Anyone know the physics behind 'different wood= Diferent sound"?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by f'nar f'nar, Aug 2, 2005.

  1. Anybody know why different woods bring about different tones? I mean, I've played the same bass in two different woods before and they have sounded years afart from each other. Does anyone know the reason behind this? or is it something we're just not meant to ask/know?
  2. Funkzfly


    Jun 15, 2005
    Different factors will affect how sonically pleasing/usable a piece of wood is. Density, open/closed grain (affects how much oil is soaked up), weight, etc. etc. It's too wide a question to ask really.
  3. dlloyd

    dlloyd zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Apr 21, 2004
    This is how I understand it...

    If you play a note on your bass, the sound you get is made up of a standing wave at the fundamental frequency, and a host of higher harmonics.

    The oscillation of the string causes the body of the bass to resonate, and this resonance feeds back to the string, altering the waves at different frequencies in different ways, depending on the properties of the body wood.

    Hard woods tend to resonate better at higher frequencies than soft woods, which is why maple-bodied basses tend to have a brighter tone.
  4. Many luthiers (Alembic, Ken Smith) and some online (bass) guitar shops offer information about different wood types, sound characteristics etc. on their websites.
  5. Audiophage


    Jan 9, 2005
    Warmoth also has a pretty detailed section about woods.

    All I know is that density and grain(which kind of relate) are big factors.
  6. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    Keep in mind as well, ALL woods used will affect sound, including the neck and fingerboard woods. No two pieces of wood are identical, and even the same species has different properties between boards.

    Also to note, unless your talking about an acoustic instrument, wood will be down about number 3 or 4 on the list of biggest tonal contributors to the overall sound. In an electric instrument, electronics (including pickups) will be the biggest factor in your overall sound. Wood choices will flavor that sound in different directions, but the base sound you start with will likely come from your electronics.
  7. I've found that a maple body gives off a deeper, more mellow tone and a ash body has a more lively more 'active' sounding tone. That's just me.
  8. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    It's seemed to me that a maple neck that has a rosewood fingerboard has less crosstalk between the strings, than an all-maple. What I mean by crosstalk is that if you pluck (or TAP, which is more my concern) one string without touching any of the others, and then stop it (still without touching any others), it seems that an all-maple neck leaves the other strings vibrating more than if you did the same thing with a maple/rosewood.

    I figure it's because the different densities/resonances of the two woods make it harder for the vibrations to transmit from the fret, into the rosewood, and then into the rest of the neck. They're like different impedances, so the vibrations want to reflect off of the interface between the two, instead of transmit through.

    Make sense?

  9. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member

    Excellent points.
  10. temp5897

    temp5897 Guest

    That completely depends on what kind of electronics you use. My bass pre amp sounds exactly the same with everything set flat as it does in passive mode. There is only a slight difference in the gain on the output.

    The pickups are also designed to offer a flat response. Sure there has to be *some* coloration but the electronics package on my bass is designed to allow the true sound of the bass to come through.

    Personally I associate electronics that have their own distinctive sound as being "lesser" or "cheap" in quality. Perhaps it's what other people like but for me it's defintely not the way to go.
  11. The physics behind it is pretty simple and also difficult. Different materials (woods) vibrate in different ways. The physical properties including density, stiffness, which is likely anisotropic (not the same in all directions), the physical dimensions of the piece of wood, etc. Different pieces of the same species can sound different. Things like grain orientation should make a difference to the vibration of the strings... I don't know that it would make an audible difference. I honestly see why some builders don't like offering advice about using certain woods to get certain sounds, as I'm sure it can be pretty hit and miss (JP, I'm looking at you!).
  12. BruceWane


    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
    Basically, materials with different densities have different resonant frequencies. In other words they vibrate at different rates.

    When a string on an instrument vibrates, no matter what fundamental note is being played, some portions of the various harmonics of the vibrating string will coincide with some portions of the harmonics of the resonant frequencies of the body/neck.

    Where these coincide, the frequencies will be dampened as the vibration of the string is absorbed by the vibration of the body/neck.

    Note that the vibration of the body/neck does not "feed back" into the vibration of the string.

    Thus, an infinitely stiff body/neck structure would dampen no part of the vibrating strings frequency spectrum. This is the original concept behind using carbon fiber composites (graphite...Modulus, Zon, Steinberger, etc...) in bass construction. While these composites aren't "infinitely" stiff, they are stiff enough to have a resonant frequency well above the frequency range of a bass, so they have much less of a dampening effect on the vibrating string.

