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How can tonewood possibly affect sound?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by frianbisher, Oct 3, 2010.

  1. frianbisher


    Dec 28, 2007
    Milwaukee WI
    I have been thinking about this lately, and it seems to me that it can't be possible for "tonewood" to make a difference in the sound of an instrument.

    The reason I say this is because pickups just sense the vibration of your strings and output the signal to your amp. I don't know too much about physics, but how in the world could wood change the vibration of your strings? Or to put it another way how could pickups be affected by something that isn't metallic. (They only can "sense" the vibration of metal right?)

    Any thoughts?
  2. The density and other qualities of wood has a SIGNIFICANT impact on how an instrument vibrates/resonates.

    Tone wood can have a DRASTIC difference in sound. Pickups are a big part of the sound, but consider this: played totally acoustic, does every bass sound the same? Absolutely not.
  3. When you strike the string, do you feel the vibrations in the wooden body of the bass.

    If the vibrations of the strings interact with the body, why would the vibrations in the body, created originally by the strings, not interact with the strings.

    (keeping it simple here).

    And as jsingles points out, play a bass without it being plugged in, a different bass, with the same strings and setup, isn't going to sound exactly the same.
  4. frianbisher


    Dec 28, 2007
    Milwaukee WI
    You're right that instruments don't sound exactly like each other unplugged. So what you're saying is the density of wood physically affects the vibration of your strings thus altering your tone?
  5. sound is vibration.

    every part of your bass has the energy of that vibration moving through it, simple physics.

    this interaction will change the resonance of the instrument as a whole.

    sound travels differently through different mediums. (stick your head under water and you will notice sound travels through water much differently than through air). The same goes for your bass. Different woods can be very different from each other, in strength, density, weight, etc. Thus, the overall vibration of your instrument will sound different, much like if it were underwater.

    Bubinga is a very heavy dense wood, and sounds MUCH different from the less dense and lighter Ash.

    Your pickups will take the vibration in their disturbed magnetic field and amplify it, but the vibration your bass makes in the first place is strongly affected by its construction, including what materials are used.
  6. WoodyG3


    May 6, 2003
    Colorado, USA
    firanbisher, do a search and you'll find about a bizillion threads about tone woods. It makes for interesting reading.
  7. Nikoubis


    May 3, 2007
    Athens, Greece
    The thing is that even two pieces of the same wood can vary quite a bit in these properties. That is most likely why you can hear obvious differences between two identical (same woods, construction, pickups, strings etc) Les Pauls, for example. Because of this it is a lost cause, IMHO, to attempt to apply specific tonal characteristics to woods, especially considering all those other factors that affect tone.
  8. frianbisher


    Dec 28, 2007
    Milwaukee WI
    Oh you're right I shouldve done a search....looks like this will keep me busy for awhile. Hope I didn't just open a huge can of worms here. Mods feel free to delete the thread.
  9. René_Julien


    Jun 26, 2008
    There's a reason why we all don't play Steinbergers.
  10. ggunn


    Aug 30, 2006
    Austin, TX
    That can has been opened many times, and there have been some very spirited debates in here. The problem is that it's all subjective and there is no hard data to prove anyone's opinions (which run the gamut from "it has no effect" to "the effect is huge") as fact.
  11. slopeshoulder


    Nov 1, 2009
    The ears test plainly indicates that wood matters, a lot.
    The physics of it is opaque to me, and also uninteresting to me.
    Beware engineers wearing earplugs! Unless you want to play an all maple neck through brass laden all active bass and sound like poo in most circumstances.
  12. frianbisher


    Dec 28, 2007
    Milwaukee WI
    Isn't there a way to have hard data by looking at waveforms or other scientific measurements?
  13. Disraeli Gears

    Disraeli Gears

    May 29, 2007
    This seems to be a topic of hot debate on TB. Lots of people swear that the wood makes a huge difference in the sound, and an equal number of people swear that any difference made isn't noticable. I haven't had a chance to AB 2 identical basses with different woods, so I'm still on the fence, personally. I'd imagine that the wood, primarily based on density, would at least have SOME effect on the way the strings vibrate. The question for the ages is whether that effect is noticable to the human ear, and to what extent.
  14. Bingo. Should be an auto-answer function for any of these tonewood threads...
  15. topcat2069


    Dec 2, 2007
    Palm Springs
    How can different sets of tires affect the handling characteristics of a car???? or, is the engine or the suspension more important?? :bag:
  16. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    I used to own both the MIA Jazz Deluxe V and MIM Deluxe Active Jazz back in the early 2000's. Both models had the same pickups and preamp. The MIM's body was Poplar, the MIA's was Alder. There was IMO/IME a noticeable difference in tone between the two.
  17. Bassflute


    Jun 24, 2006
    Endorsing Artist: MTD basses and strings; Bergantino Amps & Cabs
    they're called recordings, and there's millions of them.

  18. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

    All the above comments are on target. To my ear, the strings, pickups and fingers make vastly more difference than the wood, regardless of what kind it is.
  19. Stanley Pugh

    Stanley Pugh

    Jun 14, 2008

    Strings alone make a huge difference, It is all subject to taste in the end.
  20. Yes, it is possible to quantify the tonal properties of different woods. There are many studies done correlating tonal properties to other properties of woods (e.g., the Young's Modulus). A great deal of information can be found with a simple Google search on "Acoustical Properties of Wood" brings up MANY peer-reviewed journal articles discussing this exact topic. A search in a proper scientific database (e.g., Web of Science) brings up even more.

    A couple of things for your Sunday afternoon reading:

    Just because it has not been done with electric basses doesn't mean it has not been done before. And knowing that such studies exist make the "its all subjective" discussions even more comical.


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