Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.
A maple top on a solid body electric guitar is something which is extremely desirable in terms of visual aesthetic. It is beautiful, and can be finished in so many different ways which please the eyes. But the maple top, like everything else on a guitar, most certainly affects the tones the guitar can render.
Most persons who are serious about playing a guitar are persons who are tone hounds. They spend massive amounts of time thinking about how their equipment sounds. And just what exact combination of woods and electronics can bring about the amazing tones they hear in their minds is something rarely put asunder.
It isn't just the guitarist who consider such things constantly. The persons who build fine guitars are always looking to offer something better than the competition. And those persons are often guitarists themselves too.
Maple tops on a Stratocaster body
There are some important things to consider when you go to thinking about purchasing a Fender Stratocaster or another manufacturer's strat copy with a maple top. You need to ask yourself what it is you want the maple top for. What do I mean? Well, a there are maple tops, and then there are maple tops.
There are manufacturers making very fine Strat body style guitars with flame or figured maple veneers. When you purchase a guitar with a maple veneer top you are purchasing something entirely for its visual aesthetic value. The flame or otherwise figured maple veneer won't be making an impression upon the guitar's tone.
You look at a Gibson Les Paul, the original solid body electric guitar with a maple top and you'll see it is a nice, thick slab of maple on the top. The Les Paul has anything but a veneer. And the maple top on the Gibson Les Paul impacts the tone of the guitar quite a lot.
A general rule is the thicker the maple top is on a strat style guitar body, or on any other solid body electric, the more the maple will affect the guitar's tone. A maple top on a solid body electric guitar tends to brighten the tone. It is truly difficult to describe how tonewoods affect a guitar's tonal character, but people often say the maple cap can tighten and clarify a guitar's tonality.
1. Fender Custom Shop Artisan Strats (2015)
It would be tough for a guitar to be any more Strat-like than the actual Fender Stratocaster. Fender makes so many varieties of the things, and especially when you try to take in all the past editions, it can be hard to sort through it all. But Fender Custom shop guitars are as good as it is going to get.
You can easily see these guitars are visually striking. Spalted maple or flamed maple tops always are, and these are not veneer tops. They've got figured maple necks as well. The pickups have the lipstick tube covering the custom shop premium fat 50s tone monsters. There are special chrome control knobs, chrome tuners with ebony buttons, a choice of one-piece maple neck and fingerboard or rosewood fingerboard.
Only Fender's master builders are involved in the construction of these guitars. These are the best Fender has to offer. As you can well imagine, it comes at a cost. These Strats go in the range of four thousand dollars at present.
These guitars are of alder wood for the body. The maple tops are significant tops, and what I mean is they are thick enough to where the Fender Custom Shop people say they do make a tonal difference. This is something important to take note of. These are Fender Stratocaster guitars, but they will not sound like the traditional glassy Strat.
The first video I have here shows a guitar with a spalted maple top and fretboard, but the pickups are not the ones with the lipstick tube covers. The first video shows an example of the 2016 edition of the Fender Custom Shop Artisan Strats. The second video shows the 2015 editions, which are what I have pictured in the two images shown above this text. The 2017 editions will likely be different still. Every year Fender Custom Shop kicks out some amazing Strats with maple tops. Bullet points below are merely some highlights.
- Alder body with stunning, hand-stained AAA quilt maple or spalted maple top
- Outstanding playability, courtesy of Fender's Soft "V" neck profile
- Three Fat '50s single-coil pickups give you legendary Strat spank 'n' sparkle
- Chrome "lipstick" pickup covers and knobs
- 4-ply tortoiseshell pickguard
- 2-point floating vibrato bridge/tailpiece
- Hardshell case included
2. Charvel Guthrie Govan Signature guitars
Guthrie Govan has a talent so prodigious there are not a lot of folks to compare him to. He can blur lines in various and sundry styles of music, and blur lines in your mind concerning what a musician can be capable of doing to begin with. He's endorsing Charvel guitars now. Charvel and Jackson, as I would think the reader would know, are the same entity.
These are what you'd call super strat guitars. They've a Strat body with a maple top, and the inclusion of some humbucking pickups and a whammy bar. Govan said he wanted his signature guitars to be pretty, but not too pretty. Those tops could have been really worked into some highly contrasted colors, but they're still quite lovely.
The Charvel Guthrie Govan Signature guitar can be had in either flame maple top, or bird's eye maple top. Either way the guitar's body is of basswood. And some high level builders of fine solid body electric guitars have recently exclaimed that basswood with a maple top is the absolute holy grail combination for tone in solid body electric guitars.
This guitar has the same 25.5" scale as the Fender, but has 24 frets. A two octave fretboard. And what an attractive fretboard it is. The wood has been roasted or carmelized so as to sound like an older guitar, and you can see the tone of the maple is darker on the fingerboard.
The pickups are in HSH configuration and they are labeled as MFB pickups. What is an MFB, you wonder? MFB is Michael Frank Brown, who designed the pickups. These guitars are going for just a bit under four thousand dollars.
