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Body wood vs Neck wood vs Fretboard wood Which is more important?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Systolic, Mar 14, 2019.

  1. Body wood

    30 vote(s)
  2. Neck wood

    48 vote(s)
  3. Fretboard wood

    81 vote(s)
  1. Systolic

    Systolic Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2009
    I just popped popcorn. My body is ready. Which hunk of wood contributes more to the sound of a bass? All other things being equal of course.

    Feel free to comment if you feel you have a handle on what the 2nd and 3rd would be as well.

    This may have been done before, but I found it awkward to try to search for it.
    coolvirgin69 likes this.


    Feb 10, 2016
    Michigan USA
    Oh yes, you are right sir, it has been done to death, as in flogging of the dead horse, blood from a stone type of done before.
    bobyoung53 and james condino like this.
  3. Systolic

    Systolic Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2009
    Nice. Link? I've been unable to find one. Tons of "Does wood matter" threads, but couldn't come up with a thread on which is most crucial.
  4. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    Certainly done before, but I will rush to post the Roger Sadowsky article which should lay the topic to rest. People will debate anyway.


    Wood and Sound in Amplified Guitars and Basses
    By Roger Sadowsky

    From Guitarmaker 96 Summer 2016. Guitarmaker is a publication of The Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans.

    There are hundreds of differing opinions on how wood choices affect sound in musical instruments. While most of these discussions concern acoustic instruments, my experience with building more than 7300 electric guitars and basses over 37 years has convinced me that this conversation applies equally to electric guitars, basses, and other amplified stringed instruments.

    The three primary body woods that tend to be used on electric guitars and basses are Alder, Ash, and Mahogany. Fingerboards are primarily Maple, Rosewood, or Ebony. Necks are usually Maple or Mahogany. Of course, many other woods are used, including, Basswood, Poplar, Walnut, and Maple for bodies, Rosewood and Pau Ferro for necks and Cocobolo and African Blackwood for fingerboards. However, for purposes of this discussion, we will discuss the primary woods.

    As one who has primarily built in the Fender style, my basic reference points are as follows:

    60’s Fenders: Primarily alder bodies with Brazilian rosewood fingerboards

    70’s Fenders: Primarily ash bodies with maple fingerboards

    In my experience in working on these instruments for over 40 years, I would generalize their sound as follows:

    60’s Fender guitars and basses are sweeter and warmer sounding

    70’s Fender guitars and basses are brighter and tighter sounding

    Of course this is a generalization.....one can come across a 60’s instrument that is brighter than a 70’s and one can find a 70’s instrument that might be warmer than a 60’s. But in general, I find these descriptions to be mostly consistent.

    One of the earliest enlightening experiences for me was when I had a customer come to pick up a bass that had a maple fingerboard (I don’t remember the body wood). He was trying out the bass and was complaining about too much finger and fret noise (metallic clacking, not fret buzz) while playing. So, just relying on intuition, I asked him if he would be open to trying a rosewood board (grateful for bolt on necks)! I swapped necks with a similar instrument with a rosewood board and it made all the difference in the world to this player.

    Another situation was with a player who had a couple of my H-S-H style guitars (Humbucker-Single-Humbucker). They both had rosewood fingerboards but one had an alder body and one had an ash body. He found the ash body to be excessively bright compared to the alder body.

    As I experienced more and more situations like this, I began to see a pattern with the woods I was using and the tonal results. So I would like to share some of these observations with you.

    Fingerboards: I feel very confident in saying that I have found the fingerboard to be the most important factor in relationship to wood and tone. Here are my observations:

    Maple: Tightest and brightest. Best for slap on basses and for bright, glassy tones on guitars. Can produce more string and fret noise than other woods.

    Ebony: Not as bright as maple. Most immediate attack and punch of all fingerboard woods. Virtually no “bloom” to the note after the initial attack. Note has more fundamental with less overtones.

    Rosewoods: Sweetest and warmest of the fingerboard woods. South American Rosewoods are tighter and punchier than Indian Rosewoods, which are darker and rounder.

    Pau Ferro: (Also known as Morado, Caviuna or Bolivian Rosewood): Pau Fero is not a true Rosewood, but I have been a fan of this wood for fingerboards for over 35 years. Grain is very tight and silky smooth. More warmth than Maple or Ebony but tighter sounding than the other Rosewoods.

    Neck Woods: Neck woods are primarily mahogany or maple. Mahogany is the warmest and Maple is the brightest. I have made archtops and solidbody guitars with both. For basses, I have always used Maple for tightness and punch.

    Body Woods: The primary body woods I work with are alder, ash and mahogany. While I find the body wood less significant that the fingerboard wood, they certainly have audible differences.

    Ash: Hands down, the tightest, brightest and punchiest body wood.

    Alder: Sweeter and warmer, with fuller midrange Mahogany: The warmest and most “round” sounding body wood.

    Maple: I must confess that I personally have never heard a maple body instrument that I like. I have always found a maple body to be too bright for my taste, with a general lack of “character”. They also tend to be very heavy.

    Mahogany: The warmest and most “round” sounding body wood.

