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Lets Chat about different body wood combinations...

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by chinjazz, Apr 22, 2020.


  1. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL
    Hey All,

    I’d like to start a chat about different wood combinations for bodies. Mixing different woods for their tonal qualities.

    I’ve finished my first three basses...all kind of different than the next. I did so in a sort of R & D to find shapes I may like to repeat.

    #1 - on the right the single cut 5
    Swamp Ash body / Maple top

    #2 - on the left - northern Ash 5
    Northern Ash body (4 laminated pieces)

    #3 - 4 string in the middle
    Mahogany Body / Cherry top & Back
    09D7A71D-2895-4561-BFB7-361438271D40.jpeg

    While all 3 basses are similar in scale length and pickups/electronics I can definitely hear/feel the difference of the harder Northern Ash bass. Actually I quite like that tone, but the weight is another story (even with a considerable amount of chambering).

    I can see that I may do a Northern Ash top to keep that fast attack but combine it with something much lighter (maybe poplar) for the rest of the body and paint it a solid color.

    Anyone else having fun with tone/timbre wood exploration?
     
  2. Rôckhewer

    Rôckhewer Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 28, 2015
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Owner/Builder- RockHewer Custom Guitars LLC
    Yes.... in fact... at the risk of being labeled "in" the Tonewood Believers camp...
    This wood combination was absolutely the most articulate, piano-like... punchy.... I've done to date.
    How do I know? ... I was using EMG exclusively during that time. Pretty much the same circuitry in 6 to 8 separate basses.
    This Cocobolo/ Maple/ Purpleheart/Ebony combination, was just special... somehow.
    (It actually made me cry when I heard it the first time)
    Yes... just the BODY wood made big a difference. :facepalm: What can I say?... it's a thing.

    20170420_155056.jpg
     
  3. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL

    That is so cool! I always love seeing your creations! Beautiful work..

    About how thick were the bodies overall?

    I'm starting to think that the thickness of the body in ratio to the thickness of the neck (where the two meet in the neck joint) has an affect on the fundamental as well.
     
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  4. Rôckhewer

    Rôckhewer Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 28, 2015
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Owner/Builder- RockHewer Custom Guitars LLC
    I typically end up right around 1 9/16"
     
    chinjazz likes this.
  5. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL
    Nice. I'm starting to trend in the thinner direction around that thickness now.
     
  6. Clark Dark

    Clark Dark

    Mar 3, 2005
    earth
    I don't know about articulation or thickness ratios but that northern ash figure is stunning.:thumbsup:
     
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  7. Many people assume electronics are identical from one to another because they cannot see a difference but the tolerances for capacitors and resistors can be many times greater than for example the density variations in a single species of wood. Also notice you are assuming a 4 string and a 5 string version of a pickup sounds the same even though they have different amounts of wire and magnets and other differences often credited for making large changes to tone.

    Also what we hear is much more than the waveforms in the air. Our brains also add what we know to the sound and they do this to all our senses. Examples of this are people not hearing graphite in a neck until they know it's there and then it becomes obvious to them. Or not hearing the wood in a solid color guitar until they are told what it is. We have all seen threads of people asking what wood their Fender is made from and you never see someone asking for sound clips to tell. We all go to catalogs and web pages to see what it is. Once we know we can hear that wood. But not before.
     
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  8. Gilmourisgod

    Gilmourisgod

    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    My current belief is Everything Matters, but some things matter a hell of a lot less than others, and I think body wood is pretty low on the scale compared to strings and electronics. I find the arguments Bruce Johnson has made on the relative rigidity (or lack there of) of the entire body/neck system as being more determinative of whatever minor effect wood has on amplified tone to be pretty convincing. I always get a kick out of the Alembic website, where they describe wood combinations that happen to be beautiful like recipes that can be tuned, like adding a pinch of pepper to the stew. Hey.... marketing! I say do what you want aesthetically and ergonomically on the body, and save your engineering for the neck. Predicting what several unique pieces of wood will sound like electrically amplified is way beyond a crapshoot, but if it looks good and feels good, it IS good.
     
