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tonal importance of bass body vs pickups?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by darren051234, Oct 16, 2013.


  1. darren051234

    darren051234

    May 17, 2012
    I know this topic is very very subjective, and may have already covered, but i think it's still worth a chat :)
    So im looking at a mustang bass, and the Fender one is unbelievably more expensive than the Squier model, and i think to myself "hell, with the money of the fended, I could've get a Squier model, a set of nice pickups, hardware upgrade, a hard case with still another couple hundred dollars change"
    So I figured the main difference between them apart is craftsmanship, wood quality, construction, and the branding.
    With a little research, I can probably do all the touch up myself, and with a lot of patience, I can modify the bass to whatever I want, APART from one thing: Quality of the Body.
    I have heard bunch of stuff that people have been saying the pickup makes most of the difference and surprisingly the other aspect of the guitar doesn't even come close to how heavily influenced the overall tone of the instrument is affected by the pickup by itself.
    So the argument, is Can I ignore the fact it's a squier body, and with kick ass pickups, it can bring the squier to life?
    Or am i totally wrong of the above, which the quality of the guitar body is more important?
    Thanks guys :)
     
  2. chadds

    chadds

    Mar 18, 2000
    Sometimes the wood isn't that great of a contributor. You would know by playing the different instruments next to each other unplugged. Sometimes it can be significant. If it rings and sustains then the combination of parts is special. Then the pickups will just deliver all that the strings can give.

    It is in the ear and touch of the beholder.
    This is the Internet. Beware if the expert is a pro or someone who has never played out. Beware if its an opinion or an expression of experience.

    Good luck.
     
  3. two fingers

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

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Short answer? It all depends. I know that doesn't help. But it is true.
     
  4. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    This again? Half the people will say the wood is the most important thing, half will say the electronics are. There will be arguing, and non scientific proof, that will solve nothing.
     
  5. DigitalMan

    DigitalMan Wikipedia often mistakes my opinions for fact Supporting Member

    Nov 30, 2011
    Hard to say. I have a P, a Jazz, and a Ric hanging on the wall with nearly identical setups and fresh strings. Pluck an open string unamplified on each and they all sound very different. It sounds to me like you're already weighing the right factors in your decision.
     
  6. donn

    donn

    Mar 28, 2011
    Seattle
    Same neck?
     
  7. darren051234

    darren051234

    May 17, 2012
    Thx for replying. I haven't decide yet, it was more like a scenario that i would like to bring up in oder to make my point.
    I gig quiet often, about 1-2 gig per week, and I would rather a hard working workhorse than a shiny, blinding untouchable angel. hence my view on "Is a modded Squier better than a stock fender" kinda.
    I dont have the luxury to own enough bass to notice. well i've only been playing my Fender J bass since day 1, so I am practically still a noob. ha
     
  8. JellinWellen

    JellinWellen

    Oct 18, 2012
    Texas
    IMO the body wood makes no difference, but this is MY OPINION. If I wanted a fender jaguar (deluxe) I would go buy one used for 550$ that they go for.
     
  9. megafiddle

    megafiddle

    May 25, 2011
    I also like using a lower priced, good solid neck and body and then adding exactly what I want.
    I find the MIMs perfect for that.

    No pickup can provide something that is not there to begin with. Dead notes will remain dead notes.
    As will lack of sustain.

    So I look for problem free bodies and necks and hard woods for strength (I dislike bass wood for that reason).
    The pickups and strings can pretty much handle it from there.

    -
     
  10. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    If you want to begin to understand how a guitar really reacts to string vibration you can go here. Actual scientific measurements of a guitar's vibrational patterns. Two things to keep in mind, especially when you watch their "movies". One is that the movies very highly exaggerate the amount of motion. The other is that the only thing that counts in an electric instrument is the relative motion between the string just above the pickup and the pickup itself. The resonance modes you see illustrated will emphasize certain frequencies but only if there is relative motion as a result of those modes. That is hard to see in those movies, you have to imagine where the pickups, bridge, and nut are. If a given mode causes the pickup location to move in an opposite direction from the bridge and/or nut then there will be relative motion between the pickup and string due to that mode. It does not help that this study used regular guitars, not basses. The modes will be similar but imagining how the pickup, bridge, and nut locations on a bass relate to the guitar bodies illustrated is a matter of some interpretation.

