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Flame maple exhibits a dramatic change in the individual stripes or lines as the incident angle of the light is slightly altered. This is what gives figured maple tops that amazing wavy, 3-D quality, where the dark stripe becomes a light stripe and the light stripe becomes dark. This visual phenomenon is known as chatoyancy. This term was first used in the gemstone world, but as more instruments were built with maple tops, this term has come into use with woodworkers. True figured maple is seen in as little as two percent of the maple used for musical instruments. Modern botany and other sciences still cannot adequately account for the exact causes of the flame or figure in maple or other hardwoods.

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