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Tonewoods: myth?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Ltrain, Jun 14, 2007.

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  1. I apologize if this should be in Luthier's Corner but figured it was a fairly general question. I did a search but couldn't find exactly what I was looking for.

    Why does the wood used in a body affect the tone of a bass? This probably seems like a dumb question but I'm curious as to the dynamics of the process. We know that the sound is created by the strings vibrating in the magnetic field created by the pickups. In theory, this would be the only thing creating sound and tone, but we know in reality that the wood in which the pickups rest does affect tone. Why is this? What is the process that causes this to occur? I assume it has to do with resonance and vibrations but would be curious if someone could put this into perspective for me. I understand a bit more how fingerboard wood would affect the vibration of the strings i.e harder woods creating brighter sounds, how is it that body woods affect tone. I know they do, just curious about the why. Thanks and sorry if this seems like a foolish question.:help:
  2. The wood affects the way the string vibrates. It is true that the pick ups are the only thing to recreate sound, but the wood, technique, scale length, etc all affect how the string vibrates in the magnetic field.
  3. BoneMachine


    Sep 29, 2006
    I might be wrong, but this is the way I understand how this work. Feel free to bash me if I'm wrong.

    The electrical signal in the pickup is created via induction. When the string moves, close to the windings of the pickups, an electromotive force is induced in the windings, and a electrical charge flows in the circuit (i.e. current). The frequency of the current depends on the frequency of the string's vibration.
    The wood plays an important role in the vibration of the strings. Since the neck of a stringed instrument is thinner, and made of less material, it is what vibrates more intensely. The body wood vibrates too, but less. The grain of the wood, together with other characteristics of this material define the way in which it will vibrate (every wood amplifies different frequencies, from what I gather). The vibrations of the woods create new vibration in the strings, which are picked up by the pickups.
    If I'm not terribly wrong, this is how I understand this. Nowhere near scientific, but I'm sure somebody will have developped a mathematical model for this.
  4. Yeah, the strings are anchored to the wood of the body and neck. As they vibrate they loose their energy by it being absorbed by the wood (and the bridge). Different woods are going to absorb this energy in different ways and at different rates, thus affecting how the string continues to vibrate, thus affecting the tone.

  5. Dee_01


    May 19, 2007
    Indeed. I do think we place too much emphasis on woods, though. As long as the instrument is well built and the wood isn't some complete piece of trash, it's all good.

    Here's an article I agree with:

  6. MobileHolmes

    MobileHolmes I used to be BassoP

    Nov 4, 2006
    I think people do spend too much time on specs, when the ultimate test of a bass is to play the damn thing and see what it sounds like, BUT, I do think that there are general consistancies of wood species, even if this can vary some from instrument to instrument). Ultimately, it is the whole package that matters, but holding things equal, there will be subtle differences between say ash, alder, and mahogany, just to name a few
  7. SurrenderMonkey


    Aug 18, 2006
    Played accoustically, there is a VERY noticeable difference between all my basses (Hohner, K5, Warwick $$, and Warwick Thumb BO). But yeah, there are many things that affect the tone, electronics play a huge part.
  8. Dee_01


    May 19, 2007

    Oh yeah, I agree -- subtle differences are there, but not the night and day differences as many people claim.
  9. The type of wood or plastic in the body, the type of wood or plastic in the neck, the bridge, the electronics, and the strings, all play a roll in the tone of a bass. If you change any on of these components you change the tone of the bass. As to what degree each component plays in the overall tone of the bass? It has been my experience that the heavier the bridge the less tone the wood imparts. This is a question of much debate in this forum.
  10. For wood....I think the small differences are usually overshadowed by the big sames. The sounds are different, but the pick-ups, preamp, strings, IMO, change the tone, in general, much more than the wood does.

    Now, if you are speaking truly acoustic, then wood would make a bigger difference.
  11. T-MOST


    Dec 10, 2004
    NJ via NYC

    I disagree totally. I have 2 Roscoes. One is a Spalted Maple/Mahogany with a Chechen fingerboard. The second is a Buckeye Burl/Swamp Ash with a Birdseye maple fingerboard. Both are SKB 3005's with the same electronics. The tones are TOTALLY different. That can only be attributed to the woods.:cool:
  12. Same pick-ups and pick-up placement too? Hmmm, I'd like to hear that, seriously, post a clip and prove us all wrong.
  13. MD-BassPlayer

    MD-BassPlayer Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    IMHO, the factors affecting tone are ranked from most effect to least:

    1) Amp/speakers
    2) pickups used, more specifically, pickup type used P versus J versus MM, etc
    3) String type nickel -vs- stainless -vs- flats
    4) Neck wood
    5) Onboard electronics - higher on the list if you make dramatic EQ changes
    6) Fingerboard wood
    7) Body wood
    8) Wood top

    Construction isn't on the list. How the instrument is built can affect the tone to differing degrees. So, I'll leave it as a wildcard.
  14. Dee_01


    May 19, 2007
    That's cool, you disagree, everyone has different opinions about this and it makes for some interesting discussion!

