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Laminated vs Carved

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by iPlay15151515, Apr 25, 2005.

  1. How long ago did manufacturers/luthiers start using laminated materials in basses?

    What is the most noticeable difference between a carved top and a liminated top with respect to the sound?
  2. More specifically, is it possible for a 100 year old bass to have been constructed from laminated materials?
  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I don't think so. Plywood basses (gotta watch those euphemisims ;)) only go back to the 30's or so?
  4. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Plywood goes back to the 1890s, actually. Molding boat hulls and aircraft from veneers goes back to the 30s, I think, so that may be when it was first applied to basses as well.
  5. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    John asked me to post this, which I had previously PM'ed.

    Let's take, say, Scott LaFaro's Prescott or Edgar Meyer's dot-bass as the mythical "100% Great-Tone."

    Let's also posit Yer Chinese Bass-Shaped Object ("BSO") with crap strings, factory bridge & post and maple fingerboad as 40% GT. The sound has less complexity and depth. The notes simply don't last as long. It sounds "tubby." It's harder to play in tune because of both of those things.

    Now let's consider a Juzek ply with an ebony board, proper neck-angle, real strings and a decent bridge & post. The notes are now clearer and last longer although the essential quality of the sound is still plywood tubbitude. But because you can hear what you're doing I'll stick it past 50% on the GT meter. A well-made plywood bass with a good setup -- including a careful fingerboard dressing -- can be a powerful tool, even though the odds are still overwhelming that the sound is going to lack nuance compared to wood.

    Now let's put a real wood top on that same well-setup, otherwise-plywood instrument. The sound will be more complex and suble, and less tubby and indistinct. "OK" is probably the low point, and "pretty darn decent" is the upper range, depending on strings, setup and your personal sonic model.

    Excepting grotesque thangs with completely improper neck-angle and atrocious setup, just about any solid-wood DB will deliver a much more nuanced sound than just about any plywood bass. THERE ARE, I hear, exceptions. Christophers are supposed to be nice. New Standards have a fine reputation. I haven't tried them. My personal experience is that the worst-sounding solid-wood bass can be set-up to get you over the 80% mark, although a shabby setup can make any bass sound like dogmeat. But don't take my word for it -- search around! I suspect that the more basses you play the more you'll see the generalizations bear out.

    Finally, I know that in the bluegrass world you'll occasionally hear some idiot toting a $5,000 vintage Martin say that plywood basses sound more "authentic." Hand him a plwood guitar and tell him where to point the peghead. Better sound sounds better, no doy, and the people YOU play bluegrass WILL be happy to hear better sound from you.

    The fact is that Ron Carter is still gonna sound like Ron Carter playing on your BSO and you won't sound like Ron playing on his bass. But John, if you're playing a BSO, moving up to a real-wood bass or at least a hybrid will bring a noticeable improvement in your sound. You can even keep your BSO to leave in the car over the weekend.

    No doubt I'm making some people annoyed here. Please accept my apology if I have insulted the bass which has brought you, o reader, so far in your travels. There are hundreds of records made on plywood basses that leave my sound in the dust. There are thousands of bassists playing plywood who leave my playing in the dust.
  6. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    And what's even more funny about the bluegrass guy with the $5000 Martin is that he might as well be playing a plywood guitar because it's more of a percussion instrument than a melody instrument in a bluegrass band.

    Sam, I don't think you insulted anyone or their instrument...I think you just stated fact. It has to be true, otherwise nobody would be crazy enough to spend 5 figures on a bass. They'd all just buy $300 CCB's (or BSO's, as you call them, although I thought you meant Brian Setzer Orchestra at first)from Ebay.
  7. I have an all plywood bass and now a new all carved bass. This is not the only difference, there are others as well but I think the difference that can be attributed to ply vs. carved was summed up well in this one sentence: Sam Sherry:
    I think in the USA, that plywood basses started with Kay in the late 30's. I think there were experiments with laminated ribs and backs earlier in some German instruments. It is difficult to compare the materials or the methods of the earliest laminated parts to modern plywood. Not all plywood is the same. The layers can be made of many different things. Recently, the plywood is more carefully engineered to mimic the characteristics of the wood it is substituted for. Interestly though, it still sounds like plywood. Just my anectdotal take on it.
  8. Sam,

    Can I use this quote on my website??? when I get it up?
  9. I agree with all you said Sam ! I have a 20 year old plywood,
    a 2 year old plywood and a carved bass and there is no
    comparison in sound ! The carved bass is smoother, bigger
    and better sounding all the way up the fingerboard. The
    sound of the ply's are DEAD in comparison. Just my 2 cents!!!:D
  10. Tommy Taroo

    Tommy Taroo

    May 2, 2016
    Hi everyone, I'm new here and I hope you don't mind me jumping in the discussion. I'm new to double basses (coming from bass guitar world) and I noticed that Sam Sherry mentioned a carved top sounding better. I'm currently in the market to buy my first double bass and I've noticed that they seem to have several variations of laminate sides with carved top, carved top with laminate back, etc.

    It seems intuitive to me that, if carved sounds better, a bass would sound better if more of its parts are wood and less are laminate. However I'm not sure if that's true and I'm also curious if there are any parts which can be laminate and have little or negative impact on the sound.

    Note: I plan to use my bass for classical.

  11. I've played hybrid (carved top, plywood ribs and back) basses that were capable of sounding quite good under the bow. As a new player you may be better off with a quality hybrid that's had a great setup by a professional bass luthier, given that instruments of that type are generally less persnickety.

    My "new" carved bass is coming up on 20 years old and still moves around like crazy as seasonal changes affect relative humidity.

    But to actually answer your question, if you intend to play legit, you will almost certainly be happier with a carved top.

    Really, though, the first thing you should do is find a good teacher and ask/pay them to help you choose a good bass that you can afford.
  12. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    You should not even be considering a laminate bass then.
  13. Tommy Taroo

    Tommy Taroo

    May 2, 2016
    Good advice! Thanks. Also, thanks for the input about the hybrid, which is what I'm really curious about.
  14. Tommy Taroo

    Tommy Taroo

    May 2, 2016
    Thanks, Brian. Do you mean laminate in any way? Would a hybrid not be advisable in your opinion?
  15. Ben B

    Ben B

    Jul 13, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    For a beginner learning to play classical, I think the carved top is a must, but you can use a hybrid rather than a fully carved bass. Most of the resonance comes from the top, so, a hybrid should work fine. If you progress to the level of playing professionally in an orchestra or symphony, then, yes you will need a fully carved.
    Tommy Taroo likes this.

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