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Different tone from different wood, really?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Robsco, Feb 18, 2019.

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  1. Robsco


    Nov 5, 2017
    Without trying to sound too naive...

    Surely the sound coming out of a bass is from the strings vibrating, and being picked up by the pickups.

    Where does the wood of the body, or even the neck, come into this mix? as-in, realistically, and humanly-detectable.

    I currently have an Ibanez active bass (SDGR) which has been great for a good couple of years now, but I'm keen on getting a p-bass (prob a special with the additional jazz pickup), and been eyeing up some Squiers on ebay.

    The 2 big questions are, a) will I really notice much difference between a Squier p-bass and my ibanez active bass, and b) is there going to be much between a custom Fender and a Squier Affinity (granted I don't think you can get an affinity with a jazz pickup).

    Hopefully the answer is "unless you're filling Wembley or Madison Square Garden everynight, you can get most tones out of most basses.

    (I'll still get the p-bass regardless - just want to know whether I'll be blown away by the sound difference or not).

    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019
    DJ Bebop and mcarp555 like this.
  2. AngelCrusher

    AngelCrusher Supporting Member

    Sep 12, 2004
    Mesa Boogie, Tech 21, Taylor
    Oh my....strap in.
  3. Modler


    Jan 16, 2017

    Carrots. (Please don't go there...)

    Yes. (Very different basses).


    Most definitely carrots.
  4. Geri O

    Geri O Supporting Member

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS

    I’ll start the melee....(edit: I guess I won’t...)

    You’ll hear differences in those basses, that’s a given.

    How much of that difference can be attributed to the differences in the woods is where the party will ramp up...

    I say the differences will be mostly due to pickup and preamp (if applicable) differences.

    Shields up, Scotty....:D
    DJ Bebop, dawind99, JC Nelson and 6 others like this.
  5. I once was a last minute fill in at a church. I played the beat up house ibanez, sdgr200?? I was informed I was playing the next night. Cool, I could bring my fender jazz!! The jazz never could match the ibanez in sound. Yes I had good strings on the jazz.
    So to answer your question, yes, big difference between active eq & passive. My main player is a fender p with emg's. Not as clean of sound as my LTD D4 unless i adjust the amp way off center
    That is a whole argument in its self.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019
    DJ Bebop and Killed_by_Death like this.
  6. MattZilla


    Jun 26, 2013
    maybe, but not because of the wood.
    shodan, StayLow and JeffJ2112 like this.
  7. The hardness of the wood translates into how the strings vibrate.
    Imagine if you put the strings on a body of Styrofoam. The vibrations would be muted due to the softness of the supporting material.

    Now imagine if you mounted the strings to a Titanium one-piece body, surely they would resonate brightly.
    The woods are just every variation in between.
  8. Robsco


    Nov 5, 2017
    Just to add I don’t tend to fiddle with the EQ on the Ibanez, all pretty much flat, tho recently I am scooping the middle for slapping a bit.

    Maybe one of these basses will be setup for slap...
  9. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    The timbre is in the timber.
  10. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    Every brand sounds different. Every model of a brand sounds different.

    Every iteration of a model sounds different. It’s this that is probably the best evidence that each piece of wood has an effect on timbre.
  11. Bassist30

    Bassist30 Supporting Member

    Mar 19, 2004
    Make a bass out of Bolsa wood and hear how it sounds!
    Mili and Ronnie681 like this.
  12. ric426

    ric426 In my defense, I was left unsupervised. Supporting Member

    Mar 27, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Sure, wood can, and often does, affect the sound of a bass. So do strings, pickups, hardware, player technique, action set up, sun spot activity, air currents, what you had for breakfast yesterday, and on and on. The are dozens, if not more, things that factor into how a bass sounds and plays.
    Yes, your Ibanez will probably sound different than a P bass, and a Squire will probably sound different than a higher end Fender, so don't be concerned that whatever you get will sound too similar to what you've already got. To me, part of the fun of getting a new-to-me bass is experimenting with different strings, pickup height, action setup, etc. to find which combination sounds the best and closest to what I was hoping for from that bass. The more you work with basses, the better you'll get at getting what you were looking for in any particular one. I highly recommend learning to do as much of your own work on your basses as you can. Once you can set up a bass to your liking the more pleasure you'll get from them.
  13. ric426

    ric426 In my defense, I was left unsupervised. Supporting Member

    Mar 27, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Also, keep in mind that the subtle differences we notice in one bass or another may be entirely lost by the time you end up in recorded or live mix, where you're at the mercy of any number of people at the controls and their preferences and biases.
    I revel in finding the differences and similarities between basses, but I have no illusions about whether anyone else would notice.
    Nashrakh, CharlieMac, fryBASS and 7 others like this.
  14. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass **** Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    I have a theory.
    There are many theories.
    All these theories have been debated to reasonable uncertainty here.

