Durability of carved versus plywood

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by RadicalDad, Mar 7, 2006.

  1. RadicalDad


    Mar 6, 2006
    Portland, OR
    I am about to buy a carved bass. I was originally looking for a really good plywood bass (like an old Kay) to upgrade my first student quality bass, but then ran across this carved bass that I really like (and which I can afford).

    Why would I want a plywood instead of a carved? Because I often go to a music camp in the summer. True, the camp is in the Pacific NW where temperature extremes don't often happen. But what if I start jamming out in the middle of a field and the sun comes out nice and strong? Do I have to worry about uneven heating issues from the sun beating down on just one side of the bass?

    I really don't want to maintain 2 basses! Will the 40 year old German carved bass be more fragile in these outdoor situations than an old Kay or other plywood bass? The carved bass has two major cracks in the top, but they appear to have been well repaired (lots of dust in the cracks, so the repair is old and seems to be stable).

    Do I need to keep a plywood bass around to use at camp and possible outdoor gigs?
  2. Anon2962


    Aug 4, 2004
    I'm no expert, but to my knowledge, a well repaired crack is one that is closed up, and therefore would not gather 'lots of dust'. have you had this bass checked out by someone with experience in bass repairs etc?
  3. RadicalDad


    Mar 6, 2006
    Portland, OR
    I haven't bought the bass yet because I am waiting for my favorite luthier to get back from vacation. If these cracks are indeed a problem, she will spot it I'm sure. Thanks.
  4. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    If you can afford to keep your plywood, do so for the outdoor stuff. Strong sun on a carved bass can lead to open seams and even cracks. Playing a carved bass outdoors in a rainy environment is not so smart either. Extreme humidity can cause glue-joint failure, and the rapid swelling can wreak havoc on tone.
  5. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004

    Well, let's stop right there. I certainly don't consider a Kay a "really good plywood bass." Now, Kays seem to have a niche in that many prefer their sound for certain types of music. No offense intended as far as those folks go.

    I dare say, however, that on virtually every criterion upon which one usually judges the quality of an instrument, a Kay falls far short. I played a Kay as a student and kept it from 1967 to about 2002. The skinny neck is enough for me not to recommend them. They are, however, bullet-proof. When I think of "really good plywood" basses, I think of Arnold's New Standards and Upton's laminates among several others. IMHO, one should not mention Kay in the same breath as those.

    Your concerns are well-founded. The carved instrument certainly will require far more "babying" and temperature/humidity swings can wreak havoc. I think Arnold's advice about keeping both is quite wise. If you should decide to have only one, however, I would investigate one of the truly high-quality laminates (or perhaps, hybrids) that are available.
  6. RadicalDad


    Mar 6, 2006
    Portland, OR
    OK, I get the message. A carved bass is too fragile for outdoor situations. If I get a carved bass, keep my old plywood (ugh) or get a different plywood for camp. And I'll expand my horizons beyond a Kay!

    Problem is, I'd feel kinda silly keeping two basses around, especially since one of them won't be played but a few times a year. Is it really common for bassists to keep a second instrument for iffy situations?

    Thanks to all who helped!
  7. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    I have a New Standard Cleveland. It replaced a 40's German plywood that was pretty nice on it's own. I have played many carved basses and I'm sure you have to spend a whole mess of money (beyond the 6 or 7K you're talking about) to get a carved bass that starts to overtake the sound of the Cleveland. Check out the threads about the NS basses. Find someone who is near you that has one and try it out before you buy something.
  8. >> Is it really common for bassists to keep a second instrument for iffy situations? <<

    The "iffy" situation I'm thinking of is my wife saying "Where are you going to put ANOTHER one of those."

    Yes, it's very common to have several basses. Usually those who have a carved bass keep what they often refer to as a "beater" bass for outdoors, dive bars, etc.

    The recomendation to keep your current ply and get the new carved one is good advice. If the carved one gets' the OK from your luthier and it's at a really good price, one you might not get again for awhile, then you should consider getting it. Good deals on carved instraments are harder to come by than those for ply's.
  9. RadicalDad


    Mar 6, 2006
    Portland, OR
    After I got done laughing, I called my wife to read her your comment! Not that she has anything to complain about! She has 4 ukuleles and 3 or 4 mountain dulcimers (in different tunings, but still...). But hers are smaller than mine (and a lot cheaper too).

    After playing several other basses in my search for a new one, I realize how much my first student bass has held back my development. I'm not keeping this thing (I'm almost embarrassed to sell it now knowing how bad it is). Guess I'm on the prowl for a plywood bass too.

    Thanks for your help.