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So, where's the magic? Why are some basses better than others of the same design?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by LanEvo, Oct 23, 2013.


  1. LanEvo

    LanEvo Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2008
    Manhattan
    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?
     
  2. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I don't know and I don't question it.
     
  3. Sav'nBass

    Sav'nBass Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2009
    Northern Va.
    Yeah you just have to roll with it.. what do some $400 Squires sound better than some 4 figure basses? Who knows... it's all a part of that bass mojo.
     
  4. Wallace320

    Wallace320 Commercial User

    Mar 19, 2012
    Milan, Italy
    But then you know...

    ash is ash and is better than other tonewoods (as is alder, except that for symmetrically different sound properties...) but then again

    not all ash is the same, not all alder is the same
    I remember vividly a pair of Fender's Reggie Hamilton standard Jazzes, one black, the other 3TS...

    Both sounded very very good, the first one was punchier and payed for it way less than the second, which was lighter, clearer in sound and... more costy

    It's not the only aspect to consider here:
    the black (and punchier and cheaper) one was also heavy like a boat anchor. No problem for me really... the bass is manly and my favorite ones are Yamaha Attitude limited II:bag:

    3TS one was really light in comparison, I mean... if the black one weighted around - and possibly over - 12lbs, sunburst one was far less than 10lbs
    So much so that it ended up sufferin' for a lil' neckdive, that I eventually solved with standard, instead of Fender engraved, machineheads.
    Other than that, the grain and the resonance of the body were simply astonishin' on this one-I came to the conclusion that alder on the black one was of lesser quality, givin' same neck, machineheads, hardware and electronics.

    Cheers,
    Wallace
     
  5. MegaSwing

    MegaSwing Your Obedient Bassist® Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 26, 2002
    Baltimore, MD USA
    Most importantly, one must trust one's own ears and hands. Even though the more expensive bass is likely to sound and perform "better" than the less expensive one, it ain't necessarily so. Instruments made of an organic material such as wood all come together differently, and every variation, whether it is visible or not, counts. Until they start injection molding them out of something perfectly uniform and immutable, there is no way to absolutely guarantee their specific performance characteristics.
     
  6. purfektstranger

    purfektstranger

    Apr 10, 2003
    Canada
    It's called the laws of bass. Don't question why one sounds or plays better or sounds better than another. Just buy it if you can.
     
  7. mongo2

    mongo2

    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    Wood is a very variable material. While other components can also have some variation, in production quantities, the wood is even more so.

    Then there's subjectivity to be considered, one's "great" can easily be another's "crap"
     
  8. landau roof

    landau roof Reupholstered User

    Jul 29, 2010
    Downstate CA
    When the myriad of variables come together just right and tickle someone's balls, the look in their eyes changes.
     
  9. purfektstranger

    purfektstranger

    Apr 10, 2003
    Canada
    ' When the myriad of variables come together just right and tickle someone's balls, the look in their eyes changes'


    We have a winner... this answer wins!
     
  10. LanEvo

    LanEvo Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2008
    Manhattan
    I guess I'm responding to the idea that wood is irrelevant.

    There are lots of threads here on TB suggesting that the idea of "tone woods" is a myth. But if that's the case, then why the huge variation in sound quality from basses constructed the same way?
     
  11. LanEvo

    LanEvo Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2008
    Manhattan
    Agreed. I trust my instincts in this regard.

    For example, my '59 Melody Maker plays and sounds better than just about any other guitar I've ever laid my hands on. It was Gibson's bottom-of-the-line student guitar at the time. I bought it for "just" $1500 (10% the value of a LP Special in the same condition...and 0.5% the value of a LP Standard from the same era).
     
  12. Wallace320

    Wallace320 Commercial User

    Mar 19, 2012
    Milan, Italy
    wood matters
    period

    Cheers,
    Wallace
     
  13. Every piece of wood is different, and interacts differently with the other components of the bass. Also, 'similar' instruments can be very different regarding weight, pickup wind/design, pot design/values. Throw in string differences/age, and it is not surprising that no two basses sound identical, much less two basses that kind of look the same but have significant differences in components.
     
  14. JellinWellen

    JellinWellen

    Oct 18, 2012
    Texas
    Pot values/pickup height/differences in pickup winding/ strings/ setup all have more to do with tone than the wood. And guess what, these are almost all different from bass to bass. Old pickups also become slightly microphonic and only THEN does the wood pay a contribution. Just IMHO.
     
  15. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    As far as the Fender CS, despite what Fender says about "vintage spec" in their marketing spew, they offer so many combinations of wood and electronics that they can't all be vintage spec :crying:

    CS basses use different (hopefully better!) parts and are not built on an assembly line by machine like other Fender series (MIM, MIA, RoadKill, VintageMuddified, BlackHole, etc.). Hopefully, the individual attention paid to building it results in a better instrument...that is what you are paying for!

    Wood is "broken in" over years of playing, which is why I think there is such a variation in vintage instruments...the best ones got played a lot more. I own one vintage P that was owned by a semi-famous bassist for decades, that one does have something special about it. I think most of that is due to the guy constantly tweaking it (most of the factory parts are long gone) until it was "just right". To a collector it's a mongrel to a player it's a sweetheart.

    Don't overlook a good setup. I have owned basses that played like total crap but were transformed after a visit to a great repairman.
     
  16. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    Colorado
    I grow organic carrots and they are not for sale
    So, where's the magic? Why are some basses better than others of the same design?

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    It's the ever elusive Mojo.

    No two pieces of wood are the same

    I build parts basses, and sometimes the magical combination of parts comes together to make an instrument that is better than all of the individual parts were seperately.

    When you find that magic bass don't sell it ... keep it and play it.


    :hyper:
     
  17. Bassamatic

    Bassamatic keepin' the beat since the 60's Supporting Member

    It is not only the wood, but the large amount of hand operations that are the variables. Either one can go either way - when they all come together occasionally, you have a great one.

    Its like an alignment of the planets, bass-wise.
     
  18. jonnybass1

    jonnybass1

    Dec 9, 2011
    Brampton, On
    Just in my own experience I have a solution that sounds good to me anyway...

    Why do Warwicks all have that signature growl even if you change the pickups it still sounds almost the same? Even different body woods don't really change the tone much so what do they all have in common then? The neck.

    Say what you want about wood doesn't matter but I think the neck is a major factor.

    I had a Ibanez sr1205 and it had a very similar neck construction to my warwick and crazy enough they both have that low mid growl that Warwick is famous for...

    This is just my $0.02

    Cheers
     
  19. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    This is also my expectation. I'm quite surprised that has not happened yet.
     
  20. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    SEPA
    Theoretically, I have all the same parts as Pavaratti.
    We sound nothing alike.
     

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