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Does wood matter?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Brad Johnson, May 22, 2005.

  1. After 34 years of playing well over a thousand basses (and owning over 80) I can say emphatically that wood DEFINITELY not only CAN but WILL make a difference (not just body wood but neck and fingerboard woods as well) I say this not just from playing so many instruments but from RECORDING them for over 25 years as an engineer as well....I don't care if JESUS said wood don't matter I would tell him he's deaf or stupid, one or the other!!!!

    I am certainly NOT trying to flame anybody here or say they don't know what they are talking about....BUT if you say wood don't matter and all wood will sound the same or even FUNDAMENTALLY (even worse) the same...YOU ARE EITHER DEAF (or getting there!!) OR YOU DON"T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!!! (insert Smiley here...mine are not working for some reason!) I am currently listening to a CD I recorded as a LIVE for 2 TRACK (read here NO overdubs, NO final mix EQ, NO Heavy Compression, NO Fancy High end studio gear!!) we did about 2 weeks ago and an idiot can hear the difference between my Alder/Rosewood NYC Vintage 4 Sadowsky and the Ash/Maple Fender Marcus Miller 4 through a SADOWSKY preamp....

    The Sadowsky is MUCH mellower and sweeter sounding (an alder trait) and the Marcus is much more percussive and biting (an Ash/Maple trait!) this is with IDENTICAL (if that is possible) strings (changed at the same time so they both have close to the same playing time on them) and preamps....I wish I had a way to post some clips so you could hear them....it is DEFINITELY NOT rocket science to hear the difference....If you ask any serious luthier I am sure you will get quite the dissertation on the qualities of wood and the pros and cons of this same argument AND I BET that you will get people who take both sides....

    From my perspective I have made WAY too many records (thousands!!) using a SPECIFIC type of Bass with a specific type of wood combination because it "sounded" a certain way for a given song....I have watched countless Producers and other engineers do the same thing for years now and I KNOW we are not ALL nuts!

    By the way, I don't buy into the "all things being equal camp" because they NEVER will be....BUT I will say that before anybody freaks out I am talking about wood for wood's sake......YES, pickups, strings, electronics, shielding and grounding, amplification, EQ, Amplifier, and listen source (cabs, Monitor speakers, Headphones, TV speakers etc, etc. ad nauseaum............) ambient temperature, barometric pressure, and wind direction will affect how an instrument (ANY INSTRUMENT) sounds!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THAT IS ALSO A GIVEN!!!!

    PLEASE REMEMBER, THIS IS JUST MY OPINION........(Insert about 8 smileys here)


  2. I think two issues are being conflated in this argument. One is the character of the sound (what frequencies comprise it) and the other is the quality of the sound (is it a good sound).

    The character of sound is affected by the wood. This is so documented, it is incontestable. Everyone who has played an alder and an ash fender knows there is a difference. This does not mean that every alder fender sounds the same, but you can tell one from the other! Character is also affected by everything else.

    Quality of sound is where wood is really important. The difference between a great sounding and ordinary sounding bass is, in my totally subjective opinion and utterly strongly held conviction, in the quality of the wood.

    But this is because I am an atavistic retrofreak who still looks on electric instruments as amplified acoustic instruments....
  3. Dirty Dave

    Dirty Dave Supporting Member

    Oct 17, 2004
    Boston, MA
    Aren't they entirely different basses? I'm not very familiar with them and have yet to play either one so I'm not even going to bother trying to get into the specifics of that. Are you saying both models have similar electronics, pickups etc., but different body woods?

    What I can tell you is that I have two Carvin LB70's. Both have the same pickup configuration and electronics but different body woods (one alder and one walnut). It's easy enough for me to get them to sound the same with a few slight adjustments of the EQ.
  4. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    I agree that wood affects tone... but not *nearly* as much as pickups/electronics or construction method. Re electronics: it's *much* easier to tell an alder P-bass from an alder J-bass than it is to tell an ash P-bass from an alder P-bass. Likewise, it's usually very easy to tell hollowbody from solidbody regardless of wood(s) used. Also IME the effect of fingerboard wood is extremely overrated.

