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Flamed, figured wood, or quilted maple AAA top, etc, do they do anything for the sound on an electric guitar, or are they simply an expensive aesthetic feature?

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They're just preeeeettttyyy! Some guitars, like Les Pauls, which have mahogany bodies with a decent plank of maple on top, actually do gain some brightness from the maple. Compare a Les Paul without the maple to one with it and, though they might have the same type of pickups, the maple makes it a bit brighter. They say the same thing about maple vs. rosewood and ebony fingerboards. However, a paper-thin veneer isn't going to change the sound; It will only make it look nice. –  Anonymous Jan 14 '11 at 6:12
At the end of the world there will be two men sitting on a rock in the middle of a toxic pool arguing whether or not the choice of wood affects the tone of an electric guitar. –  user19646 Mar 28 at 21:28

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

They're almost purely aesthetic. By far the most important tone woods on a solid body are the back of the body and the neck (not fingerboard) wood. And there's no real sonic difference at all between different types and grades of maple. Flamed maple sounds the same as quilted maple, and the number of A's is irrelevant to sound. I'm always amazed at people who buy AAAAA-maple tops and then paint them solid colors -- what's the point?

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Makes sense, I'll remember this the next time I see a shiny AAAAAA... PRS –  bluevoodoo1 Jan 14 '11 at 2:11

It's all in your fingers and nothing is AAA or BBB etc etc. Just look at Vai or Satch: they've guitars with solid basswood bodies, and the world knows who they are. Work hard and even old wood starts singing.

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Word to this sentiment, even if it's not technically the best answer to the question. Finger/pick technique, strings, pickups, and quality/technique of construction all have far more impact on the sound of an electric than the choice of wood. –  Aaron Hipple Mar 6 '14 at 14:10
There is a component of sound that is contributed by the construction of the instrument. Clearly we can't use our fingers to make an acoustic sound like an electric. –  Todd Wilcox Mar 28 at 22:33

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