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Tonewood descriptions

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by full_bleed, Jan 5, 2006.


  1. full_bleed

    full_bleed

    May 27, 2005
    Arizona
    I've been looking all over the internet with mostly bad results. What I've been searching for is a more extensive list than what can be found on avtivebass in their articles sections. It seems that everyone who lists descriptions of wood either of it's sound properties or visual apperance pretty much just copies off of that article. Is there a better source for this information and if not why don't why start a sticky thread here where a longer list with bigger than 1" x 1" pictures of the wood being described.
     
  2. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
  3. full_bleed

    full_bleed

    May 27, 2005
    Arizona
    While it is an imporvement upon what I've found in my searches, including AVODIRÉ, IMBUIA, LACEWOOD and SHEDUA, it still doesn't list many of the exotics that many people have adopted and use quite frequently in the construction of basses. I'm hoping that a luthier with real experiences with different woods chimes in here and has some pictures, tonal descriptions and maybe a brief paragraph about how the wood is best worked. A sticky thread like this could go a long way in helping a first timer in selecting the "best woods" for the job as well as giving them a little heads up on what to expect when dealing with certain woods.
     
  4. tribal3140

    tribal3140 Banned

    Nov 9, 2004
    near detroit...uh
    and this is in no way a POP listing. (point of purchase-buy stuff)
    just a list compiled from experience.

    Body woods.
    alder-very versatile has a wide variety of tonal ranges and its lightweight too. top woods tend to have a greater effect on final tonal values
    Swamp ash- Many say its light weight but that all depantd on the piece and grain structure. some are light some are heavy as all getout! it have a very warm bassy tone- 70 JPJ led zepp feel
    Black limba and white korina- Lightweight,easy to work and black limba can be very pretty with its dark heart variagations. White korina was often used in 70's model gibson guitars for their "mojo" of distortion values.
    I basses I find that its a lighter weight and versatile tone too.
    Maple- a classicly used wood for violins and cellos. flame and "fiddleback" were the cuts of choice. its a harder version of the body wood that produces a more midrange sound. I am a personal fan of maples for the body woods.
    mahogony has a tone the cross of limba and maple and alder . A lower mid combonation of tones.

    These are all my opinions and are mine alone other users/luthiers may have different opinions and thats good! every piece is unique and so are its tonal characteristics.
    I will follow up with my op-inions on the exotics (which are my personal specialty) so that message might be quite long.
    Todd
     
  5. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Maryland
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    If you go to my homepage, click on "custom models", then click on "woods", I have some stuff there. I have been meaning to update it (it's old); maybe I'll see if I can get to it this weekend.

    I do not touch discussions of tone with a ten foot pole. Quite frankly, I think that the contributions individual woods make to a solid-body tone are too subtle to accurately pin down and that is why many web sites copy that information off one another.
     
  6. full_bleed

    full_bleed

    May 27, 2005
    Arizona
    So are you the kind of guy that believes that the bulk of a basses tone comes from the neck woods or the electronics or a happy equal blend of both?
     
  7. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Maryland
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    At the top of my list are the player, the pickups, and the electronics. Strings should be up there too. Pickup location. Think of it this way: of all the things you can change about a bass, what will have the most profound impact on its sound? All of those things come out way above swapping out the body wood or the neck wood or the fingerboard.

    I think you can sway the tone in a general direction with wood choices -- if you load up on one particular type of wood -- but I don't feel like it's as if you were making a recipe as some would suggest.
     
  8. cnltb

    cnltb

    May 28, 2005
    ThePick ups have considerable impact on the tone of an instrument too, I believe. It took me ages to decide on the pickup on my most recent bass,and that one was then exchanged as the magnetic pull was initially too strong,creating an oscilation effect in the upper ranges of the 29 fret,36" 5-string bass.I have now settled with a stacked humbucker-narror aperture- thus achieving a fairly detailed tone with minimal harmonic cancellation. It was worth it.The bass is a bolt on instrument with a natural finish solid alder body and maple one-piece neck very slightly figured and quite thick and wide.The neck is topped with a brazilian rosewood fingerboard.The bridge is aluminium (naimish bridge,which works beautifully well and is extremely easy to set). A single Pickup.No electronics.
     
  9. Hookus

    Hookus

    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    Amen. It seems to me like a simple change of string manufacturer or gauge makes the most profound impact. I believe you can find a string that gives you the tone you want, regardless of what the guitar is made from.
     
  10. instigata

    instigata

    Feb 24, 2006
    New Jersey
    i definitely think woods are overrated. think about it. the strings vibrate, and their motion is captured by the pickups. the wood allows for the vibrations, and perhaps the density of the wood is the main factor in tone, in regards to the amount of waves which continue for various amounts of time.

    that said, each piece of wood has a different density, so even two pieces of maple from different trees will have varying amounts of vibration degradation for the body.

    overall, just pick what looks great, and don't go crazy tone wise. concentrate on pickups and stuff for that.
     
  11. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    I think you might find that the wood / tone discussion is a can of worms that never really gets closed up once you open it. There are plenty of people in the world (like me) who believe that sure, different woods must have different tones (varying physical properties and all) but that the differences are so subtle on the actual instrument output (for electrics) that they can be safely ignored. Then, of course, there are plenty of people who believe they can only get the "right" sound out of the "right" wood combination.

    The real problem is that as soon as you start talking tone you enter the world of the subjective. Personally I have no idea what someone means when thy describe a bass as having "growly mids with percussive highs and a nice fruity aftertaste". If I like the sound of an instrument then I'm happy. If I don't like the sound of an instrument then I look at what I can easily change to find a sound I like. The body and neck woods are never on the list of things I can easily change so for me at least the wood / tone discussion becomes completely moot.