    Maple: I must confess that I personally have never heard a maple body instrument that I like. I have always found a maple body to be too bright for my taste, with a general lack of “character”. They also tend to be very heavy.

    Others: Other body woods that have been used successfully include Basswood, Poplar, Walnut.

    Construction Differences:
    In addition to wood choices, construction differences play a large role in tone as well. Typical neck joints include bolt-on, set neck, and neck through. I do not personally hear a big difference between a tightly fit bolt-on and a set neck. However, a neck through is a different story. With a neck through, the neck is typically maple or a maple plus other woods laminate, that runs the entire length of the body. Then wings, usually of a different wood, are glued to each side of the body portion of the neck to create a “body”. With this mode of construction the pickups and bridge are mounted on the same piece of wood that makes the neck. In this case, my personal opinion is you are primarily hearing the neck wood as the body wood (which is usually maple).

    Another construction difference is body laminations. The classic example is the maple cap on the body of a Les Paul guitar. Most players can hear the effect of the maple cap on the tone compared to similar guitars with an all mahogany body. In this case, the maple cap starts at about 1⁄2” thick. However, on my instruments, where I use a laminate top of about 1/10”, I do not feel I can hear the difference, and consider the top to be purely cosmetic.

    Finally, I wanted to discuss weight and acoustic resonance. When I started building electric instruments in the late 70’s, the conventional wisdom was that the wood was irrelevant and the tone of the instrument was all about the pickups and the hardware (bridges, brass nuts, pickups, etc). In addition, the priority was on sustain rather than tone. Over several years of modding guitars and basses, I noticed that my typical mod (fret job, new nut, shielding electronics, etc) produced different results depending on the instrument. Over time, I became convinced that the better the guitar or bass sound acoustically, the better it sounded amplified, regardless of what I did to the instrument. In addition, I found that the instruments that sounded the best acoustically, tended to be the lightest in weight. Of course, if you are a thrash metal guitarist, sustain would be one of the most important variables for you and would probably override many other tonal considerations. However, for less high volume music, the more subtleties of tone might take precedence. When I coach people on buying an instrument at
    a music store, I tell them to try to listen to several of the same model, made with the same woods, and play them acoustically. I will always put my money on the instrument that sounds the best acoustically will sound the best through an amplifier.

    Obviously, these are generalizations based on my personal experience. Whenever I express my observations on this subject on various internet forums, I am always amazed at some of the hostile reactions I get. People will say, “My maple board Music Man Stingray is warmer than my Rosewood Ibanez." Obviously the problem here is comparing apples to oranges. Any instrument, no matter what woods are used, can be brighter or warmer than another instrument. What gives my “generalizations” credibility, is the fact that I have built so many similar instruments over the years. Another point of argument is the occasional “listening test” where people are asked to pick something in a blind listening test. Recently I have read a couple of studies that conclude that listeners are unable to hear differences based on various woods and therefore, the wood does not make a difference. I would counter this argument by saying it really does not matter if the listener can tell the differences or not. What is important here is that the player can tell the difference! A musician develops a very special and intimate relationship with an instrument. Very subtle feedback cues affect the way a player creates their tone. What the player hears and feels affects whether they play closer to the bridge or the neck, what angle they use on their pick or nails, the amount of vibrato they use on their left hand, and on and on.

    In conclusion, I just wish to say that as subjective as this subject may be, there tends to be a consensus among builders of the tonal differences consistent to what I described. Use it as a guide, but form your own opinions based on your experiences and the feedback you get from your players. Just remember to try to evaluate one variable at a time. If you try to compare wood A to wood B, make sure you keep as many of the other variables as constant as possible, otherwise, you have no way to evaluate if what you are hearing is the wood, versus other factors.

    Roger Sadowsky has been building and repairing all types of guitars since 1972. Sadowsky Guitars was established in 1979 in NYC and has served musicians in NYC and around the world. Today, he primarily makes a line of electric guitars and basses and is once again dabbling in acoustic guitars.
    tyohars, Mili, BassGreaser and 39 others like this.
  5. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    No real testing has been done to prove that wood makes a significant change in tone at all, so trying to break it down into parts is even more of a matter of guesswork. My guess would be the body as it has the most mass, but who knows “shrugs”
  6. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    Since the instrument is an integration of different types of woods and each wood component will be variable from piece to piece, I evaluate each instrument as an integrated whole without regarding any claims of a particular tone being due to a specific species of wood.
  7. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    I agree with Roger about fingerboards having the greatest effect. I hear and feel maple fingerboards differently than rosewood fingerboards, and each variety feels similar to me across basses.

    Everything else seems like it's more about the specific instrument than any other variable.
    TonyP- and dfoehr like this.
  8. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    The motion of the strings is affected by what happens at the ends of the string. If you doubt this, then explain to me why a fretless sounds so different than a fretted instrument.

    The neck wood (and geometry), along with the mass loading at the headstock determines the frequencies at which it resonates, so the pattern of lower sustain areas/dead spots is largely dependent on the neck wood.