  9. My friend, you have asked the quintessential, #1 question on every luthier/builder/acoustic engineering stringed instrument builder throughout history. I am afraid that it is the ultimate "loaded" question in this business. You couldn't have asked a more controversial question. But. I love it!!! It truly sparks a myriad of answers. Even one from me. I wholly disagree with the theory that the wood you choose for a build doesn't really matter because of all the electronic enhancements available to us builders today. But,,,,, it absolutely matters!!!!! All the fancy electronics you can stuff in a bass body has to have a source for the sound it is transmitting to that 'ol amp. And where does that sound originate? The woods we use for the body, top, neck, fretboard; the strings, bridge, nut, tuners and even the finish; that's where. If they don't work in harmony with each other, no amount of fancy electronics will change it. It is what it is. I'll just stop right here for now and let everyone let the smoke clear from the inevitable fallout this post will bring. However, I don't say this lightly or from total ignorance on the subject. I have been studying hardwoods and combinations thereof for 50+ years and have learned a few things in all that time. One hint: The secret is right there in your electronic tuner or your standard tuning fork for the learning.
    Cheers
     
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  10. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL
    Very nice...

    I actually like every one of your replies.
    I realize that this thread teeters onto one of those age old and controversial topics.

    Currently, I experiment within the materials and means at my disposal, and note what I'm hearing/feeling.

    Here's the thing, all of this is completely subjective to taste. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...."

    What I do when I pick up a bass to check if I'll like it is to hold the body up high on my chest with my right ear close to the horn or 12th fret, and feel/hear how it resonates/sustains - unplugged (I'm a righty, and my left ear has a deficit from drumming for 25 years). Kind of analogous to an audio engineers reference tone to tape... Un-scientifically, I know what I'm looking for when I feel it. So when I checked the Northern Ash bass above, I was like "wow", that's different and nice.. Kind of sweet.

    Anyway, please continue on, I appreciate all your feedback :)
     
  11. I am sure many builders in this industry believe they can "feel" the resonant difference in different woods or combinations of woods. But the fact is, we just aren't that good at frequency "feel". I do believe that if that frequency is transmitted close enough to the ear drum itself, it can be "heard" more than "felt". Our eardrums are our natural means of transmitting raw vibrations (frequencies) to our brain so it can do the analytical work for us. Those puppies can certainly be trained to pitch. Granted, there is a certain amount "feel" we all acquire after years of repetitive research into any subject. However, time takes a toll on us every single day and those sensations wane over the years, if not from physical trauma, then just from aging. I sure don't have the sensitivity at 67 that I had at 37, 47 or even 57. So, I now use artificial means to get what I need. Believe it or not, I have found that my engine stethoscope works well for transmitting relative sounds close enough for my eardrums to "feel" subtle differences. It's perfectly OK to laugh at that. Most people do until I show them. I was at a guitar show in the latter part of Feb, this year and demonstrated that effect to one of the finest builder/luthiers I have ever met. This man worked in the Gibson custom shop for 37 years. He was amazed at what I showed him. Things he never knew or even thought of before in tone and frequency transmission of woods that are actually tuned during the build. Stradivarius and other masters did it without electronics and their instruments are timeless. Point is, we all have things we haven't learned yet. Paying attention to our past can reveal a lot of things we have tried to "reinvent" through electronics. The laws of physics are timeless. Those laws never change. Take what I said in my previous post about your tuner and a tuning fork see what basic feature they have in common. It's right there in plain open sight if you analyze it. Try to see it for yourself first. I'm not playing a guessing game with anyone, but you understand things more when it actually dawns on you about the connection. I will certainly share it with everyone, but try on your own first, you'll appreciate it more.
    Cheers
    Cheers
     
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  12. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL
    Edited my response from last night:

    I actually don't currently own a tuning fork so I couldn't compare.
    Guitar tuners match frequencies and tuning forks emit set frequencies.
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2020
  13. Amusingly, back in the day when the the finish made all the tonal difference, Alembic's website said wood choice was irrelevant in their instruments and can be chosen solely for the look.
     
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  14. Tell me more about your research, have you published anything?
     
