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Exotic wood v.s. alder and ash

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by dgce, Apr 15, 2010.

  1. dgce


    Jun 17, 2001
    Massachusetts, USA
    Zebrawood, quilted maple, flamed koa, figured walnut; yep, exotic wood basses are sure pretty but are they practical? The most memorable bass recordings were typically done on traditional tone wood body basses (alder and ash). High-end builders like Sadowsky and Lull continue to build instruments primarily with traditional tone wood. One comment I’ve heard several times about alder and ash is that they simply cut through the mix.

    So my question is, other than good looks, is it worth the expense of ordering an exotic wood body bass, which in a full band setting could potentially be lost in the mix? Or can exotics hold their own just as well as alder and ash?
  2. Oi... Tell you what, let's talk about something less contentious, like politics.

    Seriously though, I think that the move towards active electronics et al kind of moots the question of coming through the mix. I have no scientific data to back that up, and someone will likely take issue with what I've said. Hey, that's what forums are for, right?

    Perhaps even more than the electronics though is the fact that these fancy tops are tend to be too thin to affect the instrument's tone. I'd take a fancy maple top over either alder or ash any day. My Lakland has a quilt maple veneer over swamp ash. Cuts through fine.
  3. Most basses in the custom world still feature ash or alder bodies underneath the exotic tops. The exotic woods don't cause any loss in the mix. Since they're usually just a relatively thin top, the tonal impact is usually minimal.
  4. smperry

    smperry Administrator Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2003
    Bay Area, CA
    There is a good deal of variability within species of wood, and the role of electronics (pickup(s) & possibly preamp), construction, and amplification cannot be dismissed. I've played ash and alder basses that sound amazing and others that sounded terrible (to me)...but there are so many variables involved that I would not rule out the woods.

    My main bass has a solid body of walnut, and I assure you, I don't get lost in a dense mix. Also, it's not always my goal to "cut through", sometimes I just want to support the other players. :)
  5. Marlat


    Sep 17, 2002
    London UK
    As others have said it depends whether you are talking about a top or just the body. With the exeception of walnut, none of the woods you have listed as exotic are commonly used as a solid body wood (Zebrawood is occasionally used from time to time). Typically they will be laminated on top of a wood like alder, ash, mahogony or walnut. Other more commonly used woods are poplar, basswood and white or black limba.

    I tend to look at what Mike Tobias is doing for inspiration. He knows his woods. Right now he is produceing a lot of ash bodied basses for "cutting through" and tends to make more mahogany / alder basses for warmth and full range sounds. I think it you want punch or cut in the mix its hard to beat northern ash as a body. Then go mad and put whatever top you want on it. That said, you're really atlking about small sonic diferences overall that a powerful eq and appropriate stage rig will be able to outstrip easily.
  6. stingray69

    stingray69 Talkbass Legit

    Aug 11, 2004
    St Louis Area
    I have to agree pretty much as well. IMO, once things like type of pickup (single coil vs. humbucker), how those pickups are voiced, the placement of the pickups themselves, and especially a strong-voiced electronic preamp come into play, the inherent wood tone of the instrument's wood stands a pretty good chance of being rendered moot - or much less of a factor as compared to a totally passive instrument.

    I think of it like this - if you choose to build an instrument out of what is commonly said to be a "dark" or warm tone wood like say mahogany, walnut, etc., but then you turn around and put in very bright & airy sounding humbuckers and a preamp where the treble center frequency is up at 8-10K - it is a safe bet that the "dark tone" benefits of said instrument are gonna end up in a wash due to everything else about the bass dragging it in the other direction. I don't think the wood tone by itself will be sufficient enough to override the electronics imparting such a strong voice in the bright end of the tone spectrum. This is why I generally tend to look at tone wood descriptions on websites with a grain of salt. Maybe in a passive instrument, yeah, but bringing in active elements can override those tone descriptions in a hurry. A lot depends on the ultimate tone vision of the designer & voicings, etc., of the chosen electronics. All IMO of course - BTW, could we have an easier topic next time the federal deficit, lol? :D
  7. dgce


    Jun 17, 2001
    Massachusetts, USA
    Great points, guys. Thanks for the info.
  8. DanRJBrasil


    Jun 10, 2007
    alder and ash are exotic woods in other parts of the world mostly in tropical countrys

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