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The Mystery of Figured Maple

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The creamy-white wood of the Maple tree has a smooth, regular grain. However, for reasons even botanists cannot "figure out," about one in one hundred maple trees has some kind of textured distortion perpendicular to the grain. These different patterns are called by such names as Flame, Fiddleback and Quilt.


Figured Maple is the term that encompasses any kind of decorative pattern, and if a Maple tree is well figured it may be elevated from common lumber to cherished music wood.


Figure occurs randomly, and cannot be detected by viewing a standing tree. Experts, however, can determine figure by removing a small piece of bark and looking for and studying the rippled or other pattern in the wood.


thumbnail Flame maple, also known as curly, fiddleback or tiger stripe, is an undulating iridescent pattern of wavy lines or "flames." From the time of Stradivarius to the present day, this "moving," three-dimensional pattern has been prized for the backs, sides and necks of musical instruments such as guitars and violins.




thumbnailQuilt or Quilted Maple is found in about one in twenty figured Maples. The pattern is like a "quilt" of luminous bubbles or blisters. Quilt is expensive and used only for the highest quality instruments, often the bodies of electric guitars.