  15. There are always skeptics. But, that's perfectly fine with me. A person who isn't open to new knowledge just cheats themselves out of potential. Why in the world would I want to publish anything? I'm not some professor seeking fame and fortune. I'm just an ordinary wood butcher like most of us here. However, I'll be happy to share what I know with all who ask. I see no need to die with the knowledge. I have been asked to do some seminars at a few guitar shows. I'm certainly not going to force anyone to attend or even to accept what I might say here without investigating it. I certainly don't know it all. Did you bother to check what the relative commonality is between your tuning fork and your tuner? Finishes do make a difference. We live in a world in which we can embrace technology. I really don't want to go out and find some insect spit to make my shellac out of, do you? Who says that Alembic, Ken Smith, et al is the ultimate authorities on sound & tone? Frankly, I would never be so arrogant as to charge 10 times what it takes to build one. It's just not ethical to me and I am intimately familiar with their products. But hey, business is business, right? I wouldn't buy a Rolls Royce even if I had the money or a brand new vehicle of any kind for that matter. Depreciation... I drive a Ford that does perfectly well and is plenty luxurious enough for me. And it costs 15% of the price of the Rolls. I still get to concerts & Broadway plays in it with plenty of class. The valet never turns me down.
    Cheers
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2020
  16. dwizum

    dwizum Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2018
    For all the kajillions of lines of text that have probably been written about wood selection and tone, and how humans perceive the relationship, it seems like someone - somewhere - some time - would have just put a mic on an oscilloscope and captured images of the soundwaves for identical instruments built with different woods and formats. Does anyone know of such a study? I've kind of half heartedly looked a few times on google but never came up with much that seemed meaningful. With something like that out of the way, then we could at least conclusively say "we have data that shows these differences" and then we could all just sit back and argue over which curve should get called "warm" or "bright."

    Personally I'm in the skeptical, but believer club when it comes to wood selection and construction method. I believe it makes a difference, but I don't personally feel like I have anywhere near enough of an understanding to make broad conclusive statements, and I find myself often feeling skeptical when other people make broad statements, because I feel like at least some of the people who do make such statements are talking themselves into a bias they already had, rather than basing their position on something real (present company excluded of course, I will happily take the word of a LC regular at face value.)

    The closest thing I've ever done to an A/B comparison was a pair of identical neckthrough guitars I built in the fall, they were the same except being left vs right handed. Cherry bodies with maple caps, cherry and maple laminated necks, ebony fretboards, two humbuckers. I had my friend's old Fender Lead I in the shop at the same time - one humbucker in the bridge position, alder body, bolt on maple neck, maple fretboard. Besides the three guitars I had 6 different humbuckers on hand. Four of them were various middle of the road Seymour Duncans, and there was a Rio Grande Texas BBQ and an unknown Dimarzio. I swapped back and forth through different combinations of guitar and pickup and recorded a bit with each configuration (just on my phone, nothing high end).

    I initially did the experiment because I was trying to decide which pickups to keep for my guitar versus put in the other two. I figured the pickups would be the major contributor to the tone in each configuration, and I was trying the different guitars just because I had them all in front of me. I figured my two guitars would sound the same (they did - which made for a nice "control group"). But I didn't expect the Fender to really be THAT different, because I've always prescribed to the "pickups and strings are the number one factor in tone" camp and hadn't felt that construction method or wood choice was a big deal. Short story: I was basically entering into this as a pickup testing experiment.

    But the real lesson ended up being much more about the differences in the instruments than in the pickups. I'm sure some of those still reading at this point is going "well DUH, of course!" right about now, but I was really surprised at how you could easily pick out the Fender versus the two I had built, regardless of the pickup. The Fender was much more mid-heavy and almost sounded damped, like there was a blanket over the speaker, while the two home made guitars were just super bright in comparison, and almost had a sort of acoustic-y sound to them, no matter what pickup was in them.

    Subjectively, the difference in tone from guitar to guitar was much more significant than the difference in tone from pickup to pickup. If I just listened to the recordings randomly, I could instantly tell if it was the Fender or one of mine, but I wasn't ever really able to guess which pickup was which regardless of the guitar or pickup. There were definitely differences between the pickups, but the differences were less distinctive than the differences between the guitars.