Charvel Guthrie Govan Signature Guitar features:
- Basswood San Dimas body with flame-maple, or bird's eye maple top
- Quartersawn bolt-on "caramelized" flame-maple neck with two graphite rods for enhanced neck stability
- Compound-radius (12-16) flame-maple fingerboard with 24 extra-jumbo stainless steel frets
- HSH pickup configuration featuring Charvel Custom MFB pickups for clear and transparent tone
- Striking appointments such as special maple dot inlays with ebony borders
- Recessed original-style NOS vibrato bridge for rock-solid tuning stability
- Hardshell case included
3. The Suhr Custom Standard guitar
At one time John Suhr had been the Senior Master Builder for Fender Custom Shop. He figured he could strike out on his own and be happier, and he did. God Bless America and capitalism, and that sort of thing.
But John Suhr had some technical help in the name of Steve Smith. A body can't, of course, know everything. Suhr, however, knows more than just guitar building. He makes his own pickups. And these days every guitar with his name on it has a reputation. A strong reputation.
The Suhr Custom Standard guitar is his Strat body with maple top, maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard guitar. Like the Charvel guitar this guitar has the basswood body with the maple top, a combination some now think the single finest tonewood combination in solid body electric guitars.
The Suhr Custom Standard is available with pickup configurations other than the HSS configuration I had pictured. In fact, you don't even have to get the basswood body. You could get a more traditional alder body with a maple top.
Any which way you like it, these Suhr Custom Standard guitars are going to go for around four thousand dollars. Same general price range as the Fender Custom Shop Mr. John Suhr used to work in. There aren't better guitars anywhere.
4. The Tom Anderson Drop Top Classic guitar
The Tom Anderson Drop Top Classic guitar is the classic Strat body with a maple top dropped on it, so to speak. Tom Anderson is doing up his tops in a manner which would be approved by Paul Reed Smith, even. They are finished gorgeously.
Tom Anderson himself is right there with persons like John Suhr in the boutique electric guitar manufacturing business. He'd been an employee of Schecter Guitar Research before striking out on his own. Dave Schecter even recommended to Tom that he should strike out on his own. And he's done so quite successfully.
Before Tom Anderson started building completed guitars he even made parts for John Suhr. Suhr and Anderson are very comparable manufacturers. And the Drop Top Classic is basically a template guitar which one would go about ordering to their exact specifications. You could choose an alder body with a maple top. You could choose a basswood body with a maple top. So forth and so on.
Suhr guitars and Tom Anderson guitars are made to your order. You can readily find them used on sites like Reverb or ebay for less. Should you order one new you can expect to spend four thousand dollars. The rate is pretty standard for an all USA made Strat style guitar with a maple top.
5. G&L USA Comanche
G&L guitars was one of the brainchildren of the great Leo Fender. Leo had sold his Fender guitar company to CBS, and he'd signed a no compete agreement in the sale which was to last ten years. But Leo went directly to work in a silent way. He continually came up with ideas.
So the G&L Comanche was Leo Fender's final Stratocaster style guitar. It is every bit the Fender as the Fender brand guitars are. G&L's USA division instruments are manufactured on Fender Avenue even.
Before Leo Fender had ever designed a solid body electric guitar he was the go to man for people who wanted to have their pickups repaired. Guitar pickups at the time were a brand new idea, and they'd be clipped inside an acoustic guitar. So pickups and the design of pickups was something deep inside of Leo Fender, and one can easily see his G&L Comanche has something not so normal in the way of pickups.
Now the G&L Comanche is like the Strat. Not all of them are made in the USA, and the most of them do not have a maple top. The Indonesian end of G&L production is extremely affordable, and receives high praise in the bang for bucks department from everyone. The USA made Comanche will be considerably more expensive, and with the maple top even more so.
These Comanche guitars don't seem to have become as appreciated by the playing public as they should be. I suspect the odd appearance of the MFD Z-Coil hum-cancelling pickups has something to do with it. Also, there has yet to be a guitar hero who's playing these guitars. It is a matter of marketing.
Should you find the low cost Indonesian made G&L Comanche with a maple top on it, the maple is going to be a veneer. The USA G&L with a maple top will have an 'honest' maple top, one which will be substantial enough to have a tonal character attribution to the guitar. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a maple veneer. In the case of the veneers, they are pure visual aesthetic.
G&L Comanche Guitar features:
- Construction: bolt-on
- Scale: 25-1/2"
- Pickups: Leo Fender-designed G&L MFD Z-Coil hum-cancelling
- Body Wood: Swamp ash with maple top on Premier finishes, alder on Standard finishes
- Neck Wood: Hard rock maple with maple or rosewood fingerboard
- Neck Profile: G&L #1 with 12" radius and 1 5/8" nut width
- Nut: 100% natural bone
- Frets: 22 medium jumbo, nickel, Plek dressed
- Tuning Keys: 12:1 ratio, sealed-back
- Bridge: Leo Fender-designed G&L Dual-Fulcrum vibrato with forged brass saddles
- Controls: 5-position pickup selector, volume, treble, bass (PTB system), mini-toggle expander switch enabling additional pickup combinations of neck+bridge or all three pickups together
- Case: Deluxe Tolex