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purpleheart...cosmetic or structural?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by bumpcity, Jun 14, 2001.


  1. bumpcity

    bumpcity

    May 12, 2001
    NYC
    Hey...I have always wondered if luthiers used the purpleheart laminates in neckthrough basses for sheerly cosmetic reasons, or if its a really dense wood, and they use it to add stiffness, or some sort of tonal characteristic to the sound of the bass. Anybody know? And if it is for tone/strength, how come no whole necks, or basses made of purpleheart?
     
  2. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Well, I suspect, though I'm not 100% sure, that it's both. It is AFAIK quite a stiff wood, which is why it's often used in multipiece necks. It's also used sometimes in fingerboards; I know Conklin at least uses it this way, and I believe David King has as well. As for why there don't seem to be any all-purpleheart necks, I dunno. I'd guess that either (a) it's hard to find big enough, nice enough pieces or (b) the tonal qualities or the weight may not be ideal for it to be the only neck wood. After all, many people love ebony for fingerboards but wouldn't necessarily want an all-ebony neck.

    As for why there don't seem to be any all-purpleheart bodies, I'd guess the reasons are much the same. The very qualities that would make purpleheart good as a neck component probably wouldn't be ideal for use in a body. Again, relatively few people IMO would want an all-ebony body or an all-hard maple (as opposed to soft maple) body. I'm pretty sure, though, that I have seen purpleheart used as a body veneer. Which would look interesting, to say the least, with a purpleheart fingerboard.
     
  3. bumpcity

    bumpcity

    May 12, 2001
    NYC
    ahh, good point about ebony. I guess I forgot about that one since its so traditionally ONLY used as a fingerboard wood. I guess there are probably a few customs around that may have purpleheart or ebony as more than just a lam or fingerboard...I have seen wenge used as body/neck wood...isn't that a pretty dense wood too?
     
  4. oddentity

    oddentity

    Nov 20, 2000
    Philly
    I've read that purpleheart is very dense and heavy, so that's probably why you usually don't see whole necks and bodies made of the stuff...
     
  5. yep, and why would you?, i mean it looks nice, but a whole bass?? c'mon, i bet it weighs a bit too
     
  6. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    I've got a Curbow that has a purpleheart body with a Lacewood top. It's semihollow, and still weighs a ton. BUT, it has tone to spare. Lots of sustain, and a very transient attack.

    Yes, with the purpleheart body and the brass tone block under the bridge, the thing does weigh alot.

    Oh, and a couple of years ago, Curbow built a replacement neck for a friend of mine out of purpleheart with an ebony fretboard. It improved the sound of the bass, and didn't make it neck heavy.

    So, while it might not be common, you can, in fact, have a body, or a neck out of purpleheart.
     
  7. bumpcity

    bumpcity

    May 12, 2001
    NYC
    bassmonkeee, got any pics? Sounds like a really cool bass...I love semihollows. Hook us up!
     
  8. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    Here it is--great bass with a new 18V EMG preamp. I hope to get some sound samples up soon.
    [​IMG]
     
  9. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    yeah, purple heart is heavy and dense. bill dickens' 9 string was made with a purple heart body, and it was VERY heavy.
     
  10. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Cosmetically, I don't even like purpleheart, but I spec'd it anyway for one of the neck sandwich pieces on my custom. It is so dense and has so much tensile strength, I couldn't pass it up.

    IMO, oddentity is right on the money about it's density. In a neck, you want some wood that will transmit the resonant vibrations to the body. Plus, a whole neck of it would contribute to the instrument being a floor-diver/shoulder-ache'r.

    You don't see walnut (weight) and mahogany (density) used for entire necks either.

    The reason, IMO, why you see it used most often only on high-end/custom instruments and not on mass production basses aimed at a highly price-sensitive market is simple - Cost and working properties...it is a notorious for dulling tools and will drive up the final price not only because of the raw lumber cost, but also tool maintenance.

    And the big boys know they can get away with the cheaper woods, :rolleyes: .
     
