Light body? Heavy body??

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by pantografo64, Jan 23, 2001.

  1. Pros and cons of a bass with light body.

    I'm talking about a single wood body [no happy sandwich with extra exotic timbers].
    Personally I prefer lighter bodies, I follow the old school of lighter the bass better the sound.
    I know others guys prefer the heavy ones, at least there is no neck diving ...
  2. I'm a little surprised nobody told his/her ideas on the subject.

    Body wood is of paramount importance.
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well I've always found by experience and got the impression from talking to luthiers, pros etc. that the heavier or denser the body, the better the sound. Of course it's all subjective , but "vintage" Les Pauls, for example are sought after for their solid mahogany bodies which age and become more dense improving the sound.

    You have to balance this against something being so heavy that you can't lift it or that it gives you back-ache, but my impression has always been that light basses are a compromise in the tone dept, and that for the best tone you go for denser woods - rigidity is an important factor. I know it's not that simple and there's more to it, but I think otherwise everybody would be playing light basses for the comfort factor, whereas a lot of people do put up with the weight becuase they like the sound.
  4. I know Bruce and I have expressed somewhat opposing views on this before, but I'm not totally sure what the answer is.

    I know that with acoustic instruments (violins, double basses, etc.) generally, lighter instruments tend to sound better. Overly dense wood inhibits vibrations in these cases. You'll also notice that the tops of these instruments (the principal vibrating surface) are always made from soft wood like spruce (most often) and sometimes cedar. You never see a violin made with a hardwood top - it would be extremely weak sounding.

    Now, electric guitars and basses have some differences, but I'm willing to bet that they could benefit from similar principals to some extent, unless you want the bulk of your tone to come from your pickups and electronics.

    I know, in my own collection, I have a very dense and heavy G&L L-2000 and a much lighter L-2500 (5 string). The electronics are essentially identical, but to my ear, the lighter bass always sounds better to me - it's much warmer and more natural sounding.

    I suppose it may come down to what one's definition of sounding "better" is. I always prefer warm and woody basses that still have a lot of punch.
  5. Larzito


    Aug 1, 2000
    Dallas, Texas
    Interesting subject. My Roscoe is my heaviest bass (Maple top/Mahogany body). Roscoe is also the LEAST bassy and warm. My Pedulla is my lightest bass and is the warmest and has the most bass. The Pedulla is solid maple. The qualities of the wood play a majore role in the sound. Its not purely the weight, it has to do with the density, hardness, etc. There is an excellent article on wood in a 1994 issue of Bass Player (primarily written by Michael Tobias, with input from some notable luthiers). I wasn't a big believer in all of this wood/sound thing (believing that pickups were the most influential piece) until I bought the Roscoe, which has very similar pickups and preamp to the Pedulla, but sounds radically different...its HAS to be the wood!

    Another example is my two MusicMan Sterlings. One is made of Poplar. It is bassy and trebly, with kind of a natural midrange scoop. The other is Swamp Ash, which has less bass, but has more of a singy midrange. The bass has a more solid atack, but not as deep. Neither is better or worse, it comes down to preference.

    I would advise doing some research into types of wood before you buy your next ax. Had I done so, I would not have bought the Roscoe, which is not deep enough for my taste. (I hate to pick on the Roscoe, it plays great, looks great and has an interesting, aggressive just wasn't what I was looking for...and an expensive way to find out that wood choice is important...beware of sings beautifully unplugged, it just does not get the booty in the low end).
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think it's become clear from various threads we have participated in that Rob and I have almost diametrically opposite tastes on everything to do with basses and sound. So this just goes to confirm what I was saying elsewhere that it's ironic that probably the most important question in any debate like this : "how does it sound?" is something that cannot be answered in words and is to all intents and puposes entirely subjective.

    Having said that, I have had it confirmed by many experts that as I said old Les Paul solid bodies are desired and are so expensive because of the density of their heavy mahogany bodies.

    I think that acoustic instruments and solid bodies are very different, just as light and heavy bodies are "different" and it's probably not the right question to ask - i.e. does one sound better than the other - they're just different and have as many afficionados on both sides. And even if only one person liked a particular sound that doesn't mean to say that it is any better or worse then another sound - just different.