    As for your Roscoe's, I think the fretboard wood affects the tone quite a bit, maybe more so than the body wood.

    Being primarily a guitarist, I have several guitars made from comletely different types of wood. Acoustically they sound a little different, but having swapped the electronics from one directly to another and recorded the results, there was no difference at all in the basic tone, either clean or distorted. The Dimarzio pickups were making the guitars sound pretty much identical. What did seem to be slightly affected was the sustain when comparing raw (unfinished) basswood to mahogany with a maple cap. Both guitars tested were Ibanez RG's fed through the same amp.

    I think distorted/overdriven electric guitars are effected the least by the body woods, and especially when using active pickups. Acoustic guitars and basses (in fact any acoustic instrument), and any guitar using a clean signal, etc, the difference in woods will be more noticable, but I'm talking almost exclusively about amplified/electric guitars and basses, and I stand by my original point which is that many of us are falling for the hype spewed out by companies to keep us buying their products.

    As I said, some will disagree, and that's fine by me. I could be wrong, I don't claim to be right, but in my 27 years experience as a player, and due to my own A/B tests, I like to offer my thoughts on this.

    I'm pretty much with you on this. Well put.
  15. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

    I'd agree with that, except I'd put EVERYTHING electronic above any wood parts. IMO the amp, strings, pickups and other electronic parts make a lot more difference than wood.

    That's not to say that wood doesn't make any difference - just that it doesn't make much difference, especially when it comes to what an audience hears.
  16. MobileHolmes

    MobileHolmes I used to be BassoP

    Nov 4, 2006

    OK, then we agree:hyper: FWIW, I still think the whole package is the important thing. For example, I don't like the sound of hard ash basses unless they have darker pickups to take some of the bite (or harshness...) out of the top end. OTOH, I like mahogany with brighter pickups (and 34 inch scale). The old gibbies are just too much with short scale, buckers, and mahogany all in one axe.
  17. jazzy grille

    jazzy grille - Arrogant Bastard

    Aug 15, 2006
    Sarasota, Florida

    Played two MTD's exactly the same woods (Tulipwood body, burl maple top and maple neck) except for the Finger board one was a maple and the other was a honduran Rosewood, both of them were 535's and had been made a few runs apart. The difference was mind blowing. I used to think just like most people, but that experience changed my mind.
  18. SurrenderMonkey


    Aug 18, 2006
    There was an article with Carl Thompson about his bass construction and choice of woods. For him, it just boils down to quality. Interesting read. Straight talking guy. few quotes

    (article section)

  19. The Penguin

    The Penguin duplicate account violation Inactive

    Jun 21, 2006
    I'm not pelagic
    There aint a soul on this planet who can listen to a bass recording and tell the species of wood used in making that bass without knowing it before hand.

    There are thousands of players who can know ahead of time what wood is in a bass and tell you every little detail of how that wood effects the tone.

    I'm generally in the minority on this but those 2 statements makes me doubt the claims of certain people that their ears are better at making taxonomic distinctions based on a processed signal than looking at the wood under a microscope.

    People also tend to clump "tone qualities" together based on the commercial name of lumber discounting the fact that many woods are actually a collection of many species grown on different continents with much of it not even being the same species. Rosewoods & mahoganies for example.

    Another example would be swamp ash and hard ash. Few people even know you can get both of those woods in the same board.

    I would suggest that if you can't listen to a recording of a bass track soloed and tell what the woods are you can't identify wood species by ear.

    IMHO ;)
  20. Jonah

    Jonah Lord of the String

    Jan 19, 2007
    Vantaa, Finland
    I've been thinking about the same thing too. It's weird, but wood really does affect the sound. ATM I've got three basses, an Alder-bodied Jazz, Ovangkol-bodied Warwick and a custom with Maple back, Mahogany center and Ovangkol top. When played acoustically, there is a big difference in tone between the tree basses. Two of those basses have EMG's which are probably the most "clinic" pickups there is. Yet, they retain some of that acoustic tone. It's weird.

    I've got a custom 6 on the way, maple/wenge body. We'll see. Expect it to have some brightness.

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