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Can you really tell your tonewoods?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by erik_hammarlund, Apr 24, 2004.

  1. OK, reading posts recently i've been feeling skeptical. First, some history: I used to (well, still do) play acoustic guitar, and my stepfather collects very nice ones. Over the years I've been able to compare everything from a garage-assembled laminate body gluemonster to nice custom brazilian babies with englemann tops to beautiful 1950 Martin smallbodies. many of them have the exact same body style and come from the same manufacturer (mostly high end Taylors and Martins, with a few custom Ovations as well) Clearly there's a huge difference in sound between the cedar tops and spruce tops, and even between the side tone woods. Brazilian rosewood sounds different from indian rosewood (though not much, to tell the truth) and both sound completely different from maple or Ovations, of course. The top wood and body shape make most of the difference. unlike basses, of course, it's all in the guiter--no pickups to modify the sound, or account for tonal variances. they've all got the same strings.

    but in the last week I feel like I've seen, oh... 5 or sp posts talking about the tonal effect of the FDINGERBOARD. And I'm pretty sure I've seen some talking about the tonal effect of the neck wood, or the top wood. So I have to ask:

    when you're dealing with a laminated structure (eg neck through basses, glued-top basses, laminated necks, fingerboards) can you really tell the difference? On a FRETTED bass? Iis there a single person here who thinks they can identify--in a blind test--the difference between the sound of a maple and rosewood board when the string isn't even touching it? in guitars, that's not an issue--nobody complains about ebony vs rosewood vs maple--and in guitars (acoustic ones that is) it's much more of an effect than in a bass. in fact, the fingerboard wood is sort of like the topwood on the tonehead or the wood they use for binding: nobody mentions it as having any effect at all.

    yes, I know, I know, 'everything vibrates as a whole' and all that. but c'mon; even the woodophiles here have got to admit than in a neck-fingerboard combo with 17 laminations and 4 types of wood, the wood type of the fingerboard doesn't do a whole hell of a lot given that they're pretty similar. It's just physics. (if you were comparing maple and balsa it might be different)

    You can think of it this way: if everything was so gosh-darned vibratory (great word, ya?) you would have huge tonal difference from the shape. it's that way in almost every instrument; shape/weight will overpower wood choice every time. that's why you get better bass from a Celebrity large bosy than a Martin parlor guitar.

    Why am i posting this? because I've been following the threads where people are trying to choose fingerboards, woods, etc... and people (who I have to assume aren't lying) are saying 'choose the maple board because of the sound', etc. but NOBODY has yet to post "oh, extend taht bout by an inch and you'll get better bass", or "be careful what epoxy they use to glue it up, some of them are more absorptive of vibrations and will kill sustain" or any of the things which seem like they might REALLY affect the sound. (I have heard people swear on their mother's grave taht upgrading speaker cables from $2/foot wire to $10/foot wire is easily audible.) Are people being overly authorative about things you can't really hear?

    Or am I wrong? :D :bag:
  2. bovinehost

    bovinehost Supporting Member

    Dec 5, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: Ernie Ball Music Man/Sterling By Music Man
    You might be wrong, and stand by for about a zillion people to tell you WHY you're wrong, but by God if you're ever in San Antonio, Texas, I'll sure buy you a drink at Camp Bovine.
  3. JJd2sc


    Jul 31, 2003
    Marietta, Georgia
    If you cant do a blind test and tell the difference between a Stingray with a maple fretboard vs a rosewood, then something is horribly wrong.
  4. 'horribly wrong' seems to means that you think there's a BIG difference, which means more questions 'cause now i'm really curious. Can you tell the difference if it's a fretted, or only if its a fretless? Can you tell the difference when a single string is plucked unfretted? Do you think the difference is more noticeable between fretboards than (for example) taking off the pickguard (or not), changing the tuners, or the bridge, or--just for kicks--gluing a 2 oz. lead weight somewhere random on the body or neck? can you tell the difference even if it's coated in epoxy?