    Of course, these guitars are near polar opposites in terms of wood choice and construction method. And this was just one basement experiment, not very official or thorough. I'm still somewhat in the gray area on the great tonewood debate, and would still not put myself in a position to try to make broad statements or rules of thumb about how to achieve a certain tone based on construction and wood choice. But I will definitely say - for this particular experiment - I was surprised at the outcome.

    Ultimately though, I do feel that it's hard to discuss specific variables outside of the big picture, and I agree that the overall mechanical properties are what creates the contribution to tone (stiffness, damping, density/weight) - and you can probably play with different species or construction techniques in different combinations to get different results in those terms. In other words, I don't think maple has a certain sound, or bolt on necks have a certain sound. I think it's probably more accurate to say a bass that has these final mechanical properties has a certain sound, and I used these wood choices and methods to get there.
     
  17. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Tone wood matters. If the supporting structure of an instrument is wood, then it matters. The fallacy is attributing specific qualities to all examples of a given wood species. As construction materials go, wood is probably the least consistent from piece to piece of the “same” species. And sometimes Wood A is marketed using a common name (“Mahogany”) when in fact it turns out to be something different altogether (Entandrophragma cylindricum, also known as “Sapele”).

    So avoid generalizations, and evaluate each individual piece in its own right.

    And remember that an instrument’s character is the sum total of all of its parts. Wood is just one ingredient in the total recipe.
     
  18. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Oh man, I've been writing about this subject here on TalkBass for about 10 years. Most of my career as a Bass Luthier has been focused on this: how to shape the tone of an electric bass by working with the wood frame. My own line of Scroll Basses are full examples of this. I've tuned the structures to get a specific sound. The things I've done to the wood frame are a major part of the final sound of my bass, that goes through the wire to the amp. As are details with the mounting of the metal hardware, and details in the internal construction of my pickups.

    Here's a mash-up of a bunch of posts I've written about this, covering the general ideas. I haven't yet edited them all together into a smoother article, so it's a bit disjointed.

    It starts out from a question about whether the shape of the body can affect the tone, about Geddy Lee's famous teardrop P-bass:

    The body shape can change the overall tone of the bass, but only if it significantly changes the stiffness of the body. If the body is made stiff, by being thick, using a hard wood, no chambering, etc., then you can change the shape and it won't make any difference in the sound. But, if you cut away enough wood that it becomes significantly weaker structurally, then it will affect the tone. Both the low end and the high end become weaker and mushier, and the sustain is less. That's what happened with Geddy's bass. He cut away so much that the body became structurally weaker.

    In the case of comparing the P-bass to the 2x4, they are both real stiff. So they sound the same.

    That's the element that's missing from all of these long arguments about whether wood matters, or whether the bass's frame affects the tone: The net stiffness of the frame is what affects the tone.

    If you build the frame of a bass really stiff, then it will have almost no effect at all on the tone. The sound going to the amp will be all strings and pickups. Most mass produced basses are built that way. Slabs of wood with pickups and strings. And most customers are happy with that.

    But, if you start trimming away at the structure to make it weaker, then it will start affecting the tone. This can be done by making the body thinner, cutting internal chambers, cutting away at the external shape, or using softer woods. The weaker you make the structure, the more it will affect the sound on the strings. Which gets additionally shaped by the pickup and sent on to the amp. And the weaker it is, the more you are able to hear the differences between different woods. That's what builders like myself do. We deliberately make the structure weaker, down into that zone where the wood does matter, and play around with different woods and different shapes of the parts to finely shape the tone.

    Another example:
    Suppose you build three P-Basses which have thick unchambered bodies, and are identical, except the bodies are made from three different woods. Those three basses will probably sound just about identical. They are all stiff structures, so it doesn't matter what wood the bodies are made from. Their sound is strings and pickups.

