Wenge, bubinga, maple tops, etc...
also curly, birdseye, and hard(rock) maple
I bought the maple tops (5 bookmatched sets) from Roger
Sadowsky Guitars. He got the flamed maple sets from
an Eastern European supplier that supplies
Paul Reed Smith Guitars as well. Old-growth Eastern
European forests have supplied exacting luthiers for centuries (violins, etc.). These
tops are not jointed, and each face is rough, with pits where the grain changes direction. What gives
flamed maple the figured appearance is the pattern of grain orientation changes. The end-grain grows
through the wood in a sort of sine-wave pattern parallel to the figured face. The changing grain orientation
makes figured wood difficult to work with tools. A blade will grab, then skip, and sometimes tear-out pieces of
wood. I have heard the origin of the common name, 'flamed maple', attributed to a couple of sources. In the past, the most heavily-figured
wood was often considered junk (firewood) because it was so difficult to work with tools. However, when this wood was worked, it was often treated with fire in order to enhance the contrast created by the grain undulations. This wood was literally flamed. One might speculate that this form of treatment grew out of flamed maple's common use as firewood. Another possible origin of the name 'flamed maple' is that the figuring can look very much like flames. Although, the finer grades of what is often monikered 'flamed maple' today are pieces with quite regular and parallel 'stripes', whereas the finer grades of what is often called 'curly maple' look much more like flames to me.
These maple sets will cover the front and back faces of the bass. Some builders make basses entirely with maple (ex.
Pedulla); except for fingerboards in some cases. A bass made entirely of maple is a great
foundation to start building tone. Maple has fairly even frequency response through the spectrum, with the general characteristics
of clarity, sweetness, and brightness. The lows will be clear and crisp (great for 5 strings), and the instrument will have a pleasantly sweet response
from midrange to highs, and an attack between rounded and sharp. Pedulla couples all-maple basses with custom-tuned active electronics that
provide versatile tone-shaping options.
The main source of wenge is the African Congo. Wenge has dark chocolate coloring
with milk chocolate striping, and has a tendency to splinter. Due to the relative small size of Wenge resources and political
instability in the Congo, it can sell for premium prices (got my chocolate bar on Ebay). Wenge is often used in the fingerboards and necks of bass guitars. In this
application it is very stable, well-wearing, and sonically pleasing. In fact, Wenge doesn't even have to be finished, and the feel
of smooth porous wood on the neck and fingerboard is a favorite of many players. The sonic effect of Wenge, and other woods of
similar density and oil content (like jatoba), is compression of high-end frequencies. This produces a great earthy, organic, woody tone (ala
Guibourtia demeusei, G. pellegriniana, G. tessmannii
Bubinga has a blood-orange hue, is very hard, dense, and heavy. In my experience, although bubinga is a very hard wood, if you get a reasonably straight-grained piece, it is a pleasure to work with tools; very predictable. I used bubinga to laminate both sides of the neck, and behind the neck. Bubinga imparts strong
mid-upper midrange and low frequencies.
Wenge, maple and bubinga.
Primo-grade Honduras Mahogany.
Swietenia macrophylla (Honduras), Swietenia mahagoni (Cuban), Khaya ivorensis (African Mahogany)
Central/South America (Swietenia Species), Equitorial Africa (Khaya Species)
Honduras Mahogany is the most sought-after mahogany for lutherie. It is reddish-brown, porous, relatively soft, a dream
to work with tools, and varies greatly in weight. Mahogany is a very stable wood (moisture does not induce much
dimensional change), and needs pore-filler before finishing. Unfinished sanded or cabinet-scraped surfaces have a silky smooth feel and
satin shine. I chose lightweight Honduras mahogany for the body wings. The light weight will help balance the bass' small neck.
Mahogany has a full, complex midrange tone, and the lighter pieces tend to sound warmer, airier, tending towards Alder.