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Poplar as a tone wood

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by reel big bassist, Oct 27, 2001.


  1. reel big bassist

    reel big bassist

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2000
    Location:
    Maryland
    Wasup Everyone,
    I have a MIM jazz bass that has a poplar body, maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard. I also have aero instrument pickups, a badass II bridge, and a graphite nut.

    I play my bass unplugged all the time, and I really dig its tone. I hear people speak about how good ash and alder are, but I hardly see people speaking of poplar. I think poplar sounds great. I like the way my bass sounds unplugged better than my friends MIA jazz bass.

    To me poplar sounds great, why isn't it used more often?

    Sincerely,
    Greg P
     
  2. Thrillkiller

    Thrillkiller

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2001
    Location:
    NC
    Hey Greg, welcome to Talkbass! Here's my take on your tonewood question:

    Poplar is a soft wood. Alder and ash are hard woods. I believe that a softer wood body soaks up string vibrations, resulting in a mellower, not so punchy tone. A harder wood body, on the other hand, "couples" with the string's vibrations better and allows more of the attack and sustain to transmit to the pickups. Of course, other variables like bridge mass, neck construction, bolt-on vs neck through, strings through the bridge, and even headstock mass and tuners can also effect the natural sound of a bass. But all things being equal between two identical basses EXEPT one is poplar and the other is alder, I believe the alder bass will sound tighter and punchier. That's not to say that poplar is a bad body wood; I would just prefer alder or ash over poplar if given the choice.
     
  3. Luis Fabara

    Luis Fabara

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2000
    Location:
    Ecuador (South America)
    Disclosures:
    Audio Pro - Ecuador
    Poplar is used a lot in fact.
    Most CHEAP instruments are made with Poplar.
    MIM Fenders, Hondo , Crestwood, just think of the average cheap instrument maker. (This includes Rogue)

    (Of course Carl Thompson and Mike Tobias use poplar too (Tulipwood = Yellow Poplar), but not alone.)

    My personal opinion, is that I wont have another Poplar bass in my whole life.
    To me, Poplar means cheap, and then means crappy tone.

    And about "digging" the poplar´s acoustic tone, that could be due to more vibrations on the body making it louder than an ultra-hard body, so it could apparently sound better.
     
  4. JazznFunk

    JazznFunk

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2000
    Location:
    Asheville, NC
    Disclosures:
    Lakland Basses Artist
    I too have several MIM Jazz Basses and love their tone, both unplugged and plugged in. For whatever reason, these basses have the sound I hear in my head right in there, no questions asked. Granted, I use a preamp to beef up the tone a bit more, but the basic sound is always there, preamp or not. I say if the tone is there that you want, it doesn't matter what the wood is. Poplar may equal cheap in some people's eyes, but that is not a factor if the sound you want is there.
     
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  6. Marty Forrer

    Marty Forrer

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2000
    Location:
    Napier, New Zealand.
    I'd like to throw a different perspective in here. I've been playing bass semi-pro for about 18 years, and full-time pro for 7 years, and I have owned all manner of 4, 5, and 6 stringers. Fenders, Stingrays, G&L, Spector, American Epiphone, Washburn, Ibanez, Hofner, Tobias, Yamaha,etc, etc. In all my time of playing, and of all the basses I've had, I can safely say that if you play in a rock band, the wood your bass is made of has negligeable influence on your sound. If you record a lot, or play in a jazz situation, you will notice a small influence from the wood, but the majority of your sound comes from all the other factors, such as pickups, electronics, amplifier, speakers, strings, your playing technique etc, etc. Also, you can take two identical basses, same timbers, everything, and you can often hear or feel a difference between them. That is the nature of wood. I've had basses made of poplar or basswood that were good and not so, same as I've had them made of alder, ash, maple, wenge, bubinga, and some were good and some were not.
     
  7. ebozzz

    ebozzz

    Joined:
    May 17, 2001
    Location:
    Denver, Colorado
    The MTD Beast and the Grendel are made of poplar and I definitely would not consider them to be cheap nor do they have crappy tone. While poplar may not be as expensive as alder or ash I think that it can provide good tone if it's part of well constructed instrument. If anyone would like to hear the Grendel I've got a file that I can send.
     
