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Body and Neck Wood

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by zaco bassa, Sep 22, 2005.

  1. zaco bassa

    zaco bassa

    Sep 22, 2005
    Hey all,

    i've been playing bass for a few years, and i'm very interested in finding out how the wood affects the sound of your bass?

    does it affect the sound to a large extent? or does most of the difference in sound results from the pickups used ?

  2. Moo

    Moo Banned

    Dec 14, 2002
    Oakland, CA
    Here's how I look at it. You can play people a recording of a bass and many will be able to tell you what kind of pickups it has, is it a jazz, a p, a Smith, a Stingray? No one can tell you what kind of wood it is.

    Draw your own conclusions. ;)
  3. Shiveringbass


    Aug 21, 2005
    IMHO, woods play a great part in an instrument sound for instance ash body with maple neck are usualy aknoledged as being great slap bass's for the percussive tone of its woods.

  4. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    the only way the wood affects the sound of my bass is when I try and play my extremely heavy Fender Jazz V for more than an hour... and it ends up sounding so lousy because my shoulder is agony and I can't concentrate and would rather be elsewhere :)

    surely someone must have done a 'blindfold' test on the wood thing... some people will claim they can hear the difference between an ash/basswood/alder Jazz bas etc... so surely there's a simple way of putting this to the test online?

    how about I play one of my basses, stick up an mp3 and post a poll asking what wood it's made of? it'll be a 4 string Jazz so surely we'd be all familiar with the tone
  5. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    It is one of the many things that affect the tone. But it is a very significant one.
    The importance of p-ups is overemphased IMO. They surely are important, but the better ones are designed to give back much of the character of the bass' acoustic tone. There are some that sound downright bad, but the same goes for some types of woods, too; some have a signature tone, as do some woods.
    My 2 cents
  6. Moo

    Moo Banned

    Dec 14, 2002
    Oakland, CA
    A while back someone posted pictures of 6 basses and their sound clips and there was pages of people trying to match the clip to the bass. The only one people got with any degree of certainty was the Thumb bass. I believe that was because it had both pickups tight to the bridge and you could hear the placement. All the others with their PJ and jazz setups were picked right about as often as chance would be right.

    I've never met anyone who can accurately tell me what wood a bass is made of without knowing ahead of time. I've met hundreds who've claimed they can.

    Try this little test with your friends, record the same bass twice but one time move your picking fingers about an inch or two up the strings. Play it for people and ask if they can hear which is ash and which is alder.

    More examples, some people will go on and on about how they can hear glue lines in laminations and how they inhibit the flow of tone through the body yet no one talks about the damping affect of holding a bass tight against our flabby guts. Maybe Gramma Pads can start marketing tone isolation shirts?
  7. Moo

    Moo Banned

    Dec 14, 2002
    Oakland, CA
    Hi Frank, please don't take this personally.

    No magnetic pickup reproduces the acoustic tone of an instrument, microphones do that best. Upright players will go on about this for days as their instruments are acoustic. A magnetic pickup generates an electrical signal based on a piece of steel moving through a magnetic field.

    What would be an actual change that can be made in the manufacture of a better pickup that would allow it to give back more acoustic tone than an inferior pickup?

  8. HA! :D
  9. nad

    nad 60 Cycle Humdinger Commercial User

    Sep 22, 2005
    Not Mars
    The Overlord of Nordstrand Pickups
    okay i've been browsing this forum for a few weeks now, but with comments like this i'm here to stay. awesome.
  10. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    True, p-ups pick up the wave motion of the strings.
    However, there are p-ups that are flatter across their range, and there are other that colour more, or have uneven frequency response. By inferior I mean the latter, as it is less akin to the sound the bass produces.
  11. Moo

    Moo Banned

    Dec 14, 2002
    Oakland, CA
    Thanks for the clarification. I'd still argue that flatter is an arbitrary term to describe what we prefer. Since the pickups are not capturing the vibrations coming off the instrument into the air.

    And to further my philosophical ranting how can any pickup be called flat when simply sliding it's position on the bass or moving your plucking fingers down the string can have drastic effects on the dominant frequencies coming down the cord? For example some of my favorite pups are Smiths. On his website he describes them as flat. Yet my BSR5P has 2 of them and as I pan between them the tone changes drastically. Which one is flat?