    As the fret end of the string is coupled to wood through a small amount of metal mass (a fret), the wood at that end of the string affects the motion of the string more than the wood at the other end, where there's a larger mass (the bridge) coupled to a huge block of wood. So, in this, I agree with Roger Sadowsky - his experience and my Acoustical Physics schooling agree. I've also done neck swaps on some of my instruments that used identical woods, shapes, etc for the neck, but had different fretboard materials, and I do hear differences. Subtle, yes, and if I were not the person playing it, I'm not sure I could tell, but with my hands on it, I can hear things that I attribute to fretboard wood. One of my basses sounded really good, but I wanted a bit more articulation. A swap from a Rosewood board to a Pau Ferro one was just the ticket. That bass originally had a roasted maple fretboard. I spent months trying to like that neck, but never did - I changed pickups, strings, etc, but never got it to sound good. When I changed to rosewood, close. Pau Ferro, in that case, just the thing to make that bass tick.
    Jason42, Kevin Teed, smtp4me and 2 others like this.
  9. TrustRod


    Mar 13, 2016
    As soon as I see the first person to ever be able to tell me anything about the wood used in a guitar based on listening and not knowing what the wood is before hand I will start to consider that wood has an influence that can be reliably heard and discerned.

    I'm not convinced by all the arguments that wood makes a huge difference it's just that difference can't be heard until you know what the wood is. I can make huge changes to tone with my fingers and the knobs on my amp. I can not hear wood type in any instrument. Most counter arguments will tend to be false dichotomys or ad hominems as opposed to the more convincing demonstration of the ability to hear wood species or genus.
  10. TrustRod


    Mar 13, 2016
    Could you share some more info on what this is in your case?
  11. TrustRod


    Mar 13, 2016
    There has however been centuries of scientific study into how our brain perceives external stimulus and converts it into what we perceive. Why does a few beers make a band sound better? How can we like a song one day and not the next? If where we stand in a room can change the tone we hear how can we be sure we are isolating and identifying influences of types of wood and not confusing it with other factors?

    But this is rarely a scientific argument and more of a religious one. From a scientific point of view this has been settled. We can not hear wood species in electric instruments in a way that can be used to identify the source. We can however perceive differences and manipulate those perceptions in a predictable way.
    mcarp555 likes this.
  12. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I have a degree in Acoustical Physics. The professor I studied with was (retired now) the (there aren't many) leading expert in the acoustics of musical instruments. If it vibrates in some musical fashion, he's studied it, usually including motion studies using a laser vibrometer - a visual way of understanding and communicating how the thing vibrates at different frequencies.
    BurtMacklinFBI and james condino like this.
  13. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    I believe Roger feels that way about different fingerboards, assuming the neck is maple. He does not address the neck materials, e.g. graphite vs maple, per se, IIRC.

    No question in my mind as a player that the neck material differences cause my most noticeable variations.
    groovin_bassman and smeet like this.
  14. TrustRod


    Mar 13, 2016
    Could you be specific? What kind, from where? In a thread about subtle differences these things can be important. If you're using this degree as your authority I think this matters.
  15. GrapeBass


    Jun 10, 2004
    Graphic designer: Yorkville Sound
    Neckwood/Fretboard > Body
    bridge > nut

    fnordlyone and FugaziBomb like this.
  16. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    the sound of the instrument cannot be totally independent of the player. i play fretless: so i play strings directly on the fingerboard. i have 3 different fingerboard materials on the various fretlesses. they each sound different from one another (rosewood, ebony, ebonol). the neck woods are maple on all of my instruments. no complaints.

    on fretted instruments: the sound of the fingerboard material is skewed/mitigated by metal frets = fingerboard material matters less (if at all) when frets are involved.

    i voted fingerboard via the "fretboard" option.
  17. TrustRod


    Mar 13, 2016
    Just an FYI that I am only discussing differences that the player can hear.....not necessarily the listener. Only the player is intimate enough with the instrument to discern some of these differences and the player may adjust his playing technique to these differences as well.

    Does anyone know who said this?

    jdaunt likes this.
  18. bassdude51

    bassdude51 "You never even called me by my name." Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    I've switched necks around on several of my basses and I've found that the neck makes the biggest difference in sound than anything else.

    I had a Warmoth full Koa Jazz Bass body and I at first had a maple neck/rosewood on it. It sounded pretty much like any typical Jazz Bass. Then, I switched to an 100% full rosewood neck (fret board and neck rosewood) and the Jazz Bass became a completely different bass with warmth, and fullness that the maple neck just didn't have.

    I also used to have a G&L with a mahogany body + maple neck/rosewood..............it sounded like any alder or swamp ash body. It should have sounded warmer because it mahogany but it didn't.

    The point is, it's not so much the body wood that counts, it's the neck wood that makes the biggest difference.
  19. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    it all matters, but in the end it's usually the fretboard which we hear the most. I like maple best.
  20. Thrillhouse

    Thrillhouse Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2009
    Chicago, IL
    You should add an option to vote for strings because surely they have the largest effect on tone.
    Fun Size Nick and jd56hawk like this.

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