Sometimes It’s Just Firewood

Is this going to be Fender necks? Maybe Les Paul tops? Or is it going to heat my house?

Is this going to be Fender necks? Maybe Les Paul tops? Or is it going to heat my house?

The Les Paul guys all go nuts over their beautiful flame maple tops. “Mine’s AAAAA.” Oh, yeah? Mine’s AAAAAA. I don’t know what any of that means but sometimes you have to wonder about all the fuss about figured maple. It’s pretty wood-no doubt about that and it makes a real attractive top for a Les Paul. It’s not terribly common on ES models and those that have it get a lot of attention but really don’t command much of a premium, if any, on the open market. Figuring doesn’t improve tone but there’s more to wood than its tonal qualities. I like figured wood a lot but it’s really hard to split.

Yes, that’s firewood in the photo. I get my wood from a local landscaper and I always ask for maple (because it smells nice and burns well). And I always find a few logs of figured maple. It really isn’t that uncommon up here in New England. In fact, I can’t recall a year when I didn’t get any in my usual cord or two of firewood. There are a few points to be made here. One, wood is just wood. What talented folks can do with it separates a Les Paul top from that stack of firewood. I’m told that the figuring in maple is the result of some kind of stress on the tree-like a virus. I’ve also been told it has nothing to do with that. I read a good article about it written by collector Mike Slubowski who runs the Les Paul Forum. Here’s a link. Read it. You’ll learn something. The next point is that when used in a guitar, it is ornamental. How important that is has to do with how you see your guitar. Is it a work of art? A thing of beauty? A tool of your trade?

That’s one of the very cool things about guitars. They are all of those things. Or none. They can be monumentally ugly (reverse flying vee) or stunningly beautiful (too many to list). A beautiful guitar can play like crap. An ugly guitar can play brilliantly. There is no doubt that beautifully figured wood is a large part of what makes a guitar a work of art. Figured maple, koa, macassar ebony, bubinga, cocobolo and a zillion other species make for stunning guitars.

It also makes a pretty good fire. Stay warm.

Flamey ES's can be pretty stunning and the equal of any Les Paul. This 59 ES-345 was actually a refinished sunburst.

Flamey ES’s can be pretty stunning and the equal of any Les Paul. This 59 ES-345 was actually a refinished sunburst. I don’t think it will burn that well though.

6 Responses to “Sometimes It’s Just Firewood”

  1. RAB says:

    Figured wood is just icing on the cake. I’d take a supremely playing and sounding guitar over a prettier version. My best sounding and playing 50’s PAF LP Standard was a darkback ’57 Goldtop. A much better instrument than my prettier ’59 tiger grain Burst…(pictured in Robb Lawrence’s book…)

  2. Rod says:

    Have to say I am not a lover of flame on anything, especially on 3x5s. It’s become something of a cliché now. In any event, cosmetics come pretty far down the list when I’m thinking about buying. To my mind there are far more important things to consider.

  3. RAB says:

    Rod, eloquently put sir! RAB

  4. BC says:

    That 59 ES-345 should burn just fine IMO. Watch out for toxic fumes from the finish and plastic parts….
    Pretty pricey burst of warmth though and it might get you a Guinness record for the most expensive firewood!
    Burning it would also make a great art installation for the high end Manhattan or London Art crowd as well.
    I say this having owned a 58 and a very flamed 59 that I in fact did not burn.
    But, I had every right to do so. 🙂

  5. Barney in San Diego says:

    Does Maple really smell nicer while burning than, say – Spruce, Charlie?

    You have the best web site on the ‘Net! Happy New Year- hope
    2017 is a great year for you!

  6. James says:

    I wondered about the figuring and other anomalies myself. I did a little research and here is what I came away with: Spalted maple is from a disease. Flame is from stresses of the tree trying to capitalize on a resource, most often sunlight, such as when a larger tree comes down and the canopy has an open spot. Keep in mind I got this info from the internet, which means it has to be 100% factual, wink wink!

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