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Does wood make a difference in tone? I think so.

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Sundogue, Jan 5, 2013.

  1. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    I know there has been a lot of debate over wood choice making a difference in tone.

    I do believe it does. I converted an old Yamaha BB415 into a six string a while back. Recently, I made new body for it out of some old wood I had lying in my garage literally for over 100 years (I live in a very old house with the garage having a wood floor...the original owners lived in it while the main house was being built).. My brother who is a woodworker, looked at the wood and given the size of the piece, estimated that it had to be about a 150 year old piece of Douglas Fir.

    The piece was easy to sculpt, being somewhat a softer wood although this piece seemed harder than typical pine I've worked with. It was also very light...under 3 lbs. after the final sanding.

    I gave it a bunch of coats of watered down glue to seal it and make the surface harder and more dent resistant (which it did).

    Everything about my bass was the same as it was prior to building the new bass body. Same neck, pups, bridge...everything. The only differences were the new body and I reversed the P-Bass pups and angled both, the P-Bass and Jazz pups.

    I recently played a long New Year's Eve gig and the lighter weight made it such a pleasure to play all night long. Felt like I never had a bass over my shoulder at all. But what I noticed greatly was the tone.

    With everything being the same, even playing through the same rig with the same settings, and even in the same room I played in only weeks before, I notice the tone was significantly different.

    This bass with the new Douglas Fir body has such a warm, yet bright and punchy tone to it. It almost sounds like an acoustic with it's warm, "woody" character, yet each note was so distinct and had such clarity. I found it easier to play using a lighter touch and every note was so rich and full. It seemed to have more mid range bite to it that just made my bass come alive in a way it hadn't with the stock Yamaha body.

    I know descriptors can't fully tell you how it sounds and I have no sound clips. I can only explain how it sounds so different with only a change in body wood.

    Anyway, just thought I'd throw this out there, because I never thought body wood made such a difference. Perhaps there is not a significant amount of difference between some woods, where maybe there is a lot more difference between others.

    Whatever the actual reason, I'm extremely happy with the tone of this bass using Douglas Fir for a body wood. Thoughts?

    Here's a few pics...


  2. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    The issue is always that unless everything is kept identical, it becomes very difficult to say what the exact effect of the different body wood is on the tone of the instrument. No doubt there is some effect, but the change to the pickup placement also makes an effect and it becomes hard to isolate the effect of each.
  3. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    I like building basses with more traditionally acoustic woods. I would like to get some 12/4 fir, cedar etc to make more heavily chambered piezo basses. Glad you are enjoying yours..t
  4. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    Yes, I would agree that even a slight change in pup placement will affect the tone, but really the P-Bass pup is still in the same place (with regards to the center line of the split). It's just reversed and angled. So aside from the lighter gauge strings having more depth, the overall tone shouldn't be THAT significantly different.

    I mean it sounds like an altogether completely different bass. In a VERY good (though unplanned) way.
  5. Agree that it's nearly impossible to eliminate other variables. Changing pickup placement and strings must have significant effect, so there is likely more to it than body wood. That said, old growth Douglas Fir is nice stuff. It's good that the results turned out so well.

    Slightly off topic; very cool paint job! And, there appears to be quite a bit of angle to the bridge placement. No accident, I'm sure, but it almost looks like a fanned-fret bridge setup. The bass intonates properly?
  6. VinKreepo


    Nov 13, 2009
    Yes, it is actually how the bridge is supposed to be installed, and the bridge is designed for normal parallel frets. Bigger strings almost always need to have a longer length than their thinner counterparts; therefore, an angled bridge gives you more range. Check out some single bridges on parallel fret basses (e.g. Ibanez SR Premium) to see what I mean.

    Kahler 7460 bridge http://www.premierguitar.com/Gear/G...s/65989/7460K_6_String_Bass_Bridge_Black.aspx
    Ibanez SR Premium line http://www.ibanez.com/BassGuitars/model-SR1206E
  7. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    Thanks on the paint job. It's what I do, being an artist that does mainly murals (walls, bike tanks, guitars, basses, etc.). This piece is certainly old growth Douglas Fir. Came right off the property over a century ago, so it has some meaning to me aside from aesthetics, looks or weight.

    The bridge is a Kahler 6 string bridge with individual saddles that are fully adjustable in all directions. The base plate to that bridge is already angled when installed properly. It's mounted like that on any bass with any type of pickup configuration. Yes the intonation is spot on.
  8. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    The strings are the same ones I had. The ONLY difference aside from body wood is the P-Bass pup being reversed and angled. It's still in the same place it was, so any difference being caused by the pups would be VERY slight. So slight as to be hardly noticed at all (except for the lighter strings benefiting from that part of the pup being closer to the neck).

