Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by tommy154578, Aug 1, 2003.

  1. tommy154578


    Jul 14, 2003
    I’ve been learning a little about the lumber URB are made out of. I learnt lumber can be air or kiln dried and that a spruce top (or a maple back) can be carved out of one, two or several pieces of lumber that have been glued to reach the final width of the DB. My question is, can anyone know, once the DB is finished, what kind of lumber it has, if it was kiln dried or air dried, if it was made out of one or two tables or more? I guess high priced DB are very likely to have good lumber, air dried, and such. But what about URB in the $2,500-$3,500 price range?

  2. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    read that jazz lawyer thread about the new standard

    or the wood is cheaper, and the workmanship better than some, but not that great, but maybe perfectly adequate. What you have to do is try a lot of them and see what you think. Same if your building, i guess.

    the Jazz lawyer is more articulate than myself
  3. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    Everyone uses spruce for the top, usually two pieces. Backs, sides and neck are almost always of maple, again usually two pieces. An exception to the maple would be if the maker were copying a bass that originally had a different kind of wood. I hardly ever see more than two pieces for the top or back on new basses. I'm making a bass now where I'll have to add some "wings" to it on the back, but they will be from the same pieces.
    I wouldn't throw away good wood just because it wasn't quite wide enough.Since you can see through the varnish(or at least you should be able to), you can still see the wood and identify it. I saw a 300 year old Italian bass not too long ago that had 4 pieces on the top, slab cut and none of them matching. I think the back and sides were maple, but I'm not 100 percent sure! Some woods do look like others.
    I was taught early on that instrument wood should be air dried. Traditionally they have split the wood into billets, soaked the ends with wax, and put them up in sheds with a roof but open sides where the air could move in and out, and then they let them dry like that for years. Someone told me once that Kiln drying was invented by the Studebaker brothers a hundred years ago to dry out lumber for their wagons, but I think it may go all the way back to the Romans? Today some wood cutters and makers use vacumn chambers and pumps to suck out the moisture.
    Basses under $4000 are usually laminated and pretty much crack proof from weather changes, though I've seen exceptions. You can buy some good modern Chinese laminated basses for 950-1500. Then ususally there's a pretty big jump in price to get a carved bass.
    My shop guarantees our basses for one year so that the player doesn't have to worry about paying to get it fixed. We figure that if it makes it through 4 seasons with no open seams or cracks it'll be ok. Usually they do. If not we fix em for free.
    In any case treat your bass like the love of your life and never subject it to anything that would be bad for you, your dog, or your baby. Don't leave it in the car on a hot day. Warm the car up in the winter before taking the bass out. Humidify the room
    Hope this helps.
  4. Actually, they are vacuum kilns. The vacuum pump doesn't actually suck out the moisture, but rather it lowers the atmospheric pressure within the kiln enough that the boiling point of the water is reduced down to about 110-120 degrees(F). The kiln uses electric heating blankets between the layers of wood to raise the wood temperature up above that point and it slowly removes the liquid water from the wood. Anyone who has gone camping in the high mountains knows about having boiling coffee in the morning that is just warm when you drink it. It's the same principle. Because of the much lower temperatures involved, there is said to be far less damage to the cells of the wood as opposed to a traditional high temperature kiln drying and because of the relative speed of drying, there is also much less discoloration of the wood as commonly seen in air dried wood.
  5. tommy154578


    Jul 14, 2003
    Well, thanks for that piece of info, I didn’t know about how lumber was dried.
    Martin, thanks for that one too. You say that basses under 4k are usually laminated but I’ve seen a lot of carved basses selling below that much. For instance, Christopher, or some Eastman, maybe hybrid models. I was talking about that ones, not URB starting at 4 or 5,000. Is not that I am looking for the perfect DB or making too much of it, it’s just out of curiosity. In my search for information I just linked to a site offering DB parts (tops, necks, backs, etc) and prices were pretty high so I wondered… an upright (hybrid or fully carved) selling at that price (3k-4k) can’t be made out of that wood or that maker won’t be in business for long, so they must use, maybe, lumber of a lower quality (it doesn’t necessary mean that the lumber used is not appropriate for that kinda DB). Of course I’m not sure about that, but I’d like to find out. So, in a nutshell, what you said about DB tops & backs of two pieces, does it hold for these kinda models?
    A last one: what’s the difference between slab, rift, quarter cut (I don’t remember if I’ve heard another type)?
    I talk to a lot of people, some of them owners of really fine DBes, who knows nothing about their instruments. Maybe that information ain’t gonna make you a better musician (?), but I wanna know and that can’t be wrong, right?
  6. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Although air dried lumber is desirable, some of the finest basses being made today utilize kiln-dried wood. A well designed/constructed instrument will sound good, be it slab or quarter or air dried or kiln dried...
  7. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Tommy154578 makes an excellent point. If a good set of back, rib, neck, fingerboard and top wood for a bass costs in the neighborhood of $2000 these days (sometimes less, sometimes more), then how can a carved bass sell for $2500? The answer is complicated. In essence, companies that make basses to sell in this price range generally use plain wood which is cheaper. But a surprising number of inexpensive basses from Asia feature beautiful, figured wood of high quality. The higher-volume operations buy whole trees which they quickly cut up, dry, and convert into instruments. I worry about the stability of these instruments long-term. They also save money by using cheap labor, possibly even prisoners (picture a chain gang hunched over, bending ribs in the hot sun). Considering the costs of overhead, materials, labor, insurance, shipping and customs, marketing, etc., my conclusion is that some companies are "dumping" product in the U.S. "Dumping" is a means of eliminating the competition (read: Germany) by selling products at a loss and cornering the market. The competition is forced to either lower their prices and quality, or leave the market. My other concern is of a conservation nature; Is it really a good thing to be cutting down thousands of beautiful trees to create mediocre instruments out of them? Which reminds me of a question I think I heard from Carl Thompson many centuries ago: Why does wood warp? It's the tree's way of getting back at us for cutting it down.
  8. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    You are making a good point.
    I know a Chinese guy who imports basses from China. He told me a couple of years ago that they don't have to buy the wood! They just go to the mountains and cut it down. He said the situation got so bad in one area that the Chinese government had to send in the Army to stop the cutting. So many trees had been cut in that area that the rains had caused massive erosion and flooding, so the government had to put a stop to it. True? I don't know, but it's believable.
    I guess the up side is that the Chinese are making a lot of good basses at very low prices. It seems to me that sometime during the 60s after the Germans had completely cornered the market the quality of there instruments really went down hill. I'm not sure about the dumping issue. Prices on some Chinese instruments have gone down recently. I was told that it was because they've over produced. In any case at least one well known German company which made basses recently went belly up, but frankly I didn't think that their basses were as good as what I'm seeing from China. Seems like you have to spend two or three times as much to buy a German bass as good as some of the Chinese basses.
    Personally I've had more trouble with some of the European basses(cracking, open seams etc)than the Chinese ones.
    I'd like to hear more on this from our other luthiers and players.