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AGE OF WOOD/INSTRUMENT: does it matter in BG's

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by lowphatbass, Mar 5, 2005.


  1. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    We all agree that the age of wood effects the tone of most acoustic instruments. We also agree that the age of the instrument, in respect to how much it has played, helps the tone of many acoustic instruments. Does these processes have no effect on electric basses/guitars? I have not heard of many electric guitar luthiers using seasoned/aged woods. Many vintage bass guitars sound great, does age and amount of play time have anything to do with this???What's your opinion??
     
  2. LajoieT

    LajoieT I won't let your shadow be my shade...

    Oct 7, 2003
    Western Massachusetts
    From what I've heard, Ken Smith uses wood that has been aged to varying degrees around 20-30 years. I also remember someone making an instrument out of wood that had been submerged in one of the great lakes for over 100 years (the species, which I don't remember, is actually extinct)

    My understanding on the vintage instrument front is that many people attribute the "vintage" sound to the breakdown of the finish which means the wood is no longer "sealed" and continues to age, so I would think that the longer the wood is aged (properly) the better and more stable it would be. Of course there must also be a practical limit in that time where any noticable amount of change is no longer worth the time it takes.
     
  3. teej

    teej

    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    Submerged, extinct wood? You've struck my curiosity!!
     
  4. Selta

    Selta

    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    Doesn't Warrior use VERY old woods?

    Ray
     
  5. Trevorus

    Trevorus

    Oct 18, 2002
    Urbana, IL
    Viagra. Keeping old wood alive.


























    I couldn't help myself. I'm sorry....




    I think a lot of the mystique of the old basses is also due to the aging of the magnet structure of the pickups as well. I have heard many theories about wood settling, but I haven't really had a chance to test it. Wood is organic, anyways, so it's really hard to tell.
     
  6. r379

    r379

    Jul 28, 2004
    Dallas, Texas
    Don't know about the age of the pickup magnet thing. I asked Lindy Fralin that same quetion on the phone (nice guy, by the way) and he said that the life of Alnico magnets is such that thirty-forty years is nothing. The amount they would de-magnetize over that period of time would have no effect as far as he was concerned. The question came up because I was wondering if it would be worth the trouble to find an old set of bobbins to rewind as opposed to buying a new set of pickups from him. I'm into vintage tone, you see.
     
  7. teej

    teej

    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    Hmmmm.... well, magnets DO lose power over time. I think it takes something like 400 years.
     
  8. LajoieT

    LajoieT I won't let your shadow be my shade...

    Oct 7, 2003
    Western Massachusetts
    http://www.timelesstimber.com/

    IRRC I saw some info on insturments at Roman's site, but I don't go there anymore so I don't remember for sure.
     
  9. monkeyjacket

    monkeyjacket

    May 16, 2004
    tucson
  10. Nedmundo

    Nedmundo Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2005
    Philadelphia
    I have three Fender basses: a 1994 MIJ Foto Flame Precision, a 2003 Am. Ser. Jazz, and a 2004 Am. Ser. Precision. The 1994 and 2003 have this warm, resonant "woody" tone. The 2004 Precision doesn't have nearly as much of this. It sounds somewhat "tight," as though it needs to loosen up and "breathe," for lack of a better term, to allow the sound of the wood to come through. (This is in comparison to the others; overall it sounds great.)

    I read a very interesting article about a vibration machine developed by SWR founder Steven (sp?) Rabe and others, that can replicate years of playing. (Don't have the link at hand, but I'll try to find it if this thread develops interest.) The idea is that the tonal change over time comes as much from the wood's exposure to vibration as it does to age.

    This led me to wonder whether my 2004 Precision might develop that "woody" tone with age and more playing time. (Even though the J is only a year older, it saw very heavy use for awhile. But it's not nearly as "woody" as the 1994 P, so maybe age matters.)

    I suspect, however, that the differences between my basses have more to do with the interation between different woods, assembly, etc., that's very difficult to quantify and leads many players on a search for "the one." (Not that we have GAS or anything, and enjoy the chase as much as the catch!)

    This leads to another question, which is whether the boutique luthiers examine wood for tonal qualities with much greater scrutiny than mass producers, and might be more likely to create instruments with this desirable woody, resonant tone.

    These questions didn't get much interest over in the basses forum. Maybe this is the place!
     
  11. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Bill Lawrence says the same thing.
     
  12. r379

    r379

    Jul 28, 2004
    Dallas, Texas
    I'll add another comment to this thread: I have a Lakland USA JO and it is nowhere near as old as a '60s Fender yet it sounds as good. Maybe the old wood thing doesn't play as big a part in vintage tone as we might think.

    Gotta be like Ivanmike on this one. The more I learn the less I find out I know...or something like that.
     
  13. Nedmundo

    Nedmundo Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2005
    Philadelphia
    That's a good point. My '94 Precision sure sounds a lot like those from the '60s, so age can't be that big a deal. I suspect the "woodiness" in that bass comes more from the density of the neck and body woods than anything else.