    Everything else is identical except for the new wood. I would guess that had I kept the Yammy body and reversed the P-Bass pup and angled it, it would still sound the same (again, except for the lighter strings getting their part of the pup closer to the neck).

    The sound is significantly different. So different in fact that it sounds nothing like it did before. I highly doubt the slight pup configuration change is causing this. NOTHING else is different.
  9. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    Actually by attenuating the pickups as you did, that is what will most significantly alter the speaking voice. You have added treble to the bass strings and bass to the treble strings, thus completely altering the speaking voice of the instrument, making the bass strings slightly clearer and the treble strings slightly fuller. The wood will add it's minimal contribution, but you altered playng style to accommodate for the pickup change will also effect this.

    Find the example here of the Fender that was matched with a piece of Fir from a construction site and compared side to side with it's original body.
  10. Lackey


    May 10, 2002
    Los Angeles
    While I agree that the reversed P pickup would change the tone, I'm guessing the difference is notable with only the bridge pickup soloed yes? And that, although slightly angled, wouldnt provide much of a different tone from stock.

    Wood matters. Changing to an entirely different species that is a featherweight example is going to have noticable effect.
  11. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    I wish yo lived local to me, trying to find local painter has been a PITA, nice work!
  12. dbd1963


    May 18, 2010
    Northern Virginia
    The age of the wood is probably significant, because at that age the tree had probably gotten pretty big and old before it was cut down. Trees can't do that anymore because we grow them and cut them quick. So not only was the wood well aged, it had come from a tree that was significantly older than trees are allowed to get now before we cut them, which results in a denser wood.

    Wiki says a Douglas Fir can live 1000 years, so that could be one seriously old piece of wood.

    Here's a quote on why older wood (called "reclaimed wood" in the article) is better for building applications:

    "Reclaimed lumber that comes from old-growth forests is naturally stronger than newly milled lumber. In fact, reclaimed hardwood flooring is often up to 40 points harder on the Janka hardness scale than comparable new flooring. Older forests have always been prized for their high-quality timber, in part because older trees are taller and thicker than younger ones. Some fir trees, for example, can live for more than 1,000 years.

    Old wood is also more durable because it is dryer than fresh, new wood, making it less prone to warping or cracks. This level of stability and durability is not something that you can easily find in new wood; as older forests continue to disappear, most new wood these days comes from tree farms."
  13. Lackey


    May 10, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Yeah I agree age and curing makes a big impact on wood, both strength and acoustics. I remember reading an old Mike Dirnt interview where he said he preferred the tone of the basses he lit on fire on stage, he guessed it was because the wood was "Dried out"... who knows.
  14. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    Interesting info. My brother (the woodworker) did make mention of it being old growth and pointed out some of this to me, although he didn't know what affect it would have for use as an instrument.

    My garage floor is covered in two layers of this wood and the garage is well over 100 years old (original floor of the original temporary "home"). My home was the first in the whole area and the original owner sold lots of his property to the paper mill that is next to me. Most of the double layered garage floor has long boards of varying thickness anywhere from 8" to 12" wide by 6 ft. to 8 ft. long. I just happened to find this piece when I was tearing up part of it a few years back and just put it off to the side.

    And this particular slab of wood from my garage floor was a little over 2" thick by about 26" long and 20" wide. And from looking at the rings on the end cut, it's obviously only a small portion of the thickness of the tree it came from. That Douglas Fir had to be quite the tree specimen when it was alive. So it had a long life and the piece from it that I used has aged/cured for over 100 years beyond the life of the tree itself.

    It that piece of wood could talk! ;)
  15. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    You know, I just brought out my bass to play around on today (unplugged) and it made me recall just how different it sounded acoustically from my old Yammy body. It's that same tone I love...very rich, warm yet bright...so unlike the Yamaha body was unplugged. I noticed that long before I ever plugged it in the first time. And when plugged in, it retains that tone.

    Perhaps the pups new alignment makes some difference, but it is most definitely the body wood that is making the most difference in the tone change.

    I would say that some woods sound similar enough that there might not be a significant enough difference in tone to really hear the difference. But, on the other hand, some woods might be so vastly different from one another that one would hear the difference. Maybe my Douglas Fir body might not sound any different if it were a Spruce body instead (just as an example), but it also could be vastly different in tone from Ash for instance.

    The tone is obviously going to be the sum of the parts, and in this case, the only parts changed is the body. I seriously doubt if the pups were aligned exactly as before that it would sound exactly as it did before.
  16. Nidan


    Oct 31, 2008
    Duluth , Ga
    I've built 2 basses with the same pickups/neck and hardware and different body wood.
    The was definetely a difference (alder vs mahagony) . How much will depend on the individual slab of wood.