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basses made from wood other than maple

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Jacob Bartfield, May 13, 2003.

  1. Every bass I have ever seen has been either made from plywood, had a spruce top with maple back and sides, or has had some combination. Putting the plywood instruments aside, why is there only one combination of woods that are ever used to make hand carved basses? Look at acoustic guitars: The top is usually made of spruce, but often it's cedar. The back and sides are occasionally maple, but they're often mahogany, walnut, koa, or rosewood. Why are basses always confined to just using maple for the back and sides? This also applys to violins, violas, and cellos.
  2. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    I wound up with a new viol-shaped bass made with cherry back and sides. The large, thin plates of cherry did exactly what you would expect large, thin plates of cherry to do: They split like crazy. The bass was toasted within a decade.
  3. Rod B.

    Rod B.

    Jun 11, 2002
    The first things that come to mind are cut and projection. Maple does both really well.

    Most mandolins that are for bluegrass are maple sides and back for cut and projection. In mandolins you do see mahogany backs and sides, but they're warmer sounding and don't provide the cut and projection. They tend to get lost in the mix in large group work.
  4. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    Actually, theres plenty of basses made from other woods. Poplar, willow, nutwoods are fairly commonly used for ribs and back while white pine and cedar[western red, port orford] are successful for top plates. I am curious about Sam's experience with cherry cuz it made plenty of good Italian basses and I have one friend who's made some good celli with it.
  5. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    The back of my bass (Mirecourt) is beech... hence I could afford it !
  6. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    My DeLeone was made of sycamore and pine. It had a great sound. After restoration by one of the luthiers from around here.

    John Feeney, principal of Orchestra of St. Luke's, has a bass made of birch that's a total gas. It was made by Tonenges (help me with the spelling, Arnold) and has diamond shaped cutouts in the C-bouts.
  7. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    I have a bass with a back and ribs of Ash. It is a stable wood and projects well. I also have a stash of Butternut, Walnut and both Yellow and Red Birch which will eventually become basses. Maple became a standard because it is pretty and readily available in Germany and throughout Europe. And it bends well for rib-making. But the best basses I've ever heard were old Italians made of Poplar or Willow. Many superb celli were also made with these "alternate" woods.
  8. Hmm...So there really are a lot of basses out there made from wood other than maple. I'm not sure why I didn't realize that before. Thanks for showing us that picture Ken Smith. If anyone else has any pictures of non-maple basses that would be greatly apreciated. Thanks.
  9. John Sprague

    John Sprague Sam Shen's US Distributor

    Mar 10, 2003
    Rochester, NY
    Sales Manager, CSC Products Inc.
    Here's a pic of the back of our new Shen bass, a willow 7/8 flatback.

    But alternative woods for violins? Perish the thought! :D
  10. Cool. That's definately not maple. I've never heard of willow being used for instruments. What sort of tonal properties does it have?
  11. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    I've seen many basses in willow and have noted some things about them tonally. Organ-like bass and quick to respond. Generally lacking in the upper register though and very often quite wolfie. It's a very available wood in bass size and is very cheap compared to more traditional woods.
  12. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Julius Callman, a NYC luthier in the '60's, had to make a new back for a Testore (worm infestation), and I recall him telling me Testore made 3 piece backs out of willow.
  13. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    If you go to http://lordonly.net/Images/John/talkbassass/don4131/ , the reddish bass in picture #3 is made of pine and sycamore
  14. My bass has willow sides and back. It's dark, arco is organ like, I've been told the upper register is violin-like, and there's a terrible wolf between F# and G in a couple of places.
  15. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    My first bass had a poplar back. I loved the sound. It was English.

    I'm actually considering the purchase of another English bass at the monent; it has a poplar back also.
  16. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    A Martin?
  17. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    I wish i knew...It's anonymous from what I'm told and there is no label. It is a very nice sounding bass - it has poplar back and sides. Someone that knows much more about basses than I do just told me that he has not seen an English bass with poplar back and sides.

    Violin corners, dark varnish. I think it's 3/4 or 7/8.

    I am hesitant to rush into this bass for what
    is being asked and me not knowing enough to say "yes, this is an English bass," or " No, this is not an English bass."

    The other thing is that it's in another state - I played it last week.

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