/ 3A Roasted Maple Neck
  3. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL
    I like the way that looks :)
    gebass6 likes this.
  4. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    There was probably some mineral streaking in the wood. When it was baked, it turned into what you have
  5. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Those marks are quite common, and are part of the wood. If the board wasn't roasted, they would be Brown Squiggles (that's a technical term). The roasting makes them blackish. These kinds of marks generally aren't structural problems, but they are cosmetic "flaws" in the wood. The board that neck was made from wasn't top grade, but you shouldn't have any problems with it.

    When you buy roasted wood, you still have to check for knots and cracks and warpage and internal stresses, just like unroasted wood. Highly figured wood is, by nature, full of defects and problems. Roasted wood boards are expensive because they are mostly only roasting highly figured woods, and they are selecting carefully from those boards. Then they do the roasting.

    I've been machining roasted maple necks for Mike Lipe over the last 8 years or so; at least 500 of them. We've found a fair number of defective boards, with hidden cracks or knots. Annoying, when it's a $150 board. Mike's main supplier has always been good about replacing bad ones. As a rough guess, I'd say we've had maybe 10 bad boards out of 300.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2018
  6. FretsAreFor


    Apr 26, 2017
    Thanks folks! I'm relieved that they aren't a weakness, and excited that they have a great name ("Brown Squiggles!" awesome!).

    I also find them endearing, not ugly. Heck, it's wood, it's supposed to be both beautiful and natural!
    alaskaleftybass likes this.
  7. Many of my instruments feature wood with flaws such as this. People often point them out and tell me that's their favorite part of of the guitar. To them it makes the instrument feel more "real."

    I can respect that some people want a completely pristine, defect free piece of wood. Others prefer wood with some character. I tend to cater towards the latter.
    FretsAreFor likes this.
  8. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Unfortunately, from the builder's viewpoint, these can be a nightmare. Imagine the joy of finishing the shaping of a custom instrument neck, only to discover a previously unseen Brown Squiggle. And the customer says, he's sorry, but he can't accept a $3000 bass with a Brown Squiggle on the back of the neck. Because, you know, Brown Squiggles are icky defects, and demonstrate poor craftsmanship! So, the neck and the many hours spent making it are scrap and must be redone. We frequently have to scrap necks for purely cosmetic reasons. Flaws in the wood that look funny, that we had no control over.
    MattZilla and BassHappy like this.
  9. Its a "feature"
    mikewalker likes this.
  10. john_g

    john_g Supporting Member

    Sep 14, 2007
    What type of bass/neck is this? Im no expert and Ive only really ever saw one in person on Musicmen
  11. Kevan Campbell

    Kevan Campbell Bergantino Artist, Vibe9 IEM Artist Supporting Member

    Jun 15, 2008
    Austin, TX
    If you wouldn’t mind, could you please elaborate a bit on this point? I have a custom instrument with a roasted flamed maple neck coming and am genuinely curious about the level that a builder typically says “that’s too many Brown Squiggles or other aberrations on the figured wood to go out”. I wonder this because the instrument I commissioned is going to be pretty expensive and I definitely want to have a great-looking flamed maple neck, but feel the need to be understanding in that the builder of an instrument can’t control how a piece of maple naturally looks regardless of the work they’ve put that much work into it.
  12. FretsAreFor


    Apr 26, 2017
    It's one I'm building myself ==> over here
    jgroh likes this.
  13. Lava

    Lava Supporting Member

    Jul 14, 2014
    El Paso, TX
    Nothing wrong with it at all. That's a gorgeous hunk of wood there, wow. Let's see the rest of the bass!
  14. FretsAreFor


    Apr 26, 2017
    It's almost finished! Build thread here. I'm just putting on the last coat of wax this morning.
    Gilmourisgod, Beej, chinjazz and 4 others like this.
  15. When I retired and moved 1000 miles we 86-ed most of our furniture and bought new. For my vinyl LP collection I had a couple custom cabinets built locally and also a display cabinet for a guitar that was signed by Les Paul. The woodsmith was big on the natural aspect of wood so his finish was exclusively French polish and every piece he made had what he called a "signature knot." This was a knot or a natural discoloration in the wood that he would carefully choose an artistic location for. He said that there were a few customers who should've just gone to Kmart for woodgrain contact paper because they did NOT "get" the natural part of natural materials. Evidently those folks order custom basses, too.
  16. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    Irregularities in roasted maple?
    It's wood.
  17. alaskaleftybass

    alaskaleftybass Will Hanbury, Jr. Supporting Member

    Mar 21, 2012
    Sitka, Alaska
    Wow. This of your newly defined squiggles as "brush strokes" from Mother Nature. Personally everything you've done is drop dead gorgeous. Now everyone's going to want to see the finished product! Excellent work, beautiful neck! :thumbsup:
    FretsAreFor likes this.
  18. MotorCityMinion