    Now, suppose you take those same three basses and thin the bodies down to, say, 1 1/4" thick. Everything else is the same. The three basses will sound different from before; softer, mushier high and low end, richer background coloration. You will also now hear some difference between them. The different woods have different stiffnesses. Once you've reduced the overall stiffness of the bodies down to the point where they are affecting the tone, then you will be able to hear the tone differences that the different woods make.

    So there's your answer: Wood doesn't make a difference, except when the bass is built so that it does make a difference. And the shape probably won't affect the tone.....unless you take it too far. Then it might.

    It's that simple!


    Here's another of my old posts that may help with the basics: It was about the tone differences between Bolt-on, neck-thrus, and set necks.

    You're not imagining things! The frame of your new neck-thru bass is clearly stiffer overall than the Jazz or the Washburn. That is, it takes more pounds of force to flex it. That's why the strings feel tighter. It's not that the tension in the strings is higher; that's fixed by the scale length and the note that they are tuned to. But when you pull the string to the side with your fingertip, you are yanking on the tuner and the bridge, causing the bass's frame to bend a little bit. The stiffer the frame is built, the more pounds you'll feel on your fingertip as you pluck. So, the sensation is that the strings are tighter, and they snap more when you release. That's one of the things you get with a stiff-frame bass.

    Neck-thru construction basses are generally stiffer than bolt-ons, but not always. You can build a neck-thru from soft woods with a thin profile, and it can be soft and springy. And, you can certainly build a bolt-on to be very stiff. It all depends on how the bass is built. The stiffness of the frame is one of the factors we luthiers play around with to get the feel and tone where we want it.


    As usual, that didn't convince a bunch of the guys. One of them posted this: "I respect your educated opinion, but I've never experienced a difference in string feel between BO, SN or NT basses. So are you saying the the entire bass warps when you pluck a string? Sorry, I just don't really get it, and it sounds like snake oil."

    So, I took the time and wrote a long, more detailed post:

    A bass is like an archery bow; a wooden frame with a string stretched tightly between the two ends. Obviously, the archery bow is an exaggerated example, but when you pull the string off to the side, the wooden frame bends to take up the shorter length. The string isn't made of rubber; it's a very stiff material lengthwise, stiffer than the wood. When you pull the string off to the side the two anchor points at each end get pulled towards each other, with a lot of force. The result is that the two wooden arms of the bow bend from the load. The stiffness of those two wooden arms determines the power of the bow, and how many pounds of force it takes to pull the string off to the side some fixed amount. The thicker the bow arms, the harder you have to pull sideways on the string.

    When you release the bow string, it snaps back towards straight, overshoots past straight, then swings back the other way. It oscillates back and forth for a while, decreasing the amplitude with each swing, until it finally comes to a stop in a straight line, under the nominal tension. Every time the string oscillates off to the side of center, the bow frame's wooden arms are again being flexed, for the same geometric reason as described above. As the string oscillates and slows down, the wooden arms go through a cycle of increasing and decreasing load. If you watch the tips of the wooden arms, they are flexing in and out with every cycle of the string. The "out" is every time the string crosses the centerline and is straight for an instant. The "in" is when the string is deflected off to the side. The frame is moving as long as the string is moving.

    The same thing happens on a bass, but on a smaller scale. Hopefully you're not pulling the string that far off to the side! The bass is a wooden frame with a steel string stretched tightly between the tuner post and the bridge. The steel is a lot stiffer than the wood. I'm sure you've watched the neck and body flex as you bring the strings up from loose to full tension. You can see the strings lifting up off the fingerboard, to end up at some height above the fingerboard. That's the bass's wooden frame bending into a curve, just like the arms on the archery bow.

    When you pull the string off to the side (when plucking), you are forcing the bass's frame to bend just a little bit more. The stiffer the frame is, the more pounds it takes to pull the string the same distance to the side, just like the archery bow. When you release it, the string snaps back and goes into the back-and-forth oscillations. The wooden frame is also flexing back and forth with every cycle of the string. The movement is visually small, but it's definitely happening. It has to. Something has to move.

