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source of the sound

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by tevitag, Jan 15, 2013.

  1. Question: in a solid-body bass, how much of the sound is picked up 'directly' from the strings through the pickup poles and how much of it 'indirectly' through the rest of the pickup via the body wood?

    I don't know the answer and 'wood' only be guessing that the great majority of the sound comes through the poles. But I am interested to hear if anyone does know.
  2. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

    Prepare for many answers, all of them incompatible. This enters well into the realm of what one believes, not just what they they know - and what they think they know.
  3. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    Best is to discover this diff for yourself via playing identical except for body woods basses or guitars. Compare otherwise exact same bass with one having mahogany body and the other maple body as a excellent example.
  4. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    the sound obviously comes from the vibrating strings, they are all the pickup will hear.

    the catch is that the body wood and all that affect how the strings vibrate, imparting their character into the equation.

    not controversial at all :D
  5. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY

    The thing that kills me is tone wood. Look at all the boutique instruments with laminations of different species. How could they even predict what the bass will sound like mixing them all together. They can't, don't and won't; they just know it will be a solid body bass that looks spectacular. They are built for looks IMO. Then they slap in some Barts or what have you, an Audere or similar and "hey this sounds awesome!" No kidding, it's the Barts and the pre or what have you. Take a run of the mill mim Fender, put Bart and Audere in it, get a fret job and it sounds just as good. Maybe a little different. But exactly how much? Not much.
  6. abemo


    Feb 27, 2012
    Arvada, co
    This. Basically, your pups sense the strings, that's it. However, your strings transfer vibration through the bridge and to the body. A high mass bridge transfers less of this vibration (so they say), leaving more of it in the string, which makes for more sustain. Different woods handle different vibrations differently, so one type of wood may absorb more bass from the strings (leaving more treble, and therefore a brighter sound) while another does just the opposite. Also, once the wood is vibrating, it transfers back to the strings, which sets up even more variables.

    That all being said, this is all highly theoretical, many disagree. Plus, with each piece of wood being unique and different, no two will sound alike. You could buy five identical basses with the same pups, electronics, hardware, wood, etc, and they'll all sound slightly different. I wouldn't worry too much about it.
  7. Cadfael


    Jan 4, 2013
    Germany, EU
    I agree with walterw and abemo ... :D
    So, no dispute ... :hyper:

    Adding ...
    The wood (acrylic glass, aluminium +++) influences the vibration of the strings and thereby the sound. They "amount" of vibration of the body and neck itself don't say if the instrument / tone is good or bad. There can be "positive vibration influence" and "negative vibration influences" of body and neck to the vibration of the strings.

    An instrument builder is like a cook.
    The same or similar ingredients can make different, good and bad cakes. And you can also get nearly the same taste by using differnt ingredients!
  8. abemo


    Feb 27, 2012
    Arvada, co
    It also depends a lot on user preference. Some guys want everlasting sustain with a bright punch to it. For them, a high mass bridge to contain vibrations within the string and a maple neck/fretboard (brighter sounding, by reputation at least) works well. Others want a deep thump, so a low mass bridge and softer wood (basswood/mahogany, for instance) works better. On top of which, there are so many variables in sonic production (wood, strings, hardware, electronics, cables, amps, playing style and technique) that its hard to point to any one component and say its responsible for the sound. I have a neck through j style bass, and I've achieved a huge variety of completely different sounds by using a pre, no pre, different pups, bridges, tuners, wiring schematics, etc. All of them affected the tone in varrious ways. The way I see it, tone has more to do with how the different components interact than with what components are used. A high mass bridge may affect one bass very differently than another, same can be said for necks, pups, tuners, etc.
  9. A proper magnetic pickup does not sense any significant amount of vibration, and if it does, it is microphonic. Body woods and all other non-magnetic factors influence tone by changing the way the strings vibrate in some way, but are not transduced directly by the pickups.
  10. Thanks! This is all very interesting and informative and gives me a much clearer understanding of how it all works.

    It will help me a great deal, especially when I wonder why tones change so much between basses, different strings, bridges etc.

