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Alternative Tonewood

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Kev2007, Mar 11, 2008.

  1. Hi all

    I'd like to start a thread to discuss the use of alternative tonewoods in DB making. We all know that good 'classic' wood is becoming increasingly hard (and expensive!) to find. What experience do some of the TB builders and contributors have with woods we might not have thought about using for various parts of the bass? Here are a few I've been curious about for back/sides/neck:


    And as long as you're heaping ridicule on me (I can take it :spit:), what experience do y'all have with multi-lam necks on the DB? There's one spectacular example on "The Talkbasses" page, but that's the only one I've ever seen.

    Thanks -I know that this has been touched on in various TB posts, but I've not found a thread yet that's devoted specificallly to this subject.


  2. Poplar and willow seem to be popular alternatives for back and ribs. I was recently at a luthier's shop and saw a bass he was making from gorgeous claro walnut. I can only imagine the finished bass will be far more beautiful.
    We might extend the conversation to include alternative top woods, like red cedar or fir.
    Can't offer personal experience...sorry!
  3. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    I was working on a bass the other day - the back was made of what looked, on the inside, like MDF! The outside was a more presentable veneer.
  4. christ andronis

    christ andronis

    Nov 14, 2001
    They may look really beautiful, but don't they have different resonance properties (I'm not even sure if that's what you call it) that makes one type of wood vibrate better or worse than another?
  5. Yeah, that's kind of where I'm hoping this will go. For example, my research led me to understand that cherry had poor resonating qualities, therefore was not a good choice for tonewood. Then I ran across this:


    - a beautiful cherry wood bass that apparently sounds fabulous. Is this as simple as looking at a chart like this http://www.woodbin.com/ref/wood/strength_table.htm and comparing wood density, etc.?
  6. jimmyduded


    Jun 12, 2007
    cherry hill nj
    Bubinga, purpleheart, cocobolo, cherry(jatoba and cherry are roughly the same thing) and hickory are all hardwoods that weigh too much and dont have enough resonance to be suitable for double bass making, maybe they could make a nice neck i guess but it would most likely weigh the bass down alot, maple and willow have been used for centuries for a reason, their strong, light(decently) and flexible. the woods listed above are suitable for bass guitar making because the bass is electrified and doesnt depend on resonant properties for tone(for the most part). ash walnut and willow are all woods ive worked with and i guess would work on a db(ive worked with all the hardwoods mentioned as well, purple heart for a neck would be quite expensive) as for sides, good luck bending hardwoods haha they would have to be very thin and it would still be an arduous task. as for backs i guess you could use whatever fancys you but you need to keep in mind cost, weight and resonance. these are all good thoughts though
  7. That was made by a guy who also put a trap door in one of his basses.
  8. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    I think that there is evidence of enough variation in woods already used by both new basses and old master basses to indicate that a good maker could probably use just about anything, even slab cut pine with knots in it, and end up with a fine bass. The back of stefano sciascias bass is made of several planks of pine with crossbars screwed in! Looks odd, but sounds lovely!

    You work with the wood that you have. if you have a heavy dense wood you might decide to work it thinner to compensate, and brace differently. Conversely if you have very light wood for a top you might build it thicker and heavier to get the sound want. Bob Ross can make a fine cherry bass because he's a fine maker. the same wood in someone else's hands might turn out a dog.

    That said, it seems to be a sad fact that basses made of non-traditional woods don't attract the dollars that maple and spruce do.
  9. And that indicates what exactly? :eyebrow:
  10. jimmyduded


    Jun 12, 2007
    cherry hill nj
    he likes to hide? he has a pet chupacabra? he puts candy in it and lets the kiddies take a whack? the possibilities are endless haha
  11. Just noting that fact to show that the guy has all kind of alternative ideas not just wood.
  12. uprightben


    Nov 3, 2006
    Boone, NC
    A good friend of mine in college bought a Kolstien with cherry back, sides, and neck. The sound was amazing, huge bass tones with all the mid to high complexity that one would expect from a fine carved bass, really one of the finest sounding basses I've ever been around (I have no experience with fine old pedigree basses).

    I have always been interested in alternative woods for db, I wish there was an objective way to compare the merits of each species, but it would seem the only evidence is antecdotes like mine.

    Does anyone have any experience with sycamore? My luthier seems to think it would work very well, but he has yet to put his money where his mouth is.
  13. RCWilliams

    RCWilliams Supporting Member Commercial User

    Apr 23, 2007
    Merriam Kansas (Kansas City)
    owner RC Williams Co. LLC
    my first bass was made out of yellow poplar, we also experomented with alder and American sycamore, all the basses were good. sycamore moved a bit more than I liked, but since it was quartered and loaded with ray grain it was kind of pretty. the next 75 or so will be big leaf maple.

    birch is similar to alder, cherry and walnut similar to maple, as far as furniture goes, don't know as far as tonal qualities .

    as far as trap doors go, one of my partners had a stand partner in Russia that kept a bottle of vodka in his bass, just in case of long rests.

    we have done one cedar top and the rest spruce. I was not fond of how the cedar cuts, and it splits very easily too. probably why they make shingles out of it. the sound of that particular bass is very good.
  14. Anyone just used plain ol' pine for the top? I've encountered some pieces of nice, straight-grained pine over my woodworking years. In my experience it's no harder to work than cedar.

    Is walnut difficult to carve and bend?
  15. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    American Walnut (maybe others as well) is listed as one of the best to bend. Some of it is very pretty, too...and all the instruments I have heard with it sound very good. But I haven't personally heard or seen a walnut/pine bass. Not to say it couldn't be done.

    I saw some Peruvian Walnut that was really beautiful, very dark brown wood, and at a reasonable price...but I didn't get it, and I wish I had. I'd like my son to build me a guitar of it, if nothing else.
  16. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    I've worked with both jatoba and American cherry and they are very different. American cherry is a relatively soft hardwood. Jatoba is very hard. Dulls blades in no time.
  17. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    Peter Elias has made astoundingly good sounding basses with hickory, heavy varieties of walnut, and other supposedly "unsuited" woods. The Chicago Symphony owns 9 of his basses.

    There are no rules.
  18. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    Pear basses are supposed to sound very nice. They weigh a tonne.
  19. Nick Lloyd in Cinci has made a bass w. walnut back and sides and it is killin!! Check out his website for photo's...He told me he got the wood from Indiana.. .Anything is possible if you know what you are doing...
  20. any thoughts on western larch...(pine family) reportedly the strongest conifer in canada/n.w.us. can get quite large and quite old 500+ yrs , very straight grain,stiff and resilient,does not seem to be too heavy.. the texture was good depending site and elevation...have no idea how it will yield to be bent. my only experience with it was felling large ,well dried standing buckskin snags. seems to me it maybe somewhat overlooked for instrument components.

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