Just Arrived: A Huber Rietbergen With Some Killer Curly Maple
Curly, flame, tiger stripe, fiddleback. Call it what you want, highly figured maple is insanely captivating. It draws you in—and then you’re lost in its waves and stripes. It keeps you there, changing and contouring the more you admire it. And that’s never been more applicable than with this Rietbergen from Nik Huber…
Curly maple, also referred to as tiger stripe, or flame maple, denotes a specific type of figured maple which is known for its unusual waves and ripples or markings like a tiger’s stripes. The figuring is distinct, beautiful, and one-of-a-kind.
Highly figured wood is no stranger to the instrument world, having been used on many stringed instruments, notably early violins. Of course, Gibson made figured maple highly desirable in the guitar world after using it for their two-piece, bookmatched carved tops on the Les Paul. Figured maple is notably featured on lots of PRS guitars too, making it even more popular among a different kind of player.
Thanks to those efforts, we see figured woods all over the place now. But, when a killer piece of figured maple presents itself—like this curly maple on the Rietbergen—you have to double take. So, go ahead. Scroll back up. Look at that the picture. The Nik Huber Rietbergen with a highly figured, curly maple top. And my gosh, isn’t it stunning.
No matter how often we see a guitar with a figured maple top, when you see a piece like this, I defy anyone to open the case without sucking in a pinch of air and making that ‘owww’ noise.
Let me give you a quick run through of this timber. And I’m giving credit to Bob Taylor here. He taught me about figured maple in a forest somewhere in Washington state. You’ll notice a lot of his guitars feature highly figured maple. And from that trip with Bob Taylor and his right-hand man, master luthier Andy Powers, I came away with a new word: chatoyancy. Let me explain...
Despite lots of guitar companies using figured wood for guitar tops, curly maple is actually only found in a small percentage of maple trees. For example, the kind of flame or curl you see on this Rietbergen comes from less than two percent of all maple trees in the world. And it comes from an aberration in the growth of the maple tree itself—so it’s not a different species of maple. And you’ll pay hundreds of dollars per blank of it. It’s often reviewed and graded (A, AA, AAA) according to the intensity of the ripple, and prices vary because of this.
The rippled, 3D kind of look to curly maple is caused by this word Bob Taylor was throwing about in that forest: ‘chatoyance’.
If you have a guitar with a curly maple top, pick it up now and try this… as the incident angle of light is altered (basically move the guitar around so the way the light hits it changes), you’ll see the individual stripes of the wood change. A bit like a cat’s eye or tiger eye gemstone. This visual phenomenon, which originated in the gemstone world, is known as chatoyancy. This is what gives figured maple, especially curly maple, the amazing wavy 3D quality to it. The way the darker stipes become light, and the lighter stipes become dark.
How this aberration in the maple happens is a bit of a mystery and you’ll get a different answer from different people. Some think it’s to do with the soil in which the tree grows, some believe it to be a result of weather stress. Others says it can happen on any maple tree when the branches form a ‘Y’ shape and the tree grows in a diminished space. Or when the trunk meets the roots. I’m sure some will say it’s to do with the way the moon glows on the 31st of October. If any of these things were true, you’d be able to walk into that forest in Washington state and find a whole load of it. But you can’t.
Anyone who’s bought maple will tell you they have, now and again, found some with a slight figuring to it—that’s down to what I said earlier, it’s an aberration of a species not a different species altogether. You can’t just plant a load of figured maple trees (although I’m sure people have scratched their head over that). You have to sort through the plain maple, if you will, to find the figured stuff. And that’s time. And money. So, of course, we covet it. But the reality is that Bob and I might have walked into that Washington forest and found one maple tree in a hundred that is curly, or we might’ve found one hundred.
What most believe, however, is that the curl is genetic. So much like you or I could have a gene for curly hair, so could those maple trees. And, just like our hair, it could be anything from a slight wave to a real kink. Not all hair on our head would have the same amount of curl… the same is true for woods. Different parts of the same tree might have different amounts of kink and curl altogether.
This Huber Rietbergen you’re looking at is truly one-of-a-kind. On his website, Huber describers the Rietbergen as having a ‘big heart, and a huge soul’. But he’s missing one thing… and that’s the pretty face from the stunning curly maple.
Put simply, the Rietbergen is a seamless blend of old and new. Its unique body shape, classic semi-hollow construction, and single cutaway come together to create an instrument that is undoubtedly elegant, with no shortage of that heart and soul Huber writes about.
The exceptional flamed maple top, and mahogany body and neck, make for an instrument that’s extremely resonant, with plenty of natural acoustic qualities. When paired with Huber’s select choice of humbuckers, this guitar sings. The 1959 bridge humbucker has plenty of bite and growl, but sweetens up when rolling back the volume. The Vintage neck pickup is fat, yet open and airy, and never loses clarity with its vocal like tonality.
Pulling out the tone knob, you’re able to tap the humbuckers for a plethora of spanky single-coil tones. With its aluminum tailpiece, Tune-O-Matic bridge, 10”-14” compound radius, ebony fretboard, and D.S. faded sunburst finish, the Nik Huber Rietbergen is a classy and humble offering for those looking for a handmade, high quality, modern instrument.
Final tidbit for you all: Huber actually named the Rietbergen to honor his wife, Ingrid, and preserve her family name. Ingrid is one of three female siblings, so the Rietbergen name wouldn’t continue past the current generation. This guitar ensures that name will ring out for decades to come—just as that maple top will continue to wow everyone who opens the case.
- Construction: Semi Hollow
- Top: Exceptional Flamed Maple
- Body: Mahogany
- Neck: Mahogany
- Neck Joint: Set
- Neck Profile: Std. Rietbergen
- Fingerboard: Ebony
- Fingerboard Inlays: MOP Black
- Fingerboard Binding: Flame Maple
- Fingerboard Radius: Compound 10”-14”
- Guitar Finish: D.S. Faded Sunburst
- Body Binding: “Faux” - Natural Maple
- Peghead Profile: Std. Rietbergen
- Peghead Veneer: Ebony
- Peghead Binding: None
- Bridge: Tune-O-Matic
- Tailpiece: Aluminum Stoptail
- Pickups: 1959 (Bridge), Vintage (Neck)
- Pickup Rings: Brushed Creme
- Wiring: 1 Vol, 1 Tone w/ Push/Pull for Coil Tap, 3-Way Switch
- Nut Width: 1.712”
- Nut Material: Polished Bone
- Scale Length: 25.5”
- Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo
- Tuners: Gotoh / Nik Huber 510 Z
- Pickguard: None
- Knobs: Gold Bell
- Truss Rod: Double Action (Single Rod, Compressed)
- Truss Rod Cover: Black
- Year: 2020
- S/N: 03411