    My belief is that neck stiffness/rigidity has a big effect on attack and tone. Particularly with bolt-on basses the mass/density of body in relationship to the neck and vise versa is also important. In short, you can make a bass guitar out of many different materials but these are two parts of the equation that matter....again just my belief.
    davidprice likes this.
  15. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Here's another bit of evidence to add to the discussion.

    I have 2 Fender Precision basses. One is MIA, the other MIM. The MIA sounds better. It also has a pickup with Alnico 5 magnets. The MIM uses Ceramic bar magnets. So could the difference be the pickups? To find out I swapped pickups keeping everything else the same. The MIA with MIM pickups still sounded better. So with the pickups still swapped, I swapped the strings on both basses. No change - the MIA still sounded better. I swapped bridges - so now I had a MIA with MIM pickups, MIM bridge and the strings from the MIM and vice versa. Still the MIA sounded better.

    To be fair, the MIA sounded different than when it was all MIA parts, but the basic sound that set it apart from the MIM was still there. And the MIA parts on the MIM made some changes to the sound - not really a significant improvement, but slightly different. Still didn't compare the the MIA.

    I'm not going to say what was the defining factor in the difference of these two basses, but I know what it wasn't - not the pickups, the strings nor the bridge.
  16. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    I have exactly the opposite situation. My 1998? MIM Precision sounds better to me than my 2011 Anniversary Pbass. They both have identical Original '62 pickups. Both always have the same brand/age
    of strings on them. One is a backup for the other. They both have the same new pots in them.
    In my case, the MIM sounds better. It just has more meat. The only reason I use the MIA live is because it's prettier and is "good enough". I usually practice with my (to me) slightly less attractive Midnight Blue MIM (which doesn't tickle my eyes like a CAR bass does).
    I don't have a clue why they sound different. I also don't have any idea if one is ash and the other is alder. Now I would like to know.
    Artman likes this.
  17. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    The wood contributes to the signal coming out of your bass in 2 ways:

    1) The points on your bass at the end of the vibrating string contribute to the sustain (or lack thereof) of the various harmonics (which also depends on what note you’re playing) of the vibrating string. The fact that the string doesn’t vibrate forever means it’s losing energy. most of that llenergy goes into vibrating the neck - that end of the string is acting on a much smaller piece of metal (a fret), coupled to a much smaller piece of wood (the neck) than there is at the bridge/body end of the string. A dead spot is an obvious manifestation of this energy loss; on other notes, the effect is less obvious, but it’s there.

    2) Pickups generate an output proportional to the relative movement of the strings relative to the body. If either moves, there is an output. Does the body move? Yes it does - put a snark tuner anywhere on your bass; it’ll work. That means everything is vibrating, and therefore the pickup’s output contains some contribution from body vibration. That is not up for debate - it’s a scientific fact. What you can debate is how significant you think it is. Hollow, chambered, and light weight bodies will vibrate more, so how much this affects things is a function of the wood and construction details.
    Cheez, srcTW, Jason42 and 4 others like this.
  18. ad9000

    ad9000 Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2004
    Leucadia, CA
    As an example of the sonic differences that can occur with different woods, I compared three MTD 535-24 basses that were in stock at the Bass Exchange in LA when I was there recently, all of which had different neck/fingerboard/body combinations (plugging all into the same amp with no change in settings). Electronics were the same on all three and the strings were in similar condition.

    In short, it was shocking how much difference there was. The overall tone of all three basses was similar, but there was quite a bit of variation in the amount of sustain and the way the instruments responded to different types of attack (pick, slapping, etc.). More surprising to me, the character of the treble, midrange and bass on all three varied noticeably in different ways.

    The first bass had a maple neck/fingerboard and a swamp ash body. It had almost brittle highs, scooped mids and tight bottom end, not a great amount of sustain but a lot of punch. Probably good for modern slap-style playing. The second bass had a myrtle top, makore body, maple neck and rosewood fingerboard, and it was more sustaining, more piano-like and complex tonally with a broader and warmer bottom end. I felt like that bass was the one for me, and that I could get everything out of it that I would need to. The third bass, with a poplar body/maple neck/grenadillo fingerboard combo, was somewhere in between, with a bit more midrange and less sustain than the second one.

    Having said all that, I was mostly window shopping at that point, but it was a very educational experience.
    pellomoco14, Afc70, dfoehr and 5 others like this.
  19. thewildest


    May 25, 2011
    I don’t know what you mean and how filling Wembley would increase your ability to discern the different you mentioned, but above all things, I wouldn’t want you to go one without fufilling your hopes, so the answer is : “unless you're filling Wembley or Madison Square Garden everynight, you can get most tones out of most basses.”

    There. What wouldn’t we do for another TB’r?
  20. In order, the factors that affect the tone of the bass (excluding amp and mixing):
    1) player technique and ability
    2) pickups
    3) playing environment
    4) quality of construction the bass, e.g. bolt on vs neck through vs hollow vs semi hollow
    5) neck wood and fretboard
    6) body wood
    7) connections to amp/sound board
    8) audience

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