    You should also note that the vibrational modes are strongly influenced by the size and shape of the instrument and in every case the neck is a major component of that. The species of wood, the density of individual pieces of the same species, and the moisture content, finish, glues, truss rods, etc will produce some variations in the frequencies of the vibrational modes and the damping properties of all these components will largely determine how strong and broad these resonant modes are but any time you hear anyone, here or elsewhere, talking about resonance as if it were a property of the wood alone you know they do not know what they are talking about. The shape and dimensions of the instrument also play a huge part and this is pretty much always ignored.

    In my opinion, this study certainly indicates that the structure of the instrument does resonate and that all the details of its construction could therefore have some influence on the tone of your bass. It only scratches the surface however. I have not read through that whole web page, I don't know if they even comment on the relative importance of the vibrational patterns they measured to the final tone of the instrument. It is a huge field, barely studied, and so I think you have to take anything you hear or read about it with a lot of caution. It took decades of research to work out how to make modern violins sound like those of the old Italian masters. I don't see that level of research being done on bass guitar construction. Until it is I think you have to listen to individual basses and let your ears tell you if they have good tone or not and unfortunately I think that leaves your question without an answer. I don't think anyone can really tell you how to take one bass and make it sound like some other bass. Most likely there is a way to do that but without knowing exactly how no one can tell you how much trial and error and expense will be involved to make the transformation.
     
  11. I'm of the firm belief that body wood is not a massive contributor to how good a guitar's tone can be - rather, its more in the electronics. I've heard a bass, made completely out of perspex but fitted with SD Quarter Pounders, absolutely blow my stock MIM Jazz out of the water tone-wise. Hell, the guitarist Brent Hinds for the band Mastodon plays some songs through an acrylic bodied guitar with an aluminium neck and it absolutely floors his Gibsons for richness and bite.

    Mind you, this is in the case of ELECTRIC instruments. Try playing an acrylic or persepx bodied acoustic guitar next to a wood-bodied one and I'm positive that plastic guitar will be nothing more than a child's toy.
     
  12. FunkRenegade

    FunkRenegade

    Jul 7, 2012
    I dont really see any relevant "science" in there. Much of what they're trying to illustrate are negligible in real life situation.
     
  13. darren051234

    darren051234

    May 17, 2012
    Thank you very much for the explanation. wasn't expecting for an in depth reply, but it was interesting and informative.
    thank you
     
  14. darren051234

    darren051234

    May 17, 2012
    Acoustic purely needs the vibration and sustain inorder to ring out loudly. because wood has less density (softer) than plastic, it'll vibrate more freely. [provide if i am correct on this one]
    but on the other hand there are guitar manufactures use carbon fiber for acoustic instrument... and they are 3-4 time stiffer than steel
     
  15. Oh, THIS again...
     
  16. elBandito

    elBandito

    Dec 3, 2008
    Rotten Apple
    Pickups and electronics are the only things that stay consistent in a wooden instrument, it's not worth going ocd over it. Same body, neck and same set of strings can sound different in different temperature, humidity etc. People won't admit it, but even those "magical" basses have their off days. I would worry more about how you play it.
     
  17. lug

    lug

    Feb 11, 2005
    League City, Tx
    Pickup location is as at least as important as anything else here.
     
  18. Dave W

    Dave W

    Mar 1, 2007
    White Plains
    Everything contributes to sound
     
  19. dougjwray

    dougjwray

    Jul 20, 2005
    This is correct. Everything interacts, too.

    To the OP--> All you can do is experiment.
    Personally, I believe in starting with a body which resonates well acoustically. THEN, consider the pickups, strings, bridge, pots, caps, type of set up, and on and on.
    In decades of playing, I've gone through trial and error alterations of many, many basses, and I've been disappointed by various combinations of all of the above.
    Lately, I've been very happy with three cheap SX basses which have three-piece alder bodies, standard old (NOT high mass) Fender-style bridges, CTS pots (either 250K or 500K) and regular old caps (not orange drop caps). The strings are either DR Fatbeams or D'Addario Chromes. (I also like GHS Precision Flatwounds and GHS Boomers.)
    But my tastes might not match yours, of course...
     
  20. xaxxat

    xaxxat Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2008
    Prettier wood has better tone...

    :smug:
     

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