    That cyclic flexing of the wood frame is at the heart of the final tone that an electric bass makes. The flexing of the wood frame changes the sound on the string, because with every cycle that it flexes, it removes some energy from the string. On a soft wooden frame that flexes easily, the string dies out quickly. Less high end and less sustain. On a very stiff wooden frame, the frame doesn't flex as much, and the string rings longer and with a wider frequency range. Stretch a string across a block of granite, and the frame doesn't move at all. The string will keep ringing all day. In that case, when you pluck the string, all of the flexing is being done by the steel in the string. On a granite guitar, you're hearing the pure sound of the string itself.

    And yes, I'm talking about the plugged in sound of the bass. The tone curve that rings on the string is detected by the pickup and sent off to the amp.

    Here's the important thing to understand:

    The stiffer the bass's structure is, the more you are hearing the tone that the string itself is making. The structure flexes less, so therefore it has less effect on the tone on the string.

    The softer (more flexible) the bass's structure is, the more the structure is able to modify the tone on the string. The flexing itself changes the tone, but ONLY if the structure is able to flex.

    That difference is the reason why we so often get into heated arguments around here on whether the wood frame affects the tone of an electric bass. The answer is yes or no, depending on the bass.

    On basses that are built with very stiff frames, the amplified tone does indeed come primarily from the character of the strings and the curve shaping of the pickup. The wood has very little to do with it.

    However;

    When you build a bass structure to be more flexible, then it will have a significant effect on the tone out through the amp, and the feel on the strings. The more it's able to flex, the greater the effect, and the less the bass sounds like pure steel strings. That's why we luthiers fuss with all the different woods and shapes of the structures. We're trying to make our basses sound less like metal and more like a violin.​

    (Another poster showed a bass of his where he had built a new mahogany body for it, and the tone had changed dramatically)

    That's it exactly. An excellent example of what's going on. Now, is the new body very much different dimensionally from the old one? The lower stiffness of the body may be partly due to your weakening it in the design, and partly due to switching to the softer mahogany. Whichever, you got there. You softened the overall structure enough that you got the frame to start bringing in background coloration. Those are the off-harmonics in the background that make the warm sound.

    You can push it further if you like, to bring out even more of the warmth. Keep trimming away at the body, mostly in the area right between the neck pocket and the bridge. Trim it thinner front-to back, rout some slots, whatever you like. But go slowly. You're in the "zone" now. It doesn't take much once you've got the body working. But, if you go too far, you can always add some reinforcements to stiffen it back up.

    Here's where it all gets so confusing to most people. If I were working with you, I could show you how to build a replica of your mahogany body, still out of mahogany, but with enough reinforcements and dimensional changes that it would end up with the same stiffness as the original maple body. Hell, we could make similar looking bodies from 10 different woods, but adjusting them each to the same stiffness. All stiff bodies, but made of different woods.

    The test results would be dramatic: They would all sound the same! And the crowds in the streets with the WOOD DOESN'T MATTER banners would be cheering! Definitive proof that you can build a bass body out of any kind of wood, and there won't be any difference in sound! That's what it proves, right? Right?

    No, not really. What it proves is that if you have a batch of bodies that are all built to the same stiffness, then the wood choice doesn't matter. That's it.

    Here's the other side of the experiment:
    I could build you a maple body that would resemble your mahogany body, but I could trim it away enough to bring its structural stiffness down pretty close to the mahogany body. It wouldn't sound exactly the same, but it would be close. The warm background coloration, with the reduced range and sustain. This maple body would sound like what you'd expect of a mahogany body. Yes, you can build a bass with a carbon fiber neck and a maple body, and have it end up with a nice warm tone. Nothing to do with the pickups. It's all about the stiffness of the structure.

    You can see why the arguments get so confusing.

    Conclusions:
    1.) You can't say that a particular wood will cause a bass to sound a particular way. Likewise, you can't say that a particular sound from a bass is caused by the presence of a particular wood. Maybe, but it's probably more complicated than that. You can get to a particular tone from different directions, using different choices of wood.
    2.) You also can't say that wood doesn't matter...at all. In many cases, the wood choice may not make any tone difference to the player. But with your Steinberger, you've shown that it does.

    It's all about the structural stiffness, and the choice of wood is just one of the variables.