    Jun 15, 2017
    Gorgeous build.
    FretsAreFor likes this.
  19. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    From the builder's viewpoint:

    We know that most customers don't want an obvious Brown Squiggle on the back of the neck of their expensive custom bass. It's only a cosmetic thing, but still, it's a cosmetic defect. And, like it or not, the visual appearance of the instrument is the single most important part of selling expensive instruments. Most customers won't accept "defects" in the wood, or will only accept them grudgingly. Yes, many of you on here will say that it's okay, it's just the wood, trying to be nice. But, if you are the one paying for the instrument, would you actually accept it? Probably not.

    When we pick through boards, we look really carefully for hidden defects and knots and cracks and uneven grain lines, etc. In most cases, knots and ugly grain weaves are visible from the outer edges of the board. And we pass over and/or scrap a lot of wood in selecting acceptable boards. And, almost any boards we buy are oversize, so we can position the neck on the board to get the grain aligned correctly and avoid bad areas.

    That fussy selection of the wood is a big part of the extra cost of an expensive bass. In my case, I only build my bass necks from straight grain hard maple and walnut, not figured stuff. Straight grained woods have fewer defects in the wood than figured woods. But still, I have to buy about 3 times as much hard maple as will actually become the strips that become neck laminations. That's how much gets passed over and thrown away.

    And that ratio gets worse when you get into flamed (curly) maple. Flamed maple naturally has many more defects in it, from cosmetic marks to real structural flaws.The biggest problem with flame maple is hidden cracks. Because the grain is weaving up and down, like waves in water, there are often spots down deep in the board where the grain layers have separated. Open gaps between layers, with a big loss in structural strength. And the worst part is that they usually aren't even visible until you cut into them. And a chunk of the board falls out.

    Flamed maple also has more of the Brown Squiggles than straight grain maple. I'm not sure why. I'm not really sure what the Brown Squiggles are. They aren't worm holes or cracks or mineral streaks. The brown material seems to be solid. Mostly just a discoloration.

    But, like the cracks, the dreaded Brown Squiggles can often be hidden down in the depth of the board. No real clues in the wood surrounding them. Cut away a little bit, and there it is.

    And that's the problem. We can try real hard to select boards with minimal defects, and lay out the necks on the boards to avoid what we see. But, often one will surprise us, appearing in the middle of a neck. And we, the Luthiers, are screwed. On a custom job, we are at the mercy of the customer. If they won't accept it, we lose a few hundred to a thousand bucks of labor and material, out of our pocket. The customer isn't going to pay extra for us to build another neck. They expect us to build them a bass, for the agreed price, without flaws. This is a fixed-price business.
    TheBear likes this.
  20. alaskaleftybass

    alaskaleftybass Will Hanbury, Jr. Supporting Member

    Mar 21, 2012
    Sitka, Alaska
    I understand your point of view. You have very high standards and that's good for your company. However, viewing the neck and the brown squiggles, I would accept the marks as part of the organic makeup of the neck. I think the neck looks beautiful and the squiggles don't detract from the beauty.

    As far as customers expecting perfection from their custom builds, that's their prerogative, but it sure seems when someone buying a bass-- even for $3,000+ would reject it for characteristic marks in the neck smacks of a "first world problem" to me. Maybe people have been too spoiled in expecting perfection.

    This is just my own opinion, but it saddens me that you have to overbuy wood and throw a lot of it away. Although it's a sustainable resource, it's sad to toss out a good piece of "Nature's Work" due to a blemish.

    I'm looking to buy/build a roasted neck/body bass in the near future. I expect imperfections in the wood. Those imperfections will give the bass individual character.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2018
    gebass6 likes this.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Jun 20, 2021

Share This Page