  8. barroso

    barroso

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2000
    Location:
    Italia
    I'd like to throw a different perspective in here. I've been playing bass semi-pro for about 18 years, and full-time pro for 7 years, and I have owned all manner of 4, 5, and 6 stringers. Fenders, Stingrays, G&L, Spector, American Epiphone, Washburn, Ibanez, Hofner, Tobias, Yamaha,etc, etc. In all my time of playing, and of all the basses I've had, I can safely say that if you play in a rock band, the wood your bass is made of has negligeable influence on your sound. If you record a lot, or play in a jazz situation, you will notice a small influence from the wood, but the majority of your sound comes from all the other factors, such as pickups, electronics, amplifier, speakers, strings, your playing technique etc, etc. Also, you can take two identical basses, same timbers, everything, and you can often hear or feel a difference between them. That is the nature of wood. I've had basses made of poplar or basswood that were good and not so, same as I've had them made of alder, ash, maple, wenge, bubinga, and some were good and some were not.


    wise words, marty. i completely agree with you. i don't want to say that wood is not important in a bass, but for a rock bass player other things come first. i play rock too and i have played with a lot of different basses during the years. and to be honest in my musical context i'd prefer to play a plywood bass with good pickups that a bass made form multilaminated exotic woods and bad pickups.
     
  9. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2000
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    Location:
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    I agree with Marty's point about body wood not being a big deal in a loud or rock band context. Body wood does affect tone, but it's a lot more subtle than say fingerboard wood IMHO.

    As far as poplar goes, my old Peavey Foundation(yes, Luis, I know that is a cheap bass;)) has a poplar body and it sounds great!
     
  10. AndersK2

    AndersK2

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2000
    Cheap? Like in inferior?
    Like the MusicMan Stingray and Sterling basses that uses poplar...
     
  11. barroso

    barroso

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2000
    Location:
    Italia
    if a wood is chep this does not mean that sounds bad. fortunately world is full of cheap and good things. spaghetti are cheap but they are really good if you know to cook them.
     
  12. ebozzz

    ebozzz

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    May 17, 2001
    Location:
    Denver, Colorado
    Good point Marco and I love spaghetti!
     
  13. Luis Fabara

    Luis Fabara

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    Aug 13, 2000
    Location:
    Ecuador (South America)
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    Audio Pro - Ecuador
    Well, I never said that it was a cheap wood, and hence it has a bad tone.

    What I said is that most if not all cheap instruments are made of poplar.
    Also, Poplar to me doesnt have a good tone because it is a very soft wood that lacks definition in the low end. It does have midrange and a little highs, but it really lacks the punch and definition of other hardwoods.


    On the Stingray Comment: That´s shy I only like ASH Stingrays. And I dont think many of them are made of poplar.
     
  14. ebozzz

    ebozzz

    Joined:
    May 17, 2001
    Location:
    Denver, Colorado


    Luis,

    Not to start an argument but this is your quote that's posted above. I currently have three basses. One with an ash body, one with bubinga & walnut and one with a poplar body. The bass with the poplar body, an MTD Beast, would be my least expensive even at it's new price but I got it at close out prices which makes it more rewarding. It's tone does not say that I'm the least expensive as it may even outperform a lot of basses made of alder and ash that cost more.

    It does not lack low end in my opinion and the tone is somewhat like the tone of a GOOD Fender Jazz bass. It's not as vintage sounding though. Maybe the jazz style tone is not for you and that's cool. I just happen to think that this MTD is a very solid and great sounding instrument. The tone may not appeal to everyone but I'm very pleased to have an instrument of this quality especially at the price that I paid for it. I don't think that I'll be getting rid of it anytime soon.

    Wood type may be important but it's just one piece of the puzzle. The total design would be of more importance to me. My Beast has a wenge board, bartolini pickups and a 35" scale with a zero fret to go along with it's carved poplar body. To me the combination works. Others may be of a different opinion. I just don't think that I would have said that poplar = cheap. Just my opinion.
     
  15. Player

    Player

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 1999
    Location:
    USA Cincinnati, OH
    Wait till your Poplar bass is 30 yrs old.
    A couple problems with Poplar, though it's a hardwood it is among the softest of the hardwoods. So it dents very easily, doesn't sand well and soaks up stain/sealer. It is also not very stable, so it can change over time.
    from http://www.woodbin.com/ref/wood/poplar.htm

    "Most species are typically soft and light with low ratings for strength, stiffness, shock resistance, decay resistance, and steam bending. Moderate movement in service."
    Movement in service should be avoided in musical instrument wood.

    You will rarely (if ever) see a clear finish on Poplar because:
    "The wood is reported to possess very poor sanding properties. (Number of pieces with good to excellent sanded surfaces out of one hundred = 19).
    Light & Air-Induced Changes - The freshly cut wood is light yellow to brown, but it turns greenish upon exposure."

