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Bass Woods

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by rintintin, Jan 10, 2013.

  1. rintintin


    Nov 26, 2012
    Can someone please explain the real difference and why, in buying an expensive bass made with premium woods, would sound better than a cheaper bass made from say not so expensive woods.

    If the strings sit on top of the fret board and resonate over the pickups, then how does an expensive wood sitting below the strings make a huge difference. I know this sounds simpleton, however when you see price tags for AA, AAA AAAA, and exotic woods, you have to sometimes wander what real difference are you buying, and can our ears really notice the difference between a $700 and a $1200 bass, or a $5000 and a $12000

    Example: putting aside electronics and hardware I have seen the workmanship on a high end American Fender Jazz and a Mexican Fender Jazz, and to be honest there isn't much noticeable difference. So how much of a difference is the quality of wood going to add to the overall sound at the end of the day.

    If someone can explain please exclude electronics and hardware.

  2. uOpt


    Jul 21, 2008
    Boston, MA, USA
    There is no question that the wood has a major impact on sound.

    However, AAA figured anything doesn't mean it sounds better, and neither do the exotic woods. The fancy constructions with laminated neck-through are certainly a bit more likely to avoid dead spots and let even low Bs (on 5-strings) ring completely clear, but whether that sounds "better" is a different matter.

    Whether the big manufacturers have the ability to pre-judge wood pieces and keep the good ones for the MIA instruments is a matter of debate, too. More likely they go by weight. Fender MIA standard certainly doesn't go by looks (cough).
  3. JamesGoodall


    Aug 29, 2011
    Sub'd :D
  4. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Damn. Two tone/wood threads in one day! Where's that popcorn smiley?

    There is in fact quite a bit of question as to the extent that wood has a impact on sound.
  5. JamesGoodall


    Aug 29, 2011
    It really needs to become a staple in the reply window!
  6. Isn't this, in fact, THE question?

    The entire basis of the hundreds of thousands of millions of debates about tonewood in internetland is the question of what role wood choice plays in the tonality of an instrument.
  7. uOpt


    Jul 21, 2008
    Boston, MA, USA
    I think this is the less interesting question (whether picking wood species can make you pick sound).

    The more interesting question is whether two pieces of alder (different trees) of similar weight made into two P-bass bodies sound different. And I don't think anyone here doubts that.

    So the question really isn't whether there is a difference. The question is whether there is control. Can you influence how the thing sounds by select picking of the wood before you can listen to it?
  8. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    I don't believe that an instruments body wood has much if any effect on the over all tone of an instrument. I do believe that the neck and fingerboard do have a small influence on the overall tone.

    You ask the sonic difference between a $700, $1200, $5000 and $12,000 bass, but then you ask that we disregard electronics and hardware, but the biggest difference between the sound of any solid body electric instruments are the electronics and strings.

    The true difference in the price point between any instruments are the, craftsmanship, hardware, electronics and wood selection, which is mostly aesthetic. But we all know aesthetics are probably the biggest selling point.
  9. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    What proof do you have that the body woods of any solid body electric instruments actually have an effect on sound.
  10. Meatrus


    Apr 5, 2009
    No :ninja:
  11. JamesGoodall


    Aug 29, 2011
    The theories in physics that define our understanding of sound and audio as vibrations.
  12. Squinty Jones

    Squinty Jones Bravely eating @ MacDonald's Supporting Member

    Feb 1, 2004

  13. How does the body wood influence the sound? => It's complicated
    What is the right price for a bass? => It's complicated

    I feel very helpful today!
  14. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    What theories are these?

    I have only seen proof to the contrary. Like the test where one bass made with traditional "tone woods" was compared to a scrap 2x4 with a neck, strings and pickups on it, and most people couldn't hear any difference.
  15. jobo4


    Apr 19, 2006
    Austin, TX
    So, theoretical proof? Maybe anecdotal evidence?

    Where are the data?
  16. It sounds better because you pay more money for it, and because the salesman's facile enthusiasm tells you so.
  17. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
  18. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars

    They sound better because they are built better, with better parts, and electronics.
  19. JamesGoodall


    Aug 29, 2011
    I was hoping someone else would chime in. I wasn't feeling all the typing, but I have coffee now, so here we go! :D

    Think about acoustics. The was sound waves vibrate and the things that affect those vibrations. Such as density. You tap your knuckle on a high density object and you get more of a resonant tapping sound, whereas when you do it on a low-density object you get a deep resonant thump. Then there are all the thousands of shades in between.

    When you pluck a string, It obviously vibrates. Where and how you pluck that string affect the timbre of that note as it resonates between the bridge and the nut. But that isn't the only thing vibrating, is it? You feel the body against yours vibrating, dissipating that energy of the vibrating string. Some into your body where it is absorbed, and some back onto that plucked string and the surrounding strings. This is where the body woods come into play.

    The lighter, lower density woods resonate with lower frequencies (fundamental/harmonics), reinforcing those back onto the vibrating string instead of the higher frequencies. The opposite with Maple or Ebony, who do as such with the higher frequencies, giving those woods their fabled "brighter" sound. It has a similar effect as where you pluck the string in the harmonics that are pronounced. Near the bridge you are reinforcing the higher harmonics made up of shorter divisions of the string, thus your first and second harmonics are not as present and your note has an overall "brighter" sound. Then, If you were to pluck over the 19-22nd fret (a sound I love) you reinforce the harmonics made up of longer divisions of the string. Predominantly the second harmonic, as frets 19-22 are around 1/4 of the way between the bridge and the nut, at the center of the peak of the wave of the string at the second harmonic.

    The woods you choose affect which harmonics resonate more powerfully in the same way that the space on the string at which you pluck does, but where we pluck is much more controllable, the same with pickup placement.

    Based on all this, we can infer (know) that woods do in fact affect the tone of an instrument based on the density of said wood. The only issue with this is we cannot control the density of the wood we pick and use, but only make broad generalizations that are true to a certain degree, such as I stated before: Mahogany=warm & Maple=bright.

    I have an experiment to test all this, but it is costly, and I don't have the supplies to do it :( I hope this helped you to understand my reasoning and point of view though :)

    Carry on!
  20. ba$$player


    Dec 8, 2010
    I completely agree that wood makes a difference, however I also agree that doesn't just mean different kinds of woods. Two basses made of thesame wood can sound different. Each piece of wood has its own personality. My father always taught me to look for instruments with knots in the wood, and call it a coincidence but that has never failed me.
    There is a lot to be said about the way they are played too though. I have heard good players sound amazing on a bass I could barely play so its not all in the wood for me personally. I will pay more for a bass because of comfort more than anything. I have to be able to close my eyes and improvise something, that's how I determine value.