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Grading Notes

Curious about the classifications that we use for wood on our website? We inspect and grade every single piece of wood in our catalog using this criteria, and some companies have followed our lead and begun using it due to it's strict adherence to quality.


Master Grade

  • Very stiff tonewood
  • Uniform color, no discoloration
  • Even, tight growth rings (20+ GPI minimum)
  • Absolutely straight grains, no runout
  • Perfectly quartersawn
  • No hard grain, no color stain

Master grade sets are the absolute cream of the crop. These are the sets that are found in top-of-the-line instruments all over the world. They are perfectly even in color and grain. The end grain is perfectly vertical, meaning that the wood was cut on quarter. For the luthier, this translates to a maximum stiffness-per-weight ratio, and a predictable appearance. Master Grade sets are rarely available, so please contact us and make sure we have what you are after before you place an order.

3A Grade

  • Very stiff tonewood
  • Uniform color, no discoloration
  • Even growth rings (15+ GPI minimum)
  • Straight grains, very little to no runout
  • Perfectly quartersawn
  • No hard Grain, no color stain

3A sets are not too different from Master grade, but they allow for slightly more variation. That means that there may be some very faint coloring, or that the grain may gradually open up, or get farther apart, as it goes from the center to the outside edge of the instrument. For the luthier, this means the density of the wood will decrease toward the lower bout of a guitar, or the rim of a mandolin or violin. This is very much like the “graduated carving” or “Stradivarius carving” that violin makers employ, carving the edges thinner than the center in order to allow the vibrations of the instrument to be less inhibited as they travel to the outer edges.

2A Grade

  • Very stiff tonewood
  • Uniform to very little color variation
  • Growth gings may widen to outer edge (12+ GPI minimum)
  • Quartersawn within 10 degrees
  • May have very little hard grain in lower bout

2A sets are far from being “inferior”, in fact, they represent what we believe to be our best value when it comes to tonewood. Some of our happiest customers are those who bought 2A wood. If tap-tone and stiffness are of greater concern than appearance, these are definitely the sets to choose! For small orders we can hand pick your sets, and make sure you get exactly what you want. You can expect some variety from one set to the next, in terms of grain and possibly a few minor hard lines. If you are ordering these sets, call or email us and tell us what it is you are looking for, and we can usually accommodate you.

1A Grade

  • Stiff tonewood
  • Slight color variation
  • Slight grain irregularities such as minor hard grain (8+ GPI minimum)
  • Quartersawn within 15 degrees

1A grade sets are good economical tops, and we have sold a lot of these tops to large manufacturers. Although aesthetically pleasing to the eye, these sets usually feature open and closed grain patterns, and some pinkish striping. A great value in tonewood!

Professional Grade

  • Ranging from Very stiff to Fairly stiff
  • Some color variation and other minor irregularities
  • Growth rings may be nonuniform (+8 GPI)
  • Uneven - open and closed - grain patterns
  • Quartersawn, within 20 degrees
  • May have some hard / compression grains

The Professional grade is mostly used in inexpensive guitars by our mainstream clientele. That being said, these lower grade tops can - at times - be a tremendous bargain for the luthiers who prefer to add a certain “character” to their instrument and put more value in the tonal quality of the set, rather than its looks. Whenever we list these lower grade sets on our website, we’ll make sure to select only those for which the grading criterion does not do justice (for example where a high grade stiff top will be downgraded to a lesser grade due to a minor cosmetic defect such as color banding).

Factory Grade

  • Ranging from Stiff to Fairly stiff
  • Color variation and other irregularities
  • Nonuniform growth rings (6+ GPI)
  • Hard / compression grains
  • Uneven - open and closed - grain patterns
  • Wide open / wavy grains
  • May be off quarter, within 30 degrees

Our Factory grade sets are a very small step removed from the Professional grade. This grade is comprised of mostly striped sets be it with hard grain, or color banding, or both. When we list these on our website, the same principal is used as with the Professional grade: only the stiffest sets are selected for our website sales.

Economy Grade

  • Ranging from Stiff to Elastic (not stiff )
  • Color variation and uniformity
  • Nonuniform growth rings
  • Wide open / wavy grains
  • Hard / compression grains
  • Uneven - open and closed - grain patterns
  • May be off quarter, within 30 degrees
  • May contain small pin knots or pitch streaks (all will be structurally sound in the template area).

Although these sets are structurally sound, the color and grain variations in this grade are less than conventionally expected of softwoods.

Maple & Other Figured Woods

The figure in our woods is classified and graded using a five star system:

  • 5A is our best grade, with strong figure across the whole top, the +5A PRIVATE STOCK being the cream of the crop.
  • 4A grade wood is highly figured -- the figure covers more than 75% of the piece.
  • 3A is our mid-grade, fairly strong figure, with at least 50% coverage.
  • 2A has weak figure, about 30% coverage.
  • 1A grade have is plain, or with very little figure.

The + signs in front of the grade denote better than the classified grade, while not enough to push it into the next grade.

Other Grading Classifications For Non-Figured Woods

  • PREMIUM and HIGH GRADE refers to the quality of our non-figured woods denoting the tonal quality, as well as the aesthetic appeal. Self-explanatory, PREMIUM is the best available quality.
  • STANDARD is the usual mid-grade quality.
  • CUSTOM refers to sets which have wild grain patterns, or doesn't fall into conventional grading standards. This doesn't denote poor or low quality woods, just something much more unique than conventionally expected.

The + signs in front of the grade denote better than the classified grade.