    On the other hand, if you firmly believe that a maple neck, rosewood board, and alder body is the only way to get the tone you like, then go for it. If you're looking for wood info that doesn't worry about tone try hardwood flooring guys or woodcarvers. They're more interested in the working properties of the wood and the aesthetics, the two things at the top of my list when making selections.

    -Nate
     
  12. instigata

    instigata

    Feb 24, 2006
    New Jersey
    i think the most important aspect of the wood is the neck woods strength and resistance to warping and bowing. this is obviously a major contributor not to tone, but to overall strength and durability of the instrument.
     
  13. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    The simple and only reasons to use wood or whatever in the neck and body is to keep the string in place and provide some sort of sound amplification.
    The latter is done via a large hollow blimp, if the instrument is acoustic, or via some kind of vibration pickup, if it's electric.

    For electrics, the interesting part is the backbone, i.e. what keeps the strings in place, because has to be stiff enough not to impact the string vibration and stable enough to stay useful for lenght of time.
     
  14. full_bleed

    full_bleed

    May 27, 2005
    Arizona
    I understand where you guys are coming from but I think I still personally disagree. To a certain extent at least. Of course I don't believe that the wood is 100% of the tone but I think it must contibute enough to where it is still noticable on an instrument. I've never heard anyone do a test like this but, if you were to take say 10 basses, all shaped the same, with a badass bridge, same tuners, same nut material, same brand/type of strings, same pickups, but a different wood for the neck or body on each. I truely believe you will hear a differance. Perhaps not the live sound but in the recorded sound. That's what I think anyways. I enjoy reading your side of the matter though. Keep posting if you have something new to add to the discussion.
     
  15. instigata

    instigata

    Feb 24, 2006
    New Jersey
    it can't be a massive difference, and i bet its mainly due to the desnity of the wood, honestly. the better vibrations are transferred, the higher the density, and thats how a tone will develop. but i'm sure that unique differences between EACh piece of wood will cause a difference in sound as unique as different species.

    for example, fender makes A LOT of basses, with similar but different pieces of wood. then again most of them of the same model will sound almost the same. so all those different woods do little to actually color the sound, i think.
     
  16. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Yes. But...

    If you have two instruments with everything not just equal but the same, the wood would make all the diffenrence - and be noticable. More or less so, depending on what woods you compare, how they are mixed and the quality of the individuál plank(s).

    The problem is that other features will also be different. IME, limited as it is, there are quite noticable differences in the sonic properties of two pickups of the same brand and model. If the instrument is bolt-on, there are noticable differences in the joint. Different torques to fasten the tuners may result in tonal impact. Etc, etc.
    Hence, the wood is an important structural and of course aestetic entity, and with impact on the sound.
    But not in the extent that we all tend to put into it, because choosing wood is the feature of the instrument build that is the easiest to have an influence on.
     
  17. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    I seem to recall someone doing that exact study. Unfortunately for my argument I don't have any links so feel free to take this as just hearsay and opinion. Anyway, from what I recall the study (which sampled professional musicians who claimed to be able to hear a difference) put similar basses (as Sub said, there's no such thing as identical instruments, but these all had the same specs / parts / etc) with different wood combinations into the hands of the blindfolded musicians and also played them recordings of the various instruments. Across the board, nobody was able to get closer than simple chance when guessing the wood based entirely on sound, but they claimed to be able to hear a difference when they could see the instruments.

    It reminds me of a study my uncle (who is an avid golfer) mentioned once. Someone took a handful of pro and semi-pro golfers and had them test out a wide range of drivers. Just about everyone picked one of a small group as "the best" in the bunch. The test was then repeated with the golfers wearing earphones that didn't let them hear the sound of the club on ball contact. Suddenly they couldn't consistently pick out the name brand expensive drivers from the cheapo knockoffs.

    In my estimation our impressions of the world around us come from all of our senses, not just one at a time. The sound of your golf swing doesn't change how far you drive it or the feel of the contact, but a good sound will make you feel like you did a much better job. For instruments I'd say that a similar effect is happening. The sound differences may not be significant enough to hear from one to the next, but the visual cues combined with our own preconceptions causes us to prefer one over the other. If that's true then you just have to pick woods that you think will sound "right" and build a quality bass with quality parts from them. In the end, you should be perfectly happy.

    Of course, if it's true it also means that no two bassists will have the same concept of what woods should sound like, so no two bassists will hear the same sound from an instrument of known woods. Odd how the human brain works sometimes.

    -Nate

    PS: This is easily the most civil wood / tone conversation I've ever seen, and congrats to all involved (let's keep it up please). You'll notice a whole lot of the regulars won't post in these topics because it's such a touchy subject.
     
  18. full_bleed

    full_bleed

    May 27, 2005
    Arizona
    Very interesting

    I was wondering why there wasn't more responses.

    In light of the last post I may be reconsidering my standing on the topic. I mean I'd have to be a total ass to just disregard the findings from a test just like the one I said I'd like to see earlier in this thread. HMMMM! Damn you Nateo!
     
  19. nateo

    nateo Schubie Fan #1

    Mar 2, 2003
    Ottawa, Ontario
    For some reason I hear that a lot, not that it hurts my feelings or anything. *sniff*

    Don't go changing your opinions all of a sudden based on what may or may not be facts. A few well worded Google searches should show up info on the studies to which I refer, and if you find them I'd love to take a look, too. It's been a while and I have a habit of making things up.

    -Nate
     
  20. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Just be careful with what you read on the internet. I was recently at a site that suggested that basswood was a good wood for necks, despite the fact that it is significantly weaker than any of the woods normally used for necks.