  7. my thoughts on the matter (after building a P-bass from warmoth parts with a heavy ash body and comparing it with my Fender with a lighter ash body) are that a heavier body resonates less- this gives you more sustain, since less of the vibrating string's energy is lost to the body, and a more pure sound of the string- it is "coloured" less by the body's vibration. this idea is supported by Alembic, who said in that 1994 Bass Player article that they try to make the instrument inert, using a heavy brass block under the bridge to inhibit body vibration, together with overall rigidity in the body and neck as well.

    it's a matter of personal taste as to which is better- a lighter body resonates more and can be said to add "character" to the sound, taking this idea to extremes with a semi-acoustic or completely acoustic bass which resonates a lot, a considerable change in the sound (a long-scale semi-acoustic strung with roundwounds has a very complex sound), at the expense of sustain.

    [Edited by The Mock Turtle Regulator on 01-25-2001 at 01:04 PM]
  8. The Mock Turtle pretty much sums it up for my experience in this area. My Kawai (Alembic-like, lotsa maple) pretty much sounds like the Alembic people described. I like it that way - clear, bright piano like tone, tons of sustain. BUT, I also really like my MIJITSO 62 Jazz (poplar, I think) that has more warmth with a deeper voice and still plenty of sustain. I guess my trouble is that what I look for as a signature sound is only clear, well defined highs. Beyond that, I have different basses with different tones because I like them ALL! Though I don't play professionally I imagine I would use them situationally (always appropriately) depending on the tune or style.
  9. Steve S

    Steve S

    Jul 26, 2000
    The older I get, the lighter I like my bass.
  10. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    ....for a bolt-on or set-in neck. For a neckthru bass it's not. In the latter case, the body will have to overcome the resistance of the neck, to be able to cancel any frequencies. While the strings of the "loose-necks" are connected directly into the body, which means that the noise-cancelling properties of the body dictates the tone.

    BTW: stiffer, heavier and harder materials will cancel less trebles in any case, giving a brighter tone - and a sourer back...

    I want a light neck-thru!
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    That's what I was saying. The "complex" sound you mention is something that I avoid like the plague and is what I would call "woolly", "woofy", "indistinct" and prone to feedback. But it's not a question of one being better than another just different. I know what I like from extensive research over more than 20 years and prefer dense woods on solid body basses, but have settled for what I see as my ideal bass or "ultimate compromise" if you want to look at it that way, which is my Tobias Classic V.
  12. Well I'm certainly not after a particularly 'acoustic' sound from my electric basses in general, but I guess I do like a slighted coloured sound - like a light P bass or J bass. I've never really liked semi-acoustic basses - they are quite muddy sounding usually. On the other hand, I've never liked many really dense 'exotic' wood basses, which always seem to me to lack a natural warmth - I always seem to be constantly having to dial it in from the preamp or amplifier, and it never quite gets there.

    So, I guess I do like a certain colouration from the body wood, but just enough to add a small bit of natural warmth and resonance.
  13. I think that resonance of the body affects more than just bass (fundamental) frequencies- it also "colours" the midrange and highs as well. I'd make a guess that the body reacts to the fundamental of the bass note, and set into vibration produces overtones as a result. also, the body dampens certain frequencies as well. to find out exactly what happens you'd need to do Fourier analysis or whatever of different bass bodies when played.

    taking the extreme case of semi-acoustic basses again, I've got a recording of The Cure from 1991, and the bass sound is similar to a Musicman Stingray (lots of bass and treble with similar low mid punch), and it was only when I saw a video of the same gig that I discovered that bassist Simon Gallup was using a twin pickup Gibson EB2(!). it seems that in this case the semi-hollow body was compensating for the inherent dullness of the EB2's mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard, plus adding midrange punch despite the tonal hollowness caused by the wide pickup spacing.
    the sustain appeared to be poor, though.

    On the Cure "Show" video he's using a long-scale semi-acoustic Dick Knight bass- and the sound is quite "clanky"- brittle high mids and highs and certainly far from muddy. concerning sustain on that bass, judging from that video the fundamental fades fairly quickly, but the remainder of the note rings out for a long time, but whether that's due to feedback is unclear.
    Also Mani used a semi-acoustic Rick 4005 (long-scale) with a similar clanky sound on the Stone Roses first album, and Peter Hook of New Order's Eccleshall long-scale semi sounds quite twangy, too.

    [Edited by The Mock Turtle Regulator on 01-26-2001 at 05:06 PM]