  5. artistanbul

    artistanbul Nihavend Longa Vita Brevis

    Apr 15, 2003
    there are lots more people who can be of more help but I'll say some.

    string IS touching the board. and people even tell the tonal differences of FRET materials here..

    similar wood boards, as said sound similar. different wood boards sound different. they dont have differ in quality, they can as well differ in density, stiffness et cetera..

    in solid bodies shape does less than on acoustic instruments. they are more mentioned on balance issues. and you've said there is no one telling if it would be one inch bigger it would be better; well, check some 34" or 35" threads. there should be a lot. and yes cables DO make difference I can tell you that in a heartbeat. I consider myself an addicted to music kind of person. Cable types, lengths do make difference. thats why people pay more. that's why I pay more to upgrade my headphone cables.

    My 140.000 Turkish Liras.
  6. bovinehost

    bovinehost Supporting Member

    Dec 5, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: Ernie Ball Music Man/Sterling By Music Man
    And so it begins. You're going to regret this, but I'm going to read it anyway.
  7. JJd2sc


    Jul 31, 2003
    Marietta, Georgia
    havent compared a fretless maple to a rosewood, but in fretted, im 100 percent postive there is a large difference.
  8. GooseYArd

    GooseYArd Guest

    May 15, 2003
    What is actually happening here is that people can definitely detect differences in the timbre of an instrument when you vary the density of the materials. Because a species tends to be fairly uniform in density, people will say that they can hear the difference between, say, ebony and maple, but it's really just that the ebony tends to be a lot denser.

    It took me a while to notice the difference, but it is mostly in the way the instrument sounds when you strike the string hard enough to rebound off the fingerboard. I don't know how to describe the difference exactly, but you get sort of a higher pitched "clank" with the denser fingerboard.

    When people start assigning flowery adjectives to a species of woods "oh poobarka has rich mids", etc., they're probably full of it, but I have done a few experiments with J basses that had bodes of alder, basswood, and northern ash, and the dense ash gives a much different thumbstyle attack. The fingerboard is less dramatic but a harder wood like cocobolo or ebony will make the attack a little brighter, since it absorbs less of the energy from the impact of the string.

    You're right though about the vibration. If any part of the neck or body is ever vibrating, it means that energy from the string has been transferred into the body, and a magnetic pickup cannot possibly translate any vibrations in the body itself, only the string. So if the body is vibrating, the string is losing energy in one or more ranges of frequencies. Any distinct change in timbre is caused by dips across the frequency spectrum.

    oops, one last edit. You're also right about the cables. There are dozens of well documented double blind listening tests of audio cables. Nobody can discern two cables, instrument, speaker, interconnect at audio frequencies in a double blind test. Never have, never will. The only time they ever "hear the difference" is when they can see what cable is being used. It's simple suggestibility, nothing more.
  9. bovinehost

    bovinehost Supporting Member

    Dec 5, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: Ernie Ball Music Man/Sterling By Music Man
    Man, don't you wish that were true for OUR species?

    Okay, back to measurements in the twilight zone.
  10. GooseYArd

    GooseYArd Guest

    May 15, 2003
    hahaha. OK, i need some really long strings and a couple of volunteers... :)
  11. bassjigga


    Aug 6, 2003
    Isn't this a difference? Density, hardness, and oils are what make different woods different.

    That's why Manring's Hyperbass has transducers inside the body. :D

    I also believe there is an audible difference between fingerboard woods, as well as body woods. Not so much in thin tops. But there is a clear difference between rosewood and maple, even with frets.

  12. bovinehost

    bovinehost Supporting Member

    Dec 5, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: Ernie Ball Music Man/Sterling By Music Man
    I'm plunking open E on an alder Jazz with a rosewood neck and then plunking open E on an ash Jazz with a maple neck. Even though neither string is vibrating against the fretboard, the difference is astonishing.

    Okay, now I'm changing all the batteries in my stompboxes. The Energizers are MUCH cleaner.

    Okay, now I think I hear a difference between a 10' cable and a 12' cable.

    Now look carefully, I'm disappearing up my own bum.

    You guys go ahead, this is good fun.
  13. JJd2sc


    Jul 31, 2003
    Marietta, Georgia
    if you play a run or a line on a ray with a rosewood board, then play one with a maple board, same body, there will be a big difference, at least to my ears...
  14. GooseYArd

    GooseYArd Guest

    May 15, 2003
    I'm only talking about the sound of the string thwacking the fingerboard. Although the string physically strikes the fret, the fret is positively coupled to the fretboard material, and the fret will deflect slightly if the wood deforms under the impact of the string.

