what's the function of maple caps on LP's?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by JimmyTheSaint, Nov 16, 2005.

  1. JimmyTheSaint


    Mar 15, 2005
    Les Pauls have a 3/4" maple cap, even the painted ones (right?). Does this make any real sonic difference that people truly notice, or is it strictly aesthetics? I realize that the maple laminate, or just the bare fact of there being a laminate at all, might make a scientifically measurable difference, but I'm wondering how audible this is.

    I'm asking because I kind of like the idea of an all mahogany LP, which I only see available in quality knockoffs, and then even rarely even when the maple is painted over.
  2. Seems I thought this had something to do with records and something canadian.

    hmmm. .
  3. Dan1099

    Dan1099 Dumbing My Process Down

    Aug 7, 2004
    Maybe for ease of carving the tops?
  4. Gibson has made all-mahogany Les Pauls. I'm sure you could find lots of theories concerning the maple caps through some Google searches, but I've heard that the maple was to brighten up the sound of all that mahogany. But I do not claim to know THE answer.

    The truth is out there.
  5. JimmyTheSaint


    Mar 15, 2005
    Yeah, the brightening up from maple idea seems like the only logical one tonewise, but how much difference can a laminate make compared to the neck wood and body? Are there any downsides to laminates tonewise, or are they strictly aesthetic? If they're just aesthetic why would Gibson use laminates on their painted LP's, which don't show the maple?
  6. Ed R

    Ed R

    Oct 25, 2005
    On the production modsel STandards and CUstoms, the top is about 1/2" to 9/1`6ths thick mapleThe LEgend is that Les Paul and Ted McCarty came up with the combinsation after trying several different woods together. I think thats' sort of bunk, though, because the old CUstoms were one-piece mahogany bodies including the top. The modern Historic Customs are mahogany back with mahogany tops in place of the maple.
    THe thinking is that the maple cap will tighten and brighten the top end while giving articulation to the bottom end. Your mileage may vary on a bass though because the frequency spectrum is different. Construction plays more of a role in the bass than the guitar too- a neck-through guitar with a maple neck will still get more effect from the body woods as will a through-necked maple neck bass.
  7. JimmyTheSaint


    Mar 15, 2005
    Yeah. I got this from inventionandtechnology.com:

    "In 1952 Gibson became Fender’s first major competitor in the solid-body market. The Gibson Les Paul was created in direct response to the success of Fender’s Broadcaster/Telecaster model. It was primarily designed by Gibson’s Ted McCarty, but it was endorsed by Les Paul, who had been a popular guitarist since the mid-1930s. Paul’s design input to the Gibson apparently included the original trapeze-style combination bridge-tailpiece, which allowed him to damp the strings with his hand, and the gold finish, which inspired the instrument’s nickname, the Goldtop. The gold color was intended in part to disguise from competitors that the guitar had a maple cap on a solid mahogany body. According to a company history, the idea of using two kinds of wood was to “balance the bright attack of maple with the warmth and richness of mahogany.”

  8. Translation...this was a marketing ploy mumbo-jumbo....it sounds good to the customer when in reality, they were doing the following...saving money on cost (maple costing much less than mahogany) and solving some problems with production (maple makes for better anchors with the bridge) and resists dents a little better than mahogany as well (less market rejects...plus, if you screw up a carved top, no biggie as compared to trashing an entire body...

    hence the sandwich makes perfect sense...
  9. aquateen


    Apr 14, 2005
    my son has a '94 all mahogany Les Paul. it simply rocks!

    Attached Files:

  10. JimmyTheSaint


    Mar 15, 2005
    Do you know from firsthand experience that there's no audible difference between a maple cap and solid mahogany?
  11. Ed R

    Ed R

    Oct 25, 2005
    It wasn't a marketing ploy. THey used maple and mahogany because they had it lying around. Prior to 1952, Gibson didn't make a whole lot of mahogany guitars. I've even seen some all-original all-maple early Les PAul Juniors. They ARE out there.
    Gibson didn't push the wood selection, they pushed the name , the brand, the sophistication, the class.

