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How important is wood to the sound of a pickup?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by SoulReflection, Dec 15, 2018.

  1. SoulReflection

    SoulReflection Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2017
    I am, by no means, an expert on these things but, I do know that a pickup generates sound by the vibration of the strings.

    When you consider fretted basses, the sound of a note is produced by depressing and plucking a string. The fret is metal and the bridge saddle is metal. Therefore, all you have is a metal to metal length of string that produces a sound (note).

    With the exception of the small screws that attach the pickup to the body, there is very little, if any, contact between the pickups and the body. And, most pickups have foam that further isolates the pickup from the wood of the body.

    So, when I read posts that promote maple fret boards over rosewood, swamp wood over alder bodies and hi-mass bridges, I kind of wonder what verifiable information there is to back them up.

    Maybe somebody knows and whose answer is verifiable. Until then, I will side with the type of strings, pickups and, of course plucking technique.
    96tbird and beans-on-toast like this.
  2. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Whether or not the wood affects the tone is a common, long-running, and hotly debated topic here on TalkBass. Hence the popcorn references. :)

    Different woods and different construction techniques are not perfectly rigid structures. What they actually do is absorb a little bit of the strings’ vibrations, changing the tone. So as far as I’m concerned, the wood definitely matters. IMHO, the predictability of this phenomenon is pretty low, making it almost impossible to generalize about how different woods/structures will sound. But yes, the pickups are often the dominant factor.
  3. SoulReflection

    SoulReflection Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2017
    Thanks for your response! But I am not going to assume that popcorn is a verifiable response on TalkBass. I believe we are, or should be, much better than that.
    Kaplan, twinjet and ctmullins like this.
  4. saabfender

    saabfender Banned

    Jan 10, 2018
    Aw, bless you. Sticky please!
    Gfkfloyd, Al Kraft and ctmullins like this.
  5. Al Kraft

    Al Kraft Supporting Member

    May 2, 2016
    Northern Virginia
    Given that hard surfaces are in immediate proximity to a vibrating string, I can't imagine how it would be possible that the characteristics of those "reflective/absorbing surfaces" could have no relevance at all or no interaction with the string. In fact, if the characteristics of the wood and associated surfaces are totally independent of tone, why do different basses and guitars made of different woods in the same model line sound differently?
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2018
    SoulReflection and Flooflox like this.
  6. beans-on-toast

    beans-on-toast Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2008
    The bridge transfers energy into the wood. That energy is reflected back. If the wood of the neck and body resonates, peak frequencies can predominate. The wood affects both the brightness and the sustain of the notes. Different basses sound different because of their construction.

    Groove Tubes sold a product called fathead. It was a brass metal plate that overlays the head where the tuning pegs are located. It increased sustain. Brass nuts are said to do something similar. Same goes for the bridge material. People will argue as to how effective this is. On some instruments it can make a difference, especially with instruments that have flaws.


    The difference in tone is quite apparent in my Hofner 500/1 (beatle) bass. It’s a hollow body bass that has an unmistakable sound that sounds like nothing else. I call it small box echoey.

    Everything comes together to make the tone of an instrument, not just the wood.
    96tbird, rainsplitter, byacey and 4 others like this.
  7. SoulReflection

    SoulReflection Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2017
    Different pickups, strings, pots and wiring...just a thought...
    Al Kraft likes this.
  8. SoulReflection

    SoulReflection Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2017
    beans-on-toast likes this.
  9. Al Kraft

    Al Kraft Supporting Member

    May 2, 2016
    Northern Virginia
    Absolutely agree!! My post was only about those who completely discount the wood's characteristics. I'm a "total systems view" person when it comes to design. While I'll agree that trying to achieve a specific result within a given trade space often has us (appropriately) focus on certain most dominant aspects and characteristics, there are usually more elements in play when you start fine tuning for optimal performance.
  10. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    It has nothing to do with the TB community being better than that.

    The topic of wood vis-à-vis tone has been done to death numerous times here with no universal consensus reached. A few minutes spent with the forum’s search function can point you to several long threads discussing that very topic, some of which looked your specific question. And they produced far more heat than light most times.

    Since there’s no practical way to design an experiment that could definitively answer the question with enough correlation to pass scientific muster, it ultimately boils down to whatever opinion someone holds on the subject. Hence popcorn and carrots.
  11. saabfender likes this.
  12. Isotonic


    Oct 19, 2011
    Round Rock TX
    I have built about 20 basses. I have had the opportunity to compare same pickups, different neck and body woods on several P and J basses. Maple necks with maple fret-boards do have increased upper mid presence. I have also heard differences in Basswood, Alder vs Swamp Ash in bodies. The differences are real and demonstrable. There are many components to bass tone. It's a big part of the fun of building basses.
    Jason42, Laurent, Kaplan and 4 others like this.
  13. I built a bass out of popcorn once, and it didn’t work at all.

    That’s how important wood is to the sound of a pickup.
  14. Paulabass


    Sep 18, 2017
    I hate internet sound bytes. The only thing they are good for is a/b'ing something. I watched a youtube the other day of two BC Rich eagle basses (vintage). One was maple, the other koa. Same year approx. and the same pick-ups. There would be variations in strings etc. but the difference was astounding!
    Isotonic and SoulReflection like this.
  15. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Wood is a highly imperfect material, so it is absolutely ridiculous to apply definite description of their tonal attributes if it exists at all. At the very most, the tonal qualities of wood are minimal in a solid body electric instrument.
    Solarmist likes this.
  16. Isotonic


    Oct 19, 2011
    Round Rock TX
    Wood is variable, but different species have have their own GENERAL resonant properties, with some variation within that generality. Not all maple is the same. But they all share a similar tonal characteristic. Because of variation, it is still a bit of a guess weather a body and neck combination will yield a euphonic result. Some experimentation is necessary. If you have a sensitive and or trained ear, the differences are not subtle. And they predictable in a general sense.
  17. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    i'm on your side! ;)
    SoulReflection likes this.
  18. seilerbird


    Apr 12, 2012
    IMHO a pickup does not generate sound. It generates an electrical signal. The amplifier then converts it to sound. Different woods may sound different but with any modern amplifier you can make any bass sound like anything you want it to sound like so for me the type of wood is meaningless.
    kodiakblair and SoulReflection like this.
  19. SoulReflection

    SoulReflection Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2017
    Sorry for forgetting the search function :bag:. And I agree on the "heat vs. light" statement ;).
    40Hz likes this.
  20. SoulReflection

    SoulReflection Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2017
    Thanks! Does that mean you want to share the "heat":eyebrow:. I am finding that not picking sides can be "cooler";).

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