  11. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA

    If I remember correctly, Curbow built my bass as an experiment. Lacewood is extremely soft, and he wanted to mate it with the purpleheart to see how it sounds. It is, I believe, the only bass he has made with a purpleheart body. It was so heavy that he scooped a good bit of the wood out to lighten it up, and that is why it is semihollow. And, it still weighs quite a bit more than most basses.

    I also found that this bass sounds best with flatwound strings. The body wood is so dense that roundwounds sounded kinda harsh, but the TI Jazz Flats sound amazing.

    And, you are right about the tools--purpleheart eats tools for breakfast. [​IMG]

    The bass was at Curbow's for the last Atlanta bass get-together, but I'll be sure to bring it with me to the next one, so some people can check it out. I for one have never seen another lacewood/purpleheart semihollow 5 string with flatwounds and a high C.....have you? [​IMG]
     
  12. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    you got me there - i've never seen one of them before. :D
     
  13. bumpcity

    bumpcity

    May 12, 2001
    NYC
    Nice Bassmonkee! Thanks
     
  14. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    monkee - I'll bet that thing sounds like a stud!

    It's hard to tell from the photo/my monitor, but it looks like it has a satin or poly coating on it. If you get to feeling lucky, you might consider getting that off and taking it down to the wood. I knew a guy who had a lifeless bass and when he had a pro take it down to the wood the difference was like night and day. From that day it was sweet, singing, alder.

    Jeez, I've got to get around to see if someplace can make a dupe of a movie on a video tape for you so we can trade. I haven't forgotten totally, it seems I do mainly when I have some free time. :rolleyes:
     
  15. Jerry J

    Jerry J Supporting Member

    Mar 27, 2000
    P-town, OR
    My fretless is a Australian Lacewood body with Purpleheart stringers and Purpleheart fingerboard, which is unlined. I think that it's beautiful. I really like the Purpleheart because it's different than the more common Ebony and makes for a nice contrast with the honey colored Lacewood

    I seem to remember that the Smith website has a great explanation about the different exotic woods. They spent some time putting that together so it's worthwhile checking out.
     
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    So it sounds like the consensus is that it is used in necks for its density and ability to strengthen the structural integrity. Most of the best bass makers seem to offer this as an option, so they must know what they are talking about - I imagine there are quite few woods that woulds look "nice", but if they weakened the structure then you would probably get a lot of "returns" in the custom or high-end bass business; so it must be in their interests to only use materials that are up to the job.

    PS - there's a nice big chunk of purpleheart in the headstock on my avatar - eyes left!
     
  17. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    My first Tobias, a 78 4 string has a PH stringer in the middle of the neck and a PH fretboard...the neck hasn't moved in years.
     
  18. Gard

    Gard Commercial User

    Mar 31, 2000
    Greensboro, NC, USA
    General Manager, Roscoe Guitars
    The guys that built my two neck-thru 6's (who happened to also help build Brad's Tobias as well :D) once built an all purpleheart guitar for a guy. I had an opportunity to try it out. That thing weighed a TON, and was very BRIGHT. Interesting experiment, didn't turn out to be anything I'd dig. Didn't work out for the guy that ordered it either, he is still trying to sell it, and it's been around for years (like since the late 80's :eek: ), can't find a home. If the guitar weighed that much, I don't want to know what a bass made with that stuff would weigh! :p
     
  19. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    That's right, Gard;). AFAIK it's a Florida Tobias, almost like hen's teeth in the bass world. For a 23 year old bass it's amazing how far ahead of the curve Mike was. It's Walnut and Purpleheart so it's solid but not overly heavy. Still the lowest playable action on a four I've seen.
     
  20. rllefebv

    rllefebv

    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    The EURB that I am currently building will have a PH fingerboard. Maybe it varies in different parts of the country, but PH is very cheap here in the NorthWest. The piece that I purchased was 1 X 6, (Okay... more like 13/16 X 5 1/2), 60 inches long, and cost $14 and change. Out of this I got the EURB fingerboard, (35" X 3 1/2"), a 25" X 3 1/2" piece that I'll split to make 2 fingerboards for future projects, and leftovers for picture frames, pens, and the like.

    And you're right JT... This stuff is murder on tools!!!

    -robert
     
    kkaarrll likes this.