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alder or mahogany

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Phat Ham, Jun 14, 2001.

  1. Phat Ham

    Phat Ham

    Feb 13, 2000
    I'm about to order a bass from Dave Pushic, and I've ironed out almost all the specs with him. Right now its a 5 string with a 5 piece maple/wenge neck-through with quilted maple top, birdseye maple fretboard and alder body. Dave P suggested mahogany as the body wood. What do you guys think? I have experience with alder (j-bass) and like it, but don't have any with mahogany. Also, cosmetically mahogany would contrast the quilted maple top a lot more than the alder would, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    I'm looking for a versatile instrument, from big fat vintage sounds to modern hifi grand piano sounds. I just want some input from the rest of you talkbassers before I finalize my plans.
  2. Peter Parker

    Peter Parker Banned

    Jun 10, 2001
    You're not going to get big fat vintage sounds out of mahogany. I've had many basses with several different types of woods and keep going back to the basic Fender type of tone woods, ash and alder. Every bass I've owned with a mahogany body has sounded thin with too much midrange. Alder produces much better low and lowmids and really fills out the sound. Mahogany can't do full and round which is the standard vintage Fender sound. Most basses made back in the day were made out of alder and ash because back then they built a bass to sound like a bass. When people started wanting their bass to have a lot of highs so they could slap and tap and sound more like a baritone guitar, company's started making their basses out of mahogany and other woods. Get alder.
  3. winston

    winston Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    I believe the old solidbody Gibson basses were made from mahogany, and the 70's Guild solidbodys (B-302, etc.) definitely were. The 80's Paul Reed Smith basses that are prized by reggae bassists were made of mahogany (some had maple tops). I wouldn't refer to the tone of those basses as anything near a modern full-range sound-they definitely lean toward the deep and wooly with distinctly cutting (but not growly) mids and a not very complex top end. They also all feature set-neck construction which equals a slightly more even but less punchy sound than a bolt-on. So mahogany might be the way to go for a non-Fender old-school tone. I'd consider Cream-era Jack Bruce to be a good example of the mahogany bass sound.

    I have a Guild solidbody electric guitar and a Martin acoustic guitar that are both all-mahogany set-neck instruments. The Guild is the exact opposite of the typical bright, big bottomed and sparkly Fender Strat tone-it's got lots of honky, funky mids that don't necessarily sound "good" by themselves but definitely have helped me cut through a lot of cluttered mixes! And the Martin lacks the sparkle of the more common spruce top/rosewood back config. but never ceases to amaze me with its big but tight bass and incredibly detailed mids.

    I'm sure that the combination of mahogany with maple and wenge in a neck-through setup will give you a much fuller, punchier sound than mahogany alone and if the luthier himself recommends it, it's probably the way to go. Good luck!
  4. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Just to confuse you, ;) , I disagree with Peter on the "fat" attributes of mahogany. I'll base my comments on the fairly extensive research I did for my custom, not my opinions. Some info is from a `92 Guitar Player article, "The Quest for Ultimate Tone."

    Mahogany is not as dense as your maple top, so that means it is described by luthiers I've found as fatter and warmer than alder. The denser maple top will add what the mahogany lacks - highs. Mahogany is definitely, (in the opinions of many luthiers), NOT what one would choose for a brighter bass that is good for slapping and tapping. The main reason C. Fender used the woods he did was NOT because they were optimal tone woods for a bass. Aside from the fact they are respectable tone woods, the main reasons he used them were,

    - they were relatively inexpensive and plentiful
    - they were easy to work and not tool-dulling
    - he already had tons of the stuff under his roof for his guitars

    To be fair to Peter, two big factors that can cause two pieces of the same same-sized specie of wood to sound different are their weights, (a result of the trees' growing conditions), and simply our subjective ears.

    IMO, Dave is right on the money about suggesting mahogany because you want a bass that can yield two totally different tonal personalities. The "hi-fi grand piano" tone you mention requires a wood that can sound powerful. Mahogany is noted for the strong fundamentals it produces, just what a concert grand Steinway will give. As a matter of fact, one luthier says he finds mahogany with a maple top is THE combination to get if you want thick, powerful, cutting tone without harshness.