    Agree 100%. I own two Fender RB5 basses, both made in 1997, identical (even down to the slighly flamed maple necks) except for the paint. Even when strung with identical sets of strings they sound slightly but noticeably different. One might guess that the blue one is alder and the gold one is ash, but both are alder. So, this either proves the wide variety of tones that can be produced from a single species of wood, or maybe that blue paint is warmer to the ears than gold paint. :p
  5. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Also: IME you can't say that "swamp ash sounds like X, whereas alder sounds like Y, and mahogany sounds like Z". IME there are tonal tendencies for these woods, but I wish I had a nickel for every time I picked up a bass (heck, even a passive Fender) made of a certain wood combination and the tone was different than I expected. There is a *lot* of overlap.
  6. zazz


    Feb 27, 2004
    i think the rule is 40 percent electronics ..10 wood and and the rest is fingers!!
  7. mark beem

    mark beem Wait, how does this song start again?? Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    Alabama, USA
    I'm sorry, but what was the point in moving this out of the Gallery Hardwoods forum to here??
  8. Where all this rubber hits the road is guys going apoplexic over designing a bass or selecting woods before construction and trying to get a certain sound out of their heads and into an instrument. Using descriptions they've heard like warm, bright, smokey, defined, clear, sparkling, piano-like, etc. they pick and match 3 or 4 or more species pouring them into the design like a big pot-o-soup trying to gain the best characteristics from each wood. That's where it becomes a foolhardy enterprise, chasing barely perceptible subjective differences in multi species builds. The defining characteristics of say an ash over an alder are so subtle that mixing them up with another wood in the core and something else on the top will either cover up or alter the very thing the listener wanted in the first place. Call it not being able to hear the forest for the trees. ;)

    Wanna really test the difference in solidbody woods? Play them unamplified and listen for the differences. Listen HARD! Make your judgement there. Take those bad, bad electronics right out of the equation and do it barefoot nekkid for the purest test.

    We'll now turn to Brad for his clarification of what I just wrote... :rolleyes:

  9. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine
    Personally, I think woods do matter, and in the following order...

    Neck (core)
    Body (core)
    Body (top, depending on thickness may be more than fingerboard)

    I'm a big fan of Mike Tobias, and he's known for his abilities to select woods, and I don't think that's just for appearance.

    Does that mean I'm saying an Alder body'd bass can't sound real bright, and only an Ash body'd one can? No. However, I will say that, all else identical, if you swap out woods, I strongly believe human ears can tell a significant (tho not "night and day") difference.

    I'll qualify this to say I'm not a builder, just a player, but I've played a lot of comparable models side by side... for example... I played a Bubinga(Top)/Walnut(Core)/Walnut(Neck) Cirrus 5 and a Redwood(Top)/Alder(core)/Maple(neck) one side by side, back to back, thru the same amp... both brand new, both with the same setup (especially pickup height), both with brand new strings of the exact same type (I was A/B'ing them for purchase). The Bubinga one sounded noticeably brighter.

    All this IMHO, and I welcome new info. :)
  10. Drill Sergeant: *** damn it, Gump! You're a ***damn genius. That's the most outstanding answer I've ever heard. You must have a goddamn IQ of 160. You are ***damn gifted, Private Gump. Listen up, people...

    exactly the point I was trying to make before my sarcastic/comedic remarks were taken out of context! you ROCK!
  11. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    The obvious problem with that is when the electronics and/or construction are identical, will wood still not affect the tone *nearly* as much? That's been a basic point all along.

    Just because one thing is true doesn't make another thing not true;)

    Just because you heard a variation in the same wood doesn't mean you can't experience a variation between different types.

  12. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings

    I didn't condemn anyone over anything (maybe this was Wilser's sarcastic/humorous post). In any even Larry agreed that I should move on.

    Larry thought I said all acrylicized wood sounded the same. I didn't. Wilser thinks that the "wood makes a difference" folks say this for marketing purposes and that, being an electric instrument, the effect of wood is overblown. What I don't get is why Larry didn't seem to have a problem with what Wilser was saying and vice versa.

