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Basswood vs mahogany

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Wakizashis, Dec 2, 2019.

  1. Hands strings electronics amp. That's the big four. Light weight is good.
    juggahnaught and FugaziBomb like this.
  2. there ARE generalizations that are true about woods with solid body instruments, though.

    maple instruments tend to be brighter than other woods, for example.

    mahogany is a HUGE family of wood types.... very good point by someone earlier, and it is different (dramatically, apparently) in different parts of the world.

    weight matters more to me, as does the feel and sound of the instrument. what it looks like matters somewhat, but looks can be improved no matter what the material it's made of. also an ugly wood looks great if it has a thin sexy burled walnut veneer, or whatever... there are ways to improve looks if that matters.

    I mean, ash, I think it's ash, is ugly. but some great fenders were made from it (like, thousands and thousands and thousands of great fenders)
  3. TheMaynorD

    TheMaynorD Gold Supporting Member

    Aug 28, 2013
    Oklahoma City
    To come to @bongostealth defense, yes the new rays have the neodymium pickups. The butthurt that inevitably results from tonewood has begun!

    Attached Files:

    bongostealth likes this.
  4. mouthmw


    Jul 19, 2009
    I mentioned that too lol. Again, not the same designs. My point was simple really, two different "engines" under the hood. I wouldn't blame basswood for not liking the Bongo tone, but to each their own I suppose.

    Edit: Basswood wouldn't be my choice because it's soft and dents easily. Squier CV line (MIC) was great though. I had a Jazz CV and it was cool, but it had a big dent in it that I had zero clue how it got it while I was driving it home one day in a gig bag, in the back seat.
  5. Same here. I had not preconception about basswood until I owned a Japanese Jazz Bass made with basswood. I probably tried 10 different pickup sets with this bass and it still sounded blah.

    In all fairness, even within the same wood variety, all pieces of wood are not equal. Despite my negative experience, it is possible some basswood bass sound fantastic
    JimmyM likes this.
  6. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    I really like both … basswood is very light and soft and has a nice resonance, but screw holes get stripped easily on a basswood body. Mahogany is harder and has a nice tone … mahogany is used by Gibson a lot. Both of these woods are nice with a figured maple top.

    If you want a bass that is under 9 pounds Basswood can deliver ...

    Mahogany is a little darker in tone
  7. FugaziBomb


    Jun 5, 2017
    You've got this backwards - mahogany is a little more durable than basswood
  8. waveman


    Sep 25, 2008
    Is this people just listening, or players. Players hear and feel things that never translate to the final result listener hears.
    ajkula66 likes this.
  9. Rip Van Dan

    Rip Van Dan DNA Endorsing Artist Supporting Member

    Feb 2, 2009
    Duvall, WA
    Basswood is a MUCH lighter wood than Mahogany and much softer. I have a 5-string bass that has a basswood body with a flamed maple top, and although I rarely play it, it always strikes me as really being light after playing my MIA Jazz Bass. My Jazz is either alder or ash (late '82/early '83 vintage).

    My Jazz Bass weighs in at 10-pounds, 10.4 oz. My 5-string is 9-pounds, 3.6 oz. That's 1-pound, 6.8 oz difference. Although that's less than 1½-pounds difference, it really is noticeable when I pick it up and play it. And that 5-string has a taller/longer body, bigger neck, and hi-mass bridge.

    There's been a LOT of controversy about "tone-woods" and how much influence they have over your sound. A MAJOR consideration is your pickups and on-board electronics. Although these are electric as opposed to acoustic instruments, woods should still have at least some subtle influence on your sound. Story goes that the harder the wood the brighter and snappier the sound. The softer the wood the mellower and warmer the tone is.

    So, here's a list of relative hardness of the various woods used for basses using the Janka Hardness Test (measures the force needed to lodge a small metal ball (0.444") into a piece of wood).

    Wood Lbs of force
    Ebony 3220
    Brazilian Koa 2160
    Bubinga 1980
    Purpleheart 1860
    Goncalo Alves 1850
    Rosewood 1780
    African Padauk 1725
    Wenge 1630
    Zebrawood 1575
    Hard Maple 1450
    Ash 1320
    Cocobolo 1136
    Black Walnut 1010
    Mahogany 800
    Alder 590
    Basswood 410

    As you can see from above, Basswood is really soft, then Alder followed by Mahogany. Then Ash is twice as hard as either Basswood or Alder and much harder than Mahogany. Gibson is known for making guitars and basses with Mahogany bodies and yet their sound is almost invariably warmer with deeper overtones than Fender guitars/basses that are made out of alder or ash. Fender guitars have a rep for "bell-like" clarity whereas Gibson is known for warmer/deeper sounding guitars.