    Agree with your second point too!
     
  14. luknfur

    luknfur

    Jan 14, 2004
    DIXIE
    FWIW:

    I posted similar thread in the past regarding woods in general. For a solidbody bass, general concensus was the neck is by far the dominant factor in the acoustic tone of a bass. Body basically insigificant. In general wood not being a controllable variable in that there's not enough accuaracy involved to get beyond a ballpark (ie if a softer wood is used for the neck then a hard fingerboard is used to balance). Adjacent slabs from the same board of a given tree can be no more alike than from a different species. When you start laminating wood (ie necks) then you'll know what it sounds like when it's installed.

    I'm not a luthier but what little I've messed with basses has supported this. I have essentially 5 of the same basses and they go from thudder to acoustically bright. I once swapped necks from the thudder to either a midrange or the bright bass(can't remember which it was) and the tone followed the neck - not exactly but it was major (like 75% plus). Second order harmonics can sigificantly affect tone so I wouldn't rule out the body entirely by any means. As in pickups, sometimes just a small edge makes a major difference.

    I've not read anything to contradict this and I don't know any luthier who can intentionally build two basses that will produce the same acoustic properties with any accuracy - let alone to the degree a player couldn't tell the difference.

    Given the above, I would speculate aged would not be a factor in that it would be no more controllable.

    As for magnets, a google search would probably yield the breakdown. Oerstad is the unit used to measure reluctance (magnets ability to resist demangetizaiton). Alnico 5 is among the most resistant mixes. The Neodyne's are supposed to be even better in that sense. A magnet subject to either stronger external magnetic forces over time or very strong forces for a short time could definetly be adversely affected. It's my understanding magnets can be remagnetized fairly cheaply so doesn't appear to be an issue if that's the case. I don't mess with vintage stuff so I've never looked into it.
     
  15. Nedmundo

    Nedmundo Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2005
    Philadelphia
    Thanks. That was very interesting, and before I posted I had begun to suspect the neck was the main factor. I feel I can hear some of the distinctive tone coming from the neck's resonance. I thought about trying your experiment, and I've also thought about gambling on a replacement neck for my new Precision just to see if I get a "woodier" sound. But first I want to experiment more with strings, because I think there's much more tone to be found in the bass as is.
     
  16. luknfur

    luknfur

    Jan 14, 2004
    DIXIE
    FWIW:

    Strings I haven't messed with much. Everything is strung with TI Jazz Flats but when I was exploring basses any time I'd buy one they'd come with rounds, including a few new sets. When compared to the TI's what suprised me more than anything was how different they sounded solo but how much alike they sounded played to music.

    By the way, there's a thread in the String's Forum "what kind of strings do you use" that probably has every string known to man addressed in it.
     
  17. 5stringDNA

    5stringDNA

    Oct 10, 2002
    Englewood, CO
    I know Spector built a bass out of some ridiculously ancient wood they dated back a few hundred years or something and inliad it with mammoth tusk. I sold fo like, 20 or 30 grand for charity I believe.
     
  18. I know I'll probably get a lot of flame because of these comments, but here goes: as far as I'm concerned, strings and electronics (including pickups) is what has the most impact on the sound of a bass. The reason why fender swapped ash for alder in the begining was because of economics, yet the sound remained basically the same. If any wooden part of the instrument has a real impact on sound is the fingerboard wood, and that's because the strings vibrate against it and either dampen the vibrations a bit more, or resonate better, which in turn makes the string vibrate differently. And the pickup/electronics is what makes that sound come alive.

    The alembic guys knew that in the 70s, that's why they were experimenting with so many laminations of very exotic woods never used in instrument building before. The woods actually didn't matter.

    I built a bass out of a jatoba and ipe neck with a body made out of very soft mahogany topped with imbuya. None of these woods are used in instrument making, but rather in decking and furniture building. It sounds very similar to the ash/maple/ebony bass gary willis used to play when strung with GHS or Smith strings. I recently put D'addarios on it, tone sucked away!

    So there you go ...start flaming now.
     
  19. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    No flames, just a coupla comments.

    1. Many people would disagree that ash and alder sound basically the same. I haven't compared them enough to have an opinion, but many people have, and do.

    2. Strings don't vibrate against the fingerboard wood, unless you're playing a fretless. They transmit vibrations to the neck, but they also transmit vibrations to the body.

    3. Jatoba, ipe, mahogany, and imbuya are all, in fact, used in instrument making these days.

    My take is that the minutiae of wood differences are often overstated. I don't think all small differences in wood will *reliably and consistently* lead to significantly different-sounding basses. However, I also don't believe that all wood differences are nonexistent or immaterial. Having owned several basses that were virtually identical except for body woods, my experience is that wood does matter. Just maybe not as much as we tend to assume when we're obsessing over the next custom bass on our wish list. And sometimes we do tend to underestimate the effects of electronics, strings, and setup in relation to the effects of wood.

    Just my $0.02.