    Again, appreciate all of your responses!
  11. grendle


    Mar 4, 2011
    Central FL
    Correct. Simple. :bassist:
  12. grendle


    Mar 4, 2011
    Central FL
    Not correct in all applications. same basses, pups , pre's hardware etc. Do sound different with different body woods, and can be characterized. sounds crazy , but those with the ears know.
  13. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products

    That's exactly what I was going to write.

    Some people don't seem to want to accept that the body wood, the way the bass, especially the neck, and the bridge and even tuners have an affect on the tone, but they do. The scale length matters too.

    Basically if the body/neck/bridge etc., resonate at a certain frequency, they rob energy from the strings, and convert it into acoustic energy. This creates notches and humps in the frequency response.
  14. I dunno. My Spector sounds great even when unplugged.
  15. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY

    So do my Squiers.
  16. No one is saying they don't. :D What could objectively be said about it is that they sound different, because they use different woods, bridges and construction techniques.
  17. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    They can, and do. How many basses have you built?

    You absolutely can get an idea of what you are going to end up with, depending on what wood you use and where you use it.

    Here's an example. Here's two basses I built. I used cherry for the bodies. I figured it would sound like a warmer maple. And it did. One bass has a maple top. On the other is a zebrawood top. The maple topped bass sounds brighter, just as you would expect from having a hard maple top.

    I picked these woods based on what I thought they might sound like together, and they really did sound the way I expected.


    The tops were the only thing different, and all the wood came from the same boards (one end of the cherry board was highly figured around a big knot)


    Between the top and the back is a 1/4" thick layer of purpleheart. Why? because it looks nice. Yes, some of it is for looks. But I thought it would impart a certain tone too. However, the basses I have made without the purpleheart lam sound different.


    Both basses have multi laminated maple/purpleheart necks. In this case the purpleheart was to make the neck stiffer. They also have two truss rods and carbon graphite. The fingerboards are phenolic, a.k.a. ebonol. These necks produce a very even sound from note to note with a lot of definition.

    Some builders, mostly for acoustic instruments, like to tune the wooden parts to have a tone when you tape them. I'll admit I thought that seemed kind of silly. But here's something I discovered with the phenolic fingerboards. This is "black paper phenolic" made from layers of thin black paper and phenolic resin. It's laminated under pressure and heat.

    If you hold a piece of it by the corner and tap it, it makes a dull thud. Not very musical sounding. I decided to laminate it with wood veneer. I used a piece of maple and purpleheart veneer. My idea was to make it stiffer, because while it's dense, it's not very stiff. AFter it was laminated (with epoxy), when you held it in the over and taped it, it it rung like a bell! Well a low pitched bell anyway. So the stiffening made it vibrate better.

    It also made these nice lines:


    This is something to keep in mind when people start saying that glue lines kill vibrations, or that one piece necks are better. Neither is true. I have also glued together a sheet of 1/4" purpleheart from laminating between the top and back from 3 or 4 pieces, and it also rings nicely when tapped. So the glue vibrates along with the wood.

    So the "hippy sandwich" basses are both for looks and functionality.
  18. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
  19. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    This always amuses me. There are so many hard battled positions on a topic that basically boils down to voodoo. Yes, for all of our science and understanding, you sometimes just don't know til you get there. There are no certainties to how a piece of wood responds when asked to become a musical instrument, but there are valid probabilities. Ash with a maple board will likely sound noticeably brighter than alder with a rosewood. Likely, but not a certainly, because it won't be true in all cases - just most.
    A one piece neck on a one piece body might sing to the heavens, or the neck might twist like a licorice and the body might might cup so bad you'd think it was trying to turn into a bowl. You won't know til you get there.
    Then you have to ask who is making the judgement on the impact of these small differences. If it's ear bleed loud run through a maze of pedals, what's left to hear of nuance? I'm not dissing that, because indeed some instruments will respond better to that environment. But, the opinion of a metal guy is going to be of little use to a jazz guy on these subtle differences - and vice versa.
  20. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Popcorn here! Get ya fresh hot buttery popcorn here!

    Hey Buddy! Right over here! I'll take some. Where's the guy selling Cokes?
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Feb 25, 2021

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