    The Fender guitars historically used single-pole pickups and Gibson guitars use humbuckers. I believe the main component of the sound are the pickups and on-board electronics with the wood adding subtleties to the overall sound...but I'm not a luthier, so what do I know? Those are just my impressions. Anyhow, there are some hardness comparisons for you to take a look at.

    Personally, my Jazz sounds far better than my 5-string although my 5-string sounds good. My Jazz has the two single-pole pickups with the 4" pickup spacing (70's spacing) as opposed to the 3.6" spacing my '65 Jazz had. My 5 string has a single pole pickup with monster pole pieces in the neck and the big MM style soapbar pickup, again with the huge pole pieces, at the bridge position. If you hear it first, it's a good sounding bass. Then you hear my Jazz and you go, "oh, yeah, that's a great sounding bass!"

    So don't get too hung up on tone woods. Listen to the overall sound of the bass played through your gear if at all possible.
  10. waveman


    Sep 25, 2008
    Part of the difference in why Fenders and Gibsons sound brighter/darker is because of the difference in scale length. Then there is the bridge, then there is the pickup position related to all of that.
    Rip Van Dan likes this.
  11. nilorius


    Oct 27, 2016
    Riga - Latvia
    You will never know it for sure.
  12. FugaziBomb


    Jun 5, 2017
    Yes, I will. Basswood has a Janka rating of like 400. That's almost as soft as Pine, which is about as soft a wood as you can get. If you are not familiar with the Janka scale, Google is your friend.
  13. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Ya, when it comes to alder or ash, or even mahogany, I'd say that's probably right. But when it comes to basswood, which has less dense properties than the others, I think I could provided they all had the same pickups.
    LetItGrowTone likes this.
  14. nilorius


    Oct 27, 2016
    Riga - Latvia
    Yes, google is my friend, but you have no understanding what is durable tree, only on weekipedia.
  15. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Doesn't really matter how durable the tree is, does it?
    DiscoRiceJ likes this.
  16. BurtMacklinFBI

    BurtMacklinFBI Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2018
    Personally I doubt wood makes a huge difference, but it seems to make some. In my somewhat limited experience, basswood is a pretty “bleh” wood; it isn’t bad really, it’s just sort of there. Mahogany to my ear has a subtle, darker character to it, not bassy exactly but dark. I’ve been a bit partial to pretty much every mahogany bass I’ve played.

    Of course, anyone who thinks otherwise is a pee pee head and their momma dresses them funny.
    Jesuguru likes this.
  17. FugaziBomb


    Jun 5, 2017
    not as much as how durable the chainsaw is...
    Jesuguru, 4StringTheorist and JimmyM like this.
  18. FugaziBomb


    Jun 5, 2017
    You got me there.
  19. Aloe


    Apr 10, 2016
    I always thought I like darker mellow tone. I do have a mahogany bass and dig it. however, my main player for latest year is an ash-bodied bass. people typically refer to ash as bright, but my mahogany bass is brighter than my ash one. I do have a song where both basses are recorded and I don't think anybody that listened to it ever said "here is mahogany bass and now it's ash one".

    choose instrument, not a coffee table. different instruments from same wood may sound totally different. or different instruments from different wood may sound close enough. either you like the instrument, or not. either you can adjust the bass and amp to sound good for your ears, or not. and that's really it.

    there's a lot of weird stuff in the world, like Danelectros that still use masonite as "tone wood", basswood Japanese basses were not the worst thing (at least, compared to 80s Korean plywood ones), many folks happily played them and some still play. all that matters -- do you like the instrument and how it sounds.
    bdplaid likes this.
  20. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Lost Wages, Nevada
    As for how Basswood and Mahogany (the kind usually used for instruments) sound, the Warmoth guitar/bass website has a good guide for that kind of thing. As far as Basswood's qualities? It's a plain looking, close grained, soft wood. If you get into wood carving, you - along with most other wood carvers - will use a lot of it. It's easily cut/shaped, easily sanded, and it takes stains easily and well. However... every wood guide I've ever read - every one - says "Does NOT hold screws well". So, structurally? Basswood is not the best kind of wood to make basses/guitars with; especially if you use screws to make them...
    Yes, lots of companies make guitars and basses out of Basswood - solid body basses and guitars. And, yes, some of them are pretty high end instruments, too. I have a couple of basses, and a baritone guitar, with Basswood bodies. And, they sound pretty good, for instruments in the $400-700 range. But, gotta say, there's not much that's distinctive in that sound. Honestly? The companies that use it are not doing so because it's a great tone wood. They're using it because 1) it's cheap and readily available; 2) it's quick and easy to work; 3) it doesn't wear tooling out quickly; 4) there are no health concerns; and 5) it's easy to finish. Oh yeah; and, it sounds halfway decent, too... Personally, while I like my Basswood instruments, I am always very wary about banging them against anything (denting easily is another flaw in Basswood), and I leave the screws alone as much as possible...:whistle:

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