I'm really trying to figure this out... I recently bought an Ibanez GWB-1 fretless; the early one with one-piece ash body, ebony fingerboard, and Bartolini electronics. Even unplugged (or with the active EQ bypassed) the bass has a glorious, woody, resonant tone. The contruction is essentially identical to other Ibanez Soundgear basses...but this one has a tone and feel that's in a totally different league. It's the same story with a Fender Custom Shop Jazz Bass I played: the Jaco Pastorius sig. Same materials, construction, and electronics as any number of Jazz Basses from dozens of manufacturers. Why does this one sound so much better than, say, a regular MIA Jazz Bass? I've got a '72 Jazz that's supposed to be from the "dark ages" of post-CBS Fender. But it's light, resonant, plays effortlessly, stays in tune, and sounds better than just about any Jazz Bass I've ever played. Other JB's from the same era have been total dogs. I've recently gotten crazy into '50s Gibson Les Paul Specials and Juniors. Some of them are phenomenal; others are unremarkable. The good ones are head-and-shoulders above modern versions of the same guitars...despite identical materials, pickup specs, etc. What gives? Where does the magic happen?