    If you were limiting your expectations to vintage sound, I'd reco the alder/maple.
    However, as Mike Tobias said, lighter weight woods, e.g. alder, and lighter colored woods, e.g. maple, yield brighter, singing, tones and let notes swell. (BTW, I have a quilted maple/alder 5'er and it sings sweetly like a canary, but it can't get anywhere near the cutting, authoritative sound of a grand piano even with roundwounds). If you're concerned with cosmetics and have never seen natural or light-stained alder, believe me, it's nothing worth staring at.

    Aside from other important factors, (like your hands), I think a mahogany/quilted maple body with a wide armature pickup or two would get you much closer to your goal than the combination Dave is advising against.
    Mystic Michael likes this.
  5. Phat Ham

    Phat Ham

    Feb 13, 2000
    Ok my original post was a bit misleading. Dave didn't recommend mahogany over alder. At first I had suggested swamp ash, but Dave said in his opinion its not worth the price. So then I suggested alder because my j-bass is alder, and I get pretty good tones out of it. He then responded saying alder is a good choice, along with normal ash and mohagony.

    After reading the above posts I'm now leaning more towards mahogany. After all I already have a j-bass for big fat tones, and the modern grand piano tone is more important to me than the vintage fat tone is.

    And I'm not really worried about cosmetics. I used to think if I had a light color top (quilted maple) I would want a light body wood (alder or ash) to match it. But after seeing a Ken Smith with a light top and a dark body that changed everything. I would be perfectly happy with the way it looks either way.
  6. Peter Parker

    Peter Parker Banned

    Jun 10, 2001
    Yeah if you want a non Fender tone go with the mahogany. I agree with what was said about mahogany not being used for slapping and tapping because it's not as bright unless you put a bright top on it. What I said was based on the fact that you said you were going to put a maple top and a maple fingerboard which is bright. I'd probably go for ebony instead though. Maple tends to sound too open and ebony would give it a more focused compressed sound while still giving you great clarity. I still say mahogany does NOT produce the lows alder does. I've had way too many basses made with that material that could not get round, fat and full. I've had them with many different tops and still couldn't get it. If you want grand piano tone, I wouldn't go with mahogany either. The neck wood and stiffness is going to play a huge roll in that. The woods you've chosen will do well especially if it's very hard and dense. Hopefully it will be built with a good amount of wenge. I would consider a different wood for the body though. I played a Smith bass once that had a walnut body with maple top and it sounded much deeper and clearer than any other Smith I've played with mahogany body. Another thing, until the bass is put together you'll have no way of knowing what it will sound like no matter the woods. Good luck!
  7. biscuit


    Mar 6, 2000
    Virginia, USA
    I would go with the mahogany body. Since your bass is a neck through design, most of your tone will come from the neck. Since the neck is a five piece laminate of maple and wenge, the neck will be very stiff giving a more bright, punchy tone. Mahogany will soften the overtones produced by this neck design and give you a more balanced tone. Not only is mahogany is the best choice for tone, it is also a very nice looking wood.
  8. Hi Guys!
    To answer the guy's question...I own two DP Custom Basses, one solid mahogany and the other has a veneer of Claro Walnut over mahogany and they both give the range of sounds it sounds like he is looking for. However installing a set of Alembic P/J activator electronics and pickups gave the solid mahogany bass on the high end (with round wound strings) a grand piano sound like you would not believe. Ask Kurt Kurosawa. The reason he bought a DP Custom bass was because he came by and played on my solid mahogany bass. And he got rid of a Fender P bass to buy the DP! The low end growls. You'd have to hear it. The woods contribute but in an electric bass especially with active electronics, the electronics play a VERY big part of your overall sound. By the way both of these basses are neck through which also adds to the characteristics I wanted in my basses...deep woody sound and sustain. I hope this helps your decision. Dave won't lead you wrong. Email me if you have any other questions you want answered from a players perspective. I see in your profile UVA. I am in Virginia Beach. If you get down this way look me up. I will be glad to let you play on my basses and I am sure Kurt would do the same with his Pushic.
  9. I'd use Walnut. But that's me;)

    I say go with Mahogany. It's heavy, but it's nice.
  10. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Kong - I think avodire', a.k.a. African White Mahogany/Blonde Mahogany, would be so bright with a quilted maple top, sonically, it would be painful. As Mike Tobias says, bright color usually means bright tone.

    If you didn't get either piece stained darker, you'd have to wear sunglasses -


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