    There is a DEFINITE audible difference in tone between a maple/mahogany and all mahogany.. A Maple-mahogany body sounds different than an all-mahognay. I know this to be truth and self-evident upon hearing it. I can easily say that it wasn't a one-time comparison, either, and holds up every single time.

    Some people are making the assumption that the mahogany grown and used today is the same stuff they used back in the '50s, and it's not.Today's stuff grows faster because the environments are warmer,. The atmosphere is also much more acidic, and water is harder ( higher in mineral content). These conditions are a matter of record, especially for the areas from where mahogany has always been imported.

    So what does all this mean? The grain's not as dense, so the vibrations are absorbed a bit more. The wood's softer because the grain's not as dense. The wood's heavier because there's more open cellular structure inside it and thus more mineral content from the water that ran through those cells is left behind. So you have a softer, heavier, more mineral-ish wood than what was used in the '50s. I can attest to all of this from first-hand experience. I've SEEN the sparks come off the bandsaw blade from the mineral content while cutting mahogany.

    So . ok, it's different. So what? It's going to sound different, that's all.

    These same rules apply to maple too, and as for Eastern Maple, it's softer, wider-grained, and much dirtier looking than it used to be.
    I love an all-mahogany bass, they're big and boomy and dark and gloomy, with just enough top-end articulation to bring out a really cool harmonic in sustain. Put an ebony board on an all-mahogany bass, reinforce the neck with graphite, go with nice warm active pickups, or the Hagstrom/Dark Stars, and you're done, you need nothing else!
  12. I agree that the sound is different...I never said that it wasn't...but aside from that there are destinct advantages to using the two woods in combination.

    There is also a destinct difference in the timbers available today vs. the '50s but this has as much to do with the decimation of the old-growth forests and resorting to younger stock as it does climatic conditions.
  13. JimmyTheSaint


    Mar 15, 2005
    Thanks for the info Ed R. No doubt the ears are the ultimate judge of a guitar's sound regardless of its specs or promises, but I'll almost certainly never have a chance to compare side by side the different woods, laminates, and ages of Les Pauls. That info's very interesting and will make me a good shopping guide.

    Meanwhile, I asked the question because I got an Agile AL-3000 Prestige from Rondo ( http://www.rondomusic.net/al3000prest.html ), and I'm amazed at the quality and sound. I used to have a 79 LP and have played an 82 extensively, but those aren't representative of what LP's can be. I went for this Agile because the goldtop is all mahogany, without a maple cap, which I didn't see the advantage of. I was wondering what the maple cap would do for me. But it's only 1/16" laminate on the 3000 model; you need to spend $550 on the 3500 to get a 3/4" maple cap. I'm really happy with the thing, especially since it has an ebony fingerboard, which you don't get on Gibson goldtops. It does have a very warm sound, which I prefer, but I wish I could hear their maple/mahogany combo to compare. I thought for sure I'd get some Duncans for it, but the stock pickups sound pretty good to me for the guitar's price ($300 for the floor model, but I couldn't find a flaw or blem on it). Now that I know maple might make a real sonic difference, I might get a second one from Rondo.

    By the way, the Agile I got weighs 11.5 pounds. Maybe that's the "mineral wood" you're talking about, but if so perhaps mineral wood is a desirable feature in its own right. In any case, I know that mahogany comes in very different weights. I have a Mahogany body from Warmoth that's quite light, and Warmoth allows you to specify a lighter piece of mahogany if you want, I'm told.
  14. JimmyTheSaint


    Mar 15, 2005
    Kurt at Rondo tells me that his LP knockoffs--and I assume he's heard lots of them--with maple caps are noticeably brighter than the all mahogany ones, but that not all people can hear a difference. That's consistent with people sacrificing their ears' high frequency response to loud concerts and age.
  15. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    I, too, have seen sparks while making my latest bass, while cutting mahogany, I thought I was just seeing things, and then wondered if I really saw it. Thought it was a rogue staple or something.