    So a new Poplar instrument with an opaque finish may be OK now, but in 30 yrs it may be warped, have opened grain causing the finish to crack, open around knots and or open around screw holes and the like.
     
  16. ebozzz

    ebozzz

    Joined:
    May 17, 2001
    Location:
    Denver, Colorado
    Thanks for the info. If I can get 30 years out of this instrument for the $450.00 that I paid for it I'm a winner! Shoot, I'm already a winner. Thanks for the information Player. I'll take it into consideration. I wonder what Michael Tobias tells his clients about his USA line of MTDs? "Yes, it's a $3000.00 bass that's made out of poplar and it's not very stable." I don't think so. His USA line of basses, some of which are made of poplar, are very respected. Not to mention the fact that people are paying his $3000.00 asking price.
     
  17. Luis Fabara

    Luis Fabara

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    Aug 13, 2000
    Location:
    Ecuador (South America)
    Disclosures:
    Audio Pro - Ecuador
    It has to be read on context, but I should have written.. "and ALSO MEANS crappy tone"
    Also, it says: "TO ME... "

    Sometimes I use the wrong words.

    I didnt say it LACKS low end, I said it lacks DEFINITION in the low end.
    The low end of poplar is Muddy and warm. Not punchy and clear.

    About the MTD´s Poplar.
    There are some kinds of Poplar. MTD uses Yellow Poplar wich is a little better than the stuff used on Fenders, Rogue, etc. And I have yet seen a poplar-only MTD USA bass body.

    BTW, My experience on poplar includes refinishing, sanding, playing and tung-oiling.
    That wood is impressively ugly tung-oiled pure. It has to be stained otherwise it looks like white poo.
     
  18. ebozzz

    ebozzz

    Joined:
    May 17, 2001
    Location:
    Denver, Colorado
    Thanks for the clarification Luis. I guess the bottom line is that we should all be careful about making assumptions based on a bass having a poplar or other type of body construction. I don't particularly care for the type of tone that was produced on the luthite body basses (Cort, Ibanez) that I have played. To someone else that tone could be heaven. You notice that I did not say that luthite = crappy tone or lesser quality. I respect whatever your choice is even if that choice is not the one that I would make. My MTD has plenty of definition to my ears but it may not be the type of definition that you are looking for.

    I think that you're right about the The MTD USA lines not being poplar only but if the wood was so bad why use it at all? It must have some very good qualities after all.
     
  19. Peter McFerrin

    Peter McFerrin

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2000
    Location:
    Valencia, CA 91354
    Luis, the poplar used on Mexi Fenders, Rogues, etc. is not solid. It's poplar plywood. Open up a MIM Jazz's control cavity and see for yourself. Of course, the classic "hippie sandwich" construction model is essentially high-priced plywood, but Alembic themselves say that in neck-through-body construction the wood used for the body wings is pretty much just selected for cosmetic purposes.

    Honestly, though, Marty is right; the subtleties of differing body woods that have similar densities are lost in a loud mix. IME there's little difference between alder and mahogany, for example (play enough high-end guitars, where every builder and his brother uses the same Duncan '59/JB pickup combination, and you'll know what I mean). OTOH, there's a lot of difference between a bubinga Warwick Corvette Standard and a maple Corvette Pro Line with identical electronics and neck/fingerboard wood, or an old hard ash G&L L2500 and a new basswood one, but in both of those cases we're comparing woods with considerably different densities.

    The part where body wood makes a difference is in attack vs. sustain properties, and there the overall density has a lot more to do with the sound than any subtle differences between lighter and denser woods. And, as '70s Fenders have taught us all (ow! my back!), a candy-coating of finish will render the differences between heavy ash and light alder all but inconsequential.

    Just my $.02, that's all.
     
  20. Luis Fabara

    Luis Fabara

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    Aug 13, 2000
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    Ecuador (South America)
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    Audio Pro - Ecuador
    Well, Poplar is used because it is very lightweight and many players care about weight out there.

    On the Luthite thing. I like the Luthite in my Cort Curbow, but I prefeer the sound of Ash or Maple for example. Luthite has proven to be very midrangy with lots of top end but it doesnt have a heavenly tone either.
     
  21. Luis Fabara

    Luis Fabara

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2000
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    Audio Pro - Ecuador
    Does just refinishing a MIM P-Bass count?
    This one looks pretty normal.
    It isnt a single piece body but about 4 pieces but not as a sandwich.

    On the Alembic cosmetic purposes... that could be their reason. But I do hear a difference of a bass with a Maple top or without it. There is a slight tonal change (read: increase) in the high end and low end definition.
     

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