     
  19. Mr Dwizum, you got it exactly right!!! Yes, I have done it on an oscilloscope. Many years back, one of my close friends, an MSEE, helped me experiment on my idea that wood can be tuned to different frequencies by altering it's thickness, resonation chamber, physical properties(roasting, bonding, etc.) and other properties. The difference between the modulation of, not only species variables, but even wood of identical dimensions from the same board is actually shocking to see on an oscilloscope. We did it by taking an old Barcus Berry acoustic under-bridge pickup (the old stick on kind) and set to experimenting. Modulation could would vary by 30-50hz or more on boards cut back to back from the same tree. Of course, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that pine sounds much different than ebony. But so does spruce or fir. All the of the same family of evergreens. Just like the "mahoganies". There are well over 200 species of "Mahogany" throughout the world. Same for Rosewood. However, all can be tuned, either in combination with other woods or physically altering their properties to get the tone range you want. We had a lot of fun studying this phenomenon and gained a wealth of knowledge with it. Neither one of us ever dreamed of writing something on it or publishing a paper about it. Unfortunately, Bob died 16 years into our little venture, but over all that time my ears became trained to hear these tones. But, I'm not in my 30s & 40s anymore so I can't hear them any more without help and I don't own an oscilloscope.

    If you paid any attention to what I wrote before you will see that I mentioned my stethoscope. Plain old engine stethoscope you can buy on eBay. It's the one with the probe on it, but you health care people can do it with the one you use at work as well. You may have also read where I said where I said it was right there in front of you all this time if you took time to just pay attention. Most of us just take things for granted any more. Your tuning fork? Ok...drum roll.... it's the 440hz A note. 440hz is the first A note above middle C on a piano. Your voice coach teaches you the A note first. A piano tuner uses the 440hz A as the base note on a piano. Our electronic tuners use 440hz for guitars, basses, violins, cellos and almost every stringed instrument we use. It is the magic number in our world; embrace it and use it. It's not that hard.

    When you think of wood, ask yourself; "what natural sound am I after?". Ask this; "what resonates sound better, cotton or concrete?". Apply that theory to wood. The harder and denser it is, the more it will resonate sound. We generalize it as "sustain". Soft wood has a distinct, "thud" to it, but hardwood has that "tink" that seems to be so magical for all of those looking to "sound" or "feel" the wood's properties. Let's use use Maple for an example. There's Hard Rock, Curly, Flamed, Bird's Eye, Sugar Maple, Canadian Maple, etc. How about Splated Maple? Yeah, hard AND soft on the same board. Thud & Tink all together in a guitar top. Well, crap!! Back to square one, right? Not necessarily. Glue a piece of Purpleheart or similar hardwood under it and check it again. Tinkles everywhere. Well alrighty then!! A good rule of thumb is, "softer means duller and harder means brighter". Ok, I can hear you. "Duh, everyone knows that". Ok, but what frequency do you have in that ever wonderful "tink" you just heard. Do you know how to control it to get that sound you're looking for? It is true that the sum of the parts make the whole. We all agree with that, don't we? So, under that theory, the body, top, neck, fretboard and all the natural parts should harmonize with each other, should they not? Therein lies the magic!! After you achieve that, amplify it to your heart's content.
    Dwizum, you are absolutely right in that the two "mirror image" instruments you built sounded noticeably different because they are. Simple as that. Now, shoot for building totally indifferent instruments that sound identical. When you can do that, you will have learned how to vary things to make them all unique in their own way, but still have the wonderful sound of everything within the harmonic range of your tuning.

    Maybe I'm an old senile fool, but it has been successful for me for the last 30+ years since I realize how it worked. My instruments may look almost identical, but each are tuned individually to produce sounds that harmonically compliment everything as a whole. But always within the 440hz harmonic range. I use this mantra: If you build it muddy, it will stay that way. Build it bright and muddy it to your tastes. Maybe all those builders of the "King's ransom" priced guitars & basses, that you & I can't afford and sound so wonderful, know something you don't know and won't share it. Maybe you should think about it as meaningful instead of "marketing hype". I believe them.
    Cheers
     
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  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

     
    May 8, 2021

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