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How important is body weight for sound?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Xaver, Jul 19, 2007.

  1. Xaver


    Dec 21, 2006
    Canberra, Australia
    Hi, just found a bass player interview with Arthur Barrows, former Zappa bassist:

    "Bass guitars need to be made out of really heavy wood. If they don't hurt your shoulder after 15 minutes, they're too light. It's physics. You wouldn't have a speaker cabinet made out of balsa-it's the same with a bass. You want a solid mass so the body stays in one place while the string vibrates. That's what gives you sustain."

    What are your views? Can you generally say that? I have to say, I played a 70ies Precision and it weighs a ton, my shoulder DID hurt after 30mins, I have to say it sounds great. Anybody made experiments with same electronics, hardware, strings and different body woods/weights?

  2. Gone


    Mar 21, 2006
    Cape Town
    Jayda custom basses, builder
    Yeah weight definitely helps with sustain but I wouldn't say "Bass guitars need to be made out of really heavy wood". Other components play a big part in sustain also, whether it is bolt-on/neck-through, bridge, etc.

    Also IMO sustain is often over-rated. You could have great tone but poor sustain and still have an awesome bass IMO.
  3. I've often wondered how much sustain one needs. I know how much players love NT's, but I have never really noticed much of a difference in NT's and BO's, except for the neck/body joint. I can't justify the price difference.
  4. Sustain has an effect on tone. Greater sustain seems to increase the harmonic content. But, there are other ways to get the same result without making the bass very heavy. I think that the biggest thing with heavy basses is the way they feel to the player. To me, a heavy bass just feels "right" but I don't think that there is a solid scientific reason why heavier is better. Some light basswood bodied basses have a very nice tone.
  5. YMMV, but this year I lost 20 lbs and my sustain definitely improved! :bag:
  6. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Sounds like armchair physics to me.
  7. johnvice


    Sep 7, 2004

    My main bass from 1981 to 2002 was a 1978 Fender P. I fell in love with a Fender Aerodyne whose body is made out of BASSwood (how appropriate ;) ).

    I liked the sound and sustain of "two ton Tessie" a lot better but I drew the line between sound and comfort :)
  8. it's funny, because Ken Parker says the exact opposite, praising the resonant qualities of soft lightweight woods.
  9. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    Quite amazing that a builder, whose research, experience, and success would have an opinion that is in direct opposition to that of a player.
  10. Heavy basses tend to bring out the high end frequencies more - lighter woods naturally favout the lower frequencies - just a product of the density, and therefore the "snappiness" of the tonal response.

    The best sounding bass I ever played was at David Coulthard's (Formula 1 driver) 21st birthday bash (long time ago now) - I got roped in to playing with the house band - the guy had a 1960's ultra-lightweight Precision, and it was simply the best sounding bass I have EVER played - loads of bottom, with tons of midrange bark

    All this "you gotta have a heavy bass" is complete nonsense - all you get it a sore back and shoulder (isn't that a brand of shampoo?). It's all about getting an instrument that has that "pick me up and play me" vibe which suits your own requirements!
  11. Yellow


    Apr 20, 2006
    Sooke, BC, Canada
    I think it is in the hands of the beholder, but as far as physics go it is true. High freq, travels by air and as well as light mass, low freq travels through mass, if you put your bass on the floor and make solid contact with the floor, pluck the string unplugged then lift it and pluck again you can hear the difference.
  12. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Lineā„¢ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    good thing we have pickups and amplifiers to compensate for an improperly weighted bass


    all the best,

  13. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Yeah, that's an opinion. Many metaphors can be drawn... ;)
    You should be able to have a bass cabinet as light as you want, as long as the sides are stiff (not necessarily heavy) so they don't flex (thus losing energy out the sides, and setting up messy radiation patterns and interferences), and as long as it's not so light the entire cabinet moves (pretty unlikely).
    A super heavy body and a heavy, stiff neck would likely increase the sustain. Gibson apparently did a test guitar out of granite that sustained nearly forever. But, as others said, sustain can be overrated. Myself, I'd leave infinite sustain for the keyboard player.

    When you put the bass in contact with the floor (or a table top) and hear it louder, you're using the floor as a soundboard, like the top of a guitar or the soundboard of a piano, which sets more air in motion. You'll find it can amplify all the frequencies pretty well, not just the low end.
  14. Nino Valenti

    Nino Valenti Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 2, 2001
    Staten Island NYC
    Builder: Valenti Basses
    I've played a lot of heavy basses that sounded great and a lot of heavy basses that sounded like crap.

    I've played a lot of light basses that sounded great and a lot of light basses that sounded like crap.

    Go figure. :confused:
  15. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Wood...bah. It's all in the neck joint and the pickup placement. And I know it sound absolutely ridiculous to say this, but I think the player has a tiny little something to do with it, too.
  16. bassksun


    Mar 5, 2004
    Las Vegas,NV

  17. Xaver


    Dec 21, 2006
    Canberra, Australia
    I s'pose there is just too many other variables other than weight of the body to make an instrument sound good - or like crap...
    Lots of interesting thoughts, though, I don't think it's necessarily armchair physics about the weight/sustain relationship, or is it?

    PS: My P was a '78 too...
  18. Blake Bass

    Blake Bass Supporting Member

    Jan 10, 2006
    Montgomery, Texas
    Most of the NYC Sadowsky Basses are pretty light , under 9 lbs and they sound great IMO.
  19. Me too. If weight were the only issue, you could get sustain and tone with a bag of wet sand.
  20. Nino Valenti

    Nino Valenti Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 2, 2001
    Staten Island NYC
    Builder: Valenti Basses
    Just because a bass can sustain forever, doesn't mean that it sustaining a good sound. :);)

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