    For example, it may seem that a lot of wood basses have a lot more "lows" or "warmth" than many composite basses, but what you're hearing is the balance of highs versus mids versus lows; a composite bass has the same low end as any wood bass, but it has more mids and highs so the overall balance seems to have less lows. With the composite bass, the harmonic spectrum of the vibrating string is more "all there". This is not to say that composite is inherently "better" - depending on what you want to hear, having it "all there" can be a good or a bad thing.

    Anyway, when you understand that it all comes down to resonant frequencies of various materials, you can see why two basses of identical materials can sound very different. Mother nature is not terribly consistent when producing wood. You can have dense maple and lighter maple, often within the same tree.......I'd say it'd be practically impossible to build two basses that sound completely identical out of natural materials. And this is what makes the basses that sound "just right" that much more rare, coveted, and expensive.
  13. fretlessrock

    fretlessrock Supporting Member

    Aug 8, 2002
    I'm not calling this "wrong" but it runs totally contrary to my actual experience with electric guitars and basses. I consistently find that the character of an instrument doesn't change with pickup and preamp changes. those things, along with bridge, nut, and strings, are more of an EQ issue. I'd rate body wood and fingerboard wood right at the top in terms of impact on sound. For example, I have never been able to get an ash bodied, maple necked J bass to sound like an alder/rosewood bass. Pickups, preamps... it always has that ash/maple sound (think Marcus). This has been true with several basses, and I now play an ash J with rosewood board!
  14. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member

    *Pickup placement* is also important. We all know that a P-bass and a J-bass are essentially the same instrument except for the pickups. If you yank the double-J's and install a split-P, then you'll lose the Marcus sound and have yourself a funny-lookin' P-bass.
  15. Fretless you bring up a very interesting point that often gets overlooked in these wood discussions: Personal experience. Just as the word implies, they're personal, everyone is going to have a different one.

    If a person hears a difference between an ash body and an alder body then there IS one, no question or two ways about it there is a difference- at least for that person.

    That being said if I pick up a bass with two J pickups Im going to end up sounding like me, not Marcus or another artist. When it comes down to it, my personal experience tells me that in a mix the subtle differences between basses (being of good quality, anything with poor electronics is another story) is something that just isn't that important, especially considering variations apparent in the same species of wood.

    That isn't saying there isn't any difference, only that for my ears and technique that difference can be overcome to get that bass to sound like I want it to. I look to factors like weight, comfort, looks and what not in wood, when it comes to sound I let my ears do the choosing alone, and attempt to keep the flavorful descriptions out of it (warm, creamy, brittle, etc.)

    And just in case anyone missed the tone of this post, a big Your Milage May Vary! :smug:
  16. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member

    So, what exactly is the "true sound" of a bass? Without electronics, how do you know what it is? With your bass unplugged, try this experiment: play it as you normally do (standing, sitting, whatever). Now tilt the body so that front faces up towards your head and play. Now play it with the back of the bass facing towards your head. Now play it with your ear pressed against the body. These tones are all similar but hardly identical. Which one is really "flat"?

    Likewise: with everything else being equal (bass, pickups, preamp): if you change the pickup locations, you'll get different tone, and that difference would be as noticeable as changing the body wood. Point being, electronics are a major component of tone even when they are relatively flat.
  17. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member

    P.S. IMO, "sounds good" is the critical factor, not "sounds flat". Doesn't matter to me how "good" is achieved (flat or colored).
  18. temp5897

    temp5897 Guest

    Well, for me, the true sound of the bass is what's coming off the strings on the front of a bass so to speak. Just like you're not going to try to listen to an audiophile speaker by standing behind it, I'm not going to listen to my bass by sticking my ear by the back of the body. That's silly.

    Sure pickup placement is going to change the sound. The way the strings are vibrating will be different along the length of the string. However the pickups should capture the sound occuring at those points. Of course electronics are a major component of the sound you get out of the bass. The question is, are you going to use quality electronics or not, and what are they doing to the natural sound of your bass?

    You've never played a bass that sounds different acoustically then plugged in, or likewise played a bass that sounded practically identical acoustic and amplified (only louder)?

    Edit: I agree sounding good is what you want. But if your bass doesn't sound good "flat" it's not going to sound good EQ'd in my opinion. Personally, I'm just not satisfied with anything short of perfection sound wise. Yes, I'm a snob. :D
  19. temp5897

    temp5897 Guest

    I personally don't understand this. I generally hear huge differences in basses in a mix. Across the entire spectrum. I suppose it could also depend on what type of music you are playing.

    I had a friend send me a track recently and he told me nothing about who was playing the bass. And I asked "is that Anthony Jackson?" and I could tell simply by the sound of the bass (and yes it was AJ). To me being able to listen critically to both the notes being played and the sound of those notes is incredibly important in being a solid musician.