    Thanks for the discussion, this topic is fascinating to me and I hope none of what I say comes off as an attack. I see much of what we consider to be guitar fact as simply marketing and religious style faith in what we decide something is.
  12. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    There's a program floating on the net somewhere, that models the connection between the p-ups position and the frequencies it sees.
    Ah, this is it: http://www.till.com/articles/PickupResponseDemo/
    You see, the wave motion from the strings is uneven by itself; however, there are some p-ups that are much weaker in some frequency ranges or are too strong in others. One example I have is the crappy stock p-ups my first bass has. It is very weak in the sub-50 Hz range, strong in the 100-400 range, and again weaker in the 1kHz+ region (all figures are "guesstimates") and so it sounds muddy.
  13. Moo

    Moo Banned

    Dec 14, 2002
    Oakland, CA
    Hi Frank, we agree that different pickups will focus on different frequencies. My point is that the term flat is meaningless and the app you posted shows that. Simply move the pickup position and the response changes. And I can't get anything anywhere near flat from that applet. But I didn't spend much time with it.

    I still see terms as flat, uncolored and pure tone to simply be feel good marketing terms. They're unquantifiable and untestable (as used here) and have been applied to almost any tone out there. If we could decide what flat meant specifically and found a pickup that met that standard simply changing strings or letting them age would ruin everything.
  14. So the same quality and sound producing pups will sound different in basswood or agithis or Ash or Adler?
  15. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    Yes, the same type of p-ups on different body woods yield different tones. A plethora of woods are not used without purpose.
    Even unplugged, you can hear the difference with some woods.
  16. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    Well, well, how to explain this... I suck at explaining even in my own language...
    So... The string vibration is different at different points. At some places you get specific harmonics, at some others, you dont. There are also harmonics cancelling out each other. That's why you see those wave patterns in the higher frequency regions. The big wave at the beginning is the fundamental. How strong the fundamental is depends on the amplitude. This depends on the location (the amplitude is highest at the middle of the resonating part of the string). Because ot this, the placement of the pickup does influence the tone.

    However, when I say "flat" or "uncoloured", it means that it gives back the frequencies it sees as close as possible.
    But this so far was about the strings' physics.
    Another thing is the p-ups response curve. With the sine waves from a signal generator, the response curve of the p-ups can be measured, and this can indeed be flat.
  17. I've heard Alder bodies have a more vintage tone, and Ash bodies have a more modern tone.

    Maple necks are brighter and Rosewood is more mellow.

    But, here's a guy that can't the difference between a P pickup and a Jazz. :rollno:
  18. Moo

    Moo Banned

    Dec 14, 2002
    Oakland, CA
    If you want to switch to Hungarian I'm willing to give it a try :)
    My bass doesn't have a sine wave generator, it has strings ;)

    I understand the hypothetical "flat". I still think it's an ideal you can't demonstrate like infinity or some better example of what I'm saying.

    Since there is no real world standard for testing an identical pickup will get different results based on room temperatures, how hard you pick etc... Also since I've never heard of any pup maker testing their pups response to a moving string across all frequencies all makers claiming flat are doing so without any testing. Saying a pup is flat is just market speak. Flatter than another pup could be argued but not flat.

    I was just reading in a different forum a description of flat pups that are very punchy, which means they are not flat. I hear this kind of contradiction often with the more nebulous terms like flat and uncolored. So much that I now see them as genuine as new & improved on laundry detergent. Empty hyperbole. IMO of course.

    Bartolini did built an auto picker to test pup volumes to a single note relatively consistently picked. We need more of this kind of stuff.
  19. BoiNtC


    Nov 25, 2002
    NYC, USA
    Personally I think that the wood helps, because I recall Mike Tobias saying somewhere that he wants his basses to sound amazing acoustically first because its the pickups that amplify that sound. Of course you could process the hell out of a bass and make it sound like anything with the right gadgets, but whats the point of that? Just go play a keyboard. This thread will probably run to hell and this horse has been beaten once too many times. But I agree with Mike Tobias, whatever bass I've played if it sounded great acoustically it sounded pretty darn good when plugged in, when it didn't sound so great acoustic, it didnt' sound so good plugged in.. Are there exceptions? Probably but that is just my experience.
  20. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    The moving string test isn't too feasible, but you could hook your pups up to a vector network analyser and test their frequency response across all the working frequencies (i.e. the old standard 20 Hz to 20 KHz). VNAs are plenty of fun to play with, but they cost a pretty penny. This test would also only look at the electrical characteristics of the pups, not at how well they pick up a vibrating string.

    As for the wood = tone argument, even if wood changes the tone there's enough physical variation (i.e. density, hardness, etc) within one species of wood to make the whole thing moot. Your best bet is to pick stuff based on it's physical properties (and looks) rather than what people claim it sounds like.