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Tone wood info

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Major Softie, Jan 31, 2014.

  1. Okay, my apologies if this does not belong in this forum, but it seems to be a topic that pretty much hits all the forums.

    This is a study about violins, not basses, but the results are amazing, and say a lot about how our perceptions color our impressions and beliefs. 21 great violinists in a blind study, and none of them could tell the difference between a Strad and a brand new quality violin.

  2. headband


    Oct 18, 2013
    Lake Havasu City
    I read the article and found it very good as well. And really, many manufacturers have never made better basses IMHO. I was a bit surprised however, that no one could tell that a violin was 200 years old verses a new one. A '64 jazz bass sure looks, feels and smells it's age verses a NOS custom shop 64 that has been made to be essentially the same. Especially if the old one has been played, and I am sure the Strads were not NOS.
  3. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    This study doesn't address the concept of tone wood at all. It addresses differences in craftsmanship and varnishes used by two top luthiers from Italy in the 1600s-1700s vs. those of today. The woods used in these instruments is primarily maple and spruce (and has been for centuries). However, the article made no mention at all of the study incorporating a comparison of wood types. The study concluded that the professional violinists could not tell the difference between violins made several hundred years ago from those made today (presumably by good luthiers, obviously).

    The article mentions the word wood three times, but in no way was the wood utilized in the construction of the preferred violins or the less-preferred violins ever mentioned as a variable in the study or part of the conclusions. Interesting that you'd title the thread as you did when tone woods had nothing to do with the design, execution, or assessment of the study.

    As for smell, perfume was used on the chin rests to mask any "old smell" to help maintain the blind nature of the study.
  4. Sid Fang

    Sid Fang Reformed Fusion Player Supporting Member

    Jun 12, 2008
    While it's a good cautionary tale, and I understand why you're posting it in the context of "tone woods", the wood discussion is a bit more subtle. On other threads, TBers have reported experiments where three basses which differed "only" in the wood used for the body were found to have clearly distinct tones by players. Some people consider that to be proof enough that "tone wood" matters, but some (like me) won't be convinced until we have experiments where (a) multiple basses are built using the *same* woods are tested, and people hear *no* difference, and (b) multiple *sets* of basses are made, several with each "tone wood", and people can reliably detect which ones were built with the same wood, in a blind test. Otherwise, we may just be looking at "different individual basses sound different".
  5. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008
    Responses to these studies by the tonewood patrol are usually too clever by half. The study takes as its starting point the received wisdom that the allure of Strads - their 'secret' - is in the wood. So, yes, it is relevant.

    Even if you don't accept the above, it is still a good example of the power of perception.

    Carry on.
  6. Interesting. I love science!
  7. Jefff


    Aug 14, 2013
    What these studies don't take into account is the players belief in the instrument.

    I think most people play better with an instrument the believe in.

    We should all take a moment and be glad we are not violinists, or even serious mandolin players.

    Check out prices for a Loyd Loar.They make Foderas look cheap.
  8. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Nice try. I'm not a fervent believer in much of anything, let alone wood. My point is that the study did not include construction material as a variable; therefore, the conclusions can have no merit in the on-going controversy of tonewood vs. no tonewood. As a scientist, I fight a loosing effort in actually evaluating whether studies have been interpreted as they should be interpreted.

    As an aside, I have also deduced that left-hooved llamas from Bolivia are no better at Squash than right-hooved llamas from Peru because this was also not evaluated in the violin study.
  9. Thank you. The connection to the centuries of debate about the source of the qualities of Strads, especially the last two decades of speculation about the "little ice age" influence seemed clear to me. Not to mention the enormous connection to people hearing what they expect to hear, even when they are experts in the field.

    My apologies to those who could not recognize the relevance to the topic without being led by Punk's excellent explanation.

    Or even after it.

    Fretless, your comments are excellent if someone used this study to argue that it proved the tonewood debate. However no one did. However, arguing that it has no relevance to the debate and the arguments offered here in that debate, is no more accurate than arguing that it proves the issue.

    If I may point out, one of the most important issues this brought up is this: people have debated for hundreds of years why strads sound better than all other violins. The study shows that they actually don't. Apply this to the argument about why one bass sound better than another, and you realize that one has completely skipped the more relevant question: does it really?
  10. Malak the Mad

    Malak the Mad Over the River and through the Looking Glass Supporting Member

    That's because it was a scientific study using scientific method. "Belief" has absolutely zippo to do with it, except perhaps the "belief" of the players who thought they'd be able to tell the difference between old and new violins. And if there's one thing I know about scientific method, "belief" will only color, warp and ultimately disprove the results.