    I should have qualified that I don't think the difference in the sound is profound, but if you try it with a couple of woods that vary a lot in density, particularly ebony and anything else, you'll notice a slight difference, the same as you would if you took a mallet and whacked on a couple of different pieces of wood with varying density. Rosewood and maple have a pretty similar density, pau ferro too, so it won't be very noticeable. Whether it makes enough difference to be picky about it is debateable, but the fact that the tone of the attack is changed is just simple physics.

    Heaven knows that I have made my share of posts here attempting to debunk crap pseudoscience, particulary related to woods, but when you get down the nuts and bolts physics of solidbody instruments, there has to be something that accounts for the differences in tone between these things, and pretty much all of the differences arise from variations caused by dissipation of energy of the string by the deflection of mechanical joints in the instrument (bridge assemblies and neck bolt joints), material flex (as with the fingerboard), and internal friction (i.e. the reason heavy bodies instruments tend to sustain notes longer).
  15. GooseYArd

    GooseYArd Guest

    May 15, 2003
    He can put them wherever he likes, but inside the body is a fairly inefficient placement. Even embedded in the body, they will transduce somethin, since if the body didn't disperse the energy from the string, it would keep vibrating much longer than basses do. Embedded in the body, the surrounding body material must be physically deformed to exert pressure against the piezo element, so the body acts as an insulator of sorts. It's much more efficient to have them directly under the saddles.
  16. xush


    Jul 4, 2001
    mobile AL
    One of my favorite subjects.
    Don't let's forget that even 2 basses made of the same woods will sound different.
    Basses sound different from each other for many reasons. I think the tonewood factor (for electric basses) has been exaggerated. Just my opinion though.
  17. Mudfuzz


    Apr 3, 2004
    Just to throw a wrench in, don't forget the difference between a bass with a maple fingerboard and a one piece neck. :D :spit: :ninja:
  18. Jugghaid


    Jun 28, 2002
    Denver, CO, USA
    Well, here's my take on this. I can honesly say that there is a difference in the attack when slapping on a maple or ebony board compared to a rosewood board. Not so much when you are playing fingerstyle, but for slapping and tapping, there is a bit of a "brighter" quality with the denser woods.

    On my Fbass fretless, it has a diamondwood board and it has quite a bit more zing than a similar Fbass with a rosewood board. Is it the individual bass that's a bit more zingier? Maybe, but I think the fretboard material on that fretless does make a difference. I also think the electronics, pickups, and choice of strings have a much more profound effect.

    I don't think that an 1/8" laminated maple (or other wood) cap affects the tone very much at all, however the length of the upper and lower horns and their mass makes a big difference in the treble and bass response of the instrument.

    Having said all of that, I think the whole subject has gotten into areas that 99% of people can't really tell a difference (even if they think they can)in a lot of tonewoods used for "ornamental" purposes. All of the exotic woods in the world are not going to make a badly designed bass sound good. A well designed bass made out of cheap ass wood isn't gonna be great either.

    A bass, like any instrument, is a sum of it's parts. When it's made really well, like an Fbass or MTD or Sadowsky, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That's where the really outstanding luthiers live.

    But if you plug in into a Rogue amp, it's still gonna sound like ass. ;)
  19. Fretless5verfan


    Jan 17, 2002

    I don't know about that man, i've seen a pretty hard to ignore case of tonewoods making a big difference. I went to a little jazz jam session in my local church's basement and i met a bassist who was toting a SKB3005 with a mahagony(sp?) body and the same bart 3 band 18v pre-amp. Naturally i wanted to A/B my SKB3006 against his for the whole tonewood issue which i wasn't convinced of beforehand. He started playing with the onboard flat and with his TD650 set to what he told me was flat, i have no clue if it really was or not, but anyway his roscoe boomed like nobody's business. So he unplugged his roscoe and i plugged mine in (also flat onboard) and had HIM play it to make sure the bass was the only variable, and to my surprise, no boom and a more acoustic styled sound. No controls were touched, the same lines were played by the same guy in the same manner, what else could it have been? My extra special boom reducing high C string? :p j/k

    Now i know basses that are built nearly identical sound a little different but this was a HUGE difference :confused:
  20. temp5897

    temp5897 Guest

    I have many experiences that have led me to the conclusion that body woods make a huge difference in tone. To me, assuming all other things equal (meaning high quality), I consider it the most important part of the bass.