    Wilser also decided that I don't have any real experience with wood. Maybe that was a joke too.

    In any event, they both told me to start my own thread elsewhere... so I did.

    I posted a follow-up on topic question about acrylicized wood in the Gallery Hardwood forum and it was deleted.


    Oh well...
  13. Rene


    Mar 8, 2004
    People that say that wood doesn't affect the tone or the sound of a bass, never handcrafted one or played an alder body or a cheap bass in their life. So they don't hear or see the difference.
    Tone wood.......! Tone wood......! Man!
    20 years experience as a repair man and a maker
  14. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    This was a particularly funny one. Not only do I not have "real" experience with wood, he also somehow decided to attribute a slew of crap I didn't come close to saying to me. I said nothing of acrylicized wood killing tone, of any wood inherently sounding better. OTOH I do believe that wood contributes to the sound so it IS getting amplified. He then makes the leap to coming up with a specific sound with a specific wood then makes the general statement that 'engineered' materials produce great sounding instruments.

    SOMETIMES... and again, just because that's true, how does that mean that different woods can lead to great sounding instruments? It's not mutually exclusive but for the sake of this stuff I guess they'd have to be.

    So the joke is that he believes that wood is unimportant and he then gave an example backing up his thinking?


    MAJOR METAL The Beagle Father Supporting Member

    I think one of the biggest factors in the tone of the instrument is the fingerboard board wood or other substance.
  16. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine
    IMHO, the question of this thread is very simple and clear. It asks if the wood makes a difference.

    It DOES NOT ask if other things don't also make a difference, or even if they make a more significant difference.

    Also, for coherence, I think we could probably throw out the special cases, like poor quality instruments. Just an unnecessary variable, IMHO.

    My opinion remains the same... all else the same, the different characteristics of different "tone" woods are humanly audible, and in some cases, very much so.

    FWIW, anyhoo...
  17. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine
    I tend to agree, tho IMHO its relative significance to tone vs the main part of the neck and body depends whether it's fretless or not.

    Also, IMHO, the main part of the neck (it's rigidity and resonance) make up the biggest component of how the neck affects tone. The fingerboard colors what the neck does, but doesn't define it.
  18. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    That's right, not if it makes the MOST diffference ALL the time, which is where many love to leap;)
  19. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    What seems to be missing from this discussion is why wood matters. This is something I've studied in pianos, but not seen written about for basses. Yet I know that Jens Ritter, who made my bass, has done a great deal of experimentation (being an engineer, this came naturally) aimed at maximizing the influence of the bass material on tone. He makes them out of wood, plastic, graphite composite, metal, anything you can think of.

    Tone is influenced by short cycle (<.5 seconds) repetitions of an acoustic wave (which provide the distinctive timbre of the note) and by long cycle (.5 to 5 seconds) acoustic waves, which are perceived as warmth. Wood, in any instrument, influences both, but can only influence either if the instrument is set up to include the wood in its vibration.

    Magnetic pickups amplify the effect of wood because they interact with the string, and feedback the warmth and timbre of the instrument. For this to work well, the two parts of the 'bass oscillator' -- i.e., the neck and the body, must be given just the right amount of coupling to maximize the influence of the wood.

    I've attached my Ritter Roya 4 pictures to show how Jens does this. He makes the neck very skinny, and then uses 7 (!!) bolts and a deep pocket to couple the neck to the body. The neck is 3 piece quartersawn maple; the body is mahogany with a burl maple top. The strings are anchored in the body with custom attachments (actually better than through the body because there is more surface). This maximizes and isolates the long cycle oscillations, which makes for a warm, but very clear, precise sound (the long cycles stand on their own; they don't muddy up the short cycles).

    Other designs will allow the wood to contribute differently, but I think Jens' designs represent the extreme is letting wood contribute to the sound of an instrument.

    Attached Files:

  20. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine
    There's a lot of really great relevant information on woods and tone in this very interesting article, as well...


    In short, however, Mike Tobias clearly feels the wood definitely does matter, and I'd find it very difficult to agree with anyone dismissing his years of experience at such a high product quality level.

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