    I, for one, really liked the article. It makes me wonder what would happen if such a test were to be done using Fenders vs. Squiers, or any other brand that has both high and low priced instruments.
  11. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    No need to condescend. The tonewood debate on talkbass is largely that of wood type, and is largely confined to solidbody electric instruments that are no more than 60 years old. So the temporal aspect of the talkbass tonewood argument has little, if anything, to do with the comparison of violins (acoustic instruments) constructed in the late 1600s vs. those constructed today.

    What the study does tell me is that whatever aspects of Stradivari et al. appeal to people is more due to provenance than it is to actual playability and tone. There are a multitude of factors at play there. As a scientist, I wouldn't leap on this study as a validation of the talkbass tonewood argument, which is steeped in the concept of maple is bright and rosewood is dark, etc. I might leap on it as a validation that modern violinists like modern violins as much or more than vintage (and I don't mean a '61 P-bass here) violins.

    Lastly, I'm not sure why you state that my comments are great if someone used this to prove the tonewood debate. I was simply stating that I would draw from this study what the study assessed: modern violinists find modern violins to be at least as good or even better than those made by masters in the late 1600s. Was the reason why modern violinists prefer a modern violin assessed?

    Edited to add: Look, I'm not a wood snob; just a scientist. I try to draw conclusions based on studies and how they were designed, executed and interpreted. I also own a number of basses, some of which are made by "better" luthiers with "more exotic" woods. My favorite bass at the moment is a MIM Jazz that plays like a million bucks.

    In other words, I'm not saying that wood matters; I'm saying that this study speaks little to whether wood matters or not, because the instruments involved were likely all made of similar wood. In this day and age, we are much more surrounded my noise; traffic, airplanes, sub-woofers in Hondas - back in the 1700s when these early instruments were played, the projection of the instrument may not have been as important as it is today to the modern ear of the modern violinist. These are the sorts of variables that need to be considered before we conclude what a study means. This is why numerous studies that evaluate the numerous factors that make up "preference" are necessary to draw solid conclusions.
  12. uOpt


    Jul 21, 2008
    Boston, MA, USA
    Just because untrained people can't hear it post-recording doesn't mean that the different sound didn't influence the artist's playing, either directly or via enjoying playing more.
  13. Fretless, I believe where we are continuing to differ is that you seem to think this study only shows us something about violins and violinists, and I believe it shows us something a bit more general about people.
  14. Uhm, did you read the link that we are talking about? I'm afraid I can't see how it has anything to do with what we were discussing. This had nothing to do with recorded sound, and the study made it clear that these artist's past perceptions about the instruments were actually entirely based on their expectations, not the sound.
  15. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Not at all; otherwise, I wouldn't have taken exception to your title of "tonewood." This isn't just about violinists, but I use that term because that's what the study involved. Where we differ is in what we can conclude from the study.

    What it says about people is something I think we agree upon. The perception is that older is cooler, better, etc. And it is to look at; I'd rather look at a double bass played by Domenico Dragonetti than one in a High School band room, but at the end of the day, the "better" bass is the one that makes the player more satisfied. And I say that with emphasis: the "better" instrument is not the one the audience prefers in most cases (if indeed the audience can tell the difference; in the classical realm, perhaps). It's the instrument that sounds best to the performer, because, by and large, we gravitate to that what makes us comfortable, and when we are, we forget about such things and let the music flow. And that's when music is best - when it comes from an unfettered mind.
  16. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    Interesting. I think this is actually right up the alley of the tonewood debacle. Largely, that "debate" can be summed up like this: the wood used in the construction of a solidbody instrument determines the "tone" in some <insert statement here ie; perceptual, discernible, detectable, predictable, knowable, significant, etc> way.
    Generally it falls in two camps:
    1. I can tell the difference (or an expert can tell the difference)
    2. I can't tell the difference (or an expert/no one can tell the difference)

    Since the gold standard in randomly controlled, double blind is to test the null (number 2), and this study has done exactly that, I have a hard time buying the notion that this study is somehow irrelevant to the tonewood debacle.

    In fact, I think it's some interesting evidence that demonstrates validity of the null in quite a relevant manner to those who wish to engage in said tonewood debacle.

    The supreme nongeneralizable interpretation taken in some posts above is a bit over the top, at least from my perspective as that of an actual research scientist...
  17. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147

    That's why I love playing fetterless bass. ;) :D :bag:
  18. Let's be civil folks!

    I want to point out the new violins are approx $40,000 each, I.e. 1/100 the cost of a $4 million Strad. So the new violins are presumably near the top of the range available today? So the comparison is really about the best modern versus the best old.

    The violinists had a preference for new violins, or they didn't have a preference for the old violins. This is maybe significant, because even if they could tell the difference (and the authors imply they couldn't), they had an overall preference for new.

  19. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    I think this argy-bargy has been amongst the most civil on this board. Good Sir, I might add.
  20. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008