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Walnut or Alder? Does Wood Matter?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by MTHands, Oct 9, 2018.

  1. MTHands


    Mar 27, 2014
    Does the type of wood you use effect the tone/sound of the bass? I'm seriously considering getting a custom bass from Kiesel. Alder is the standard wood that they use. I can upgrade to Walnut which the person who is helping me says it produces a deeper growlier bass sound and enhances the highs.

    What do you guys all think?
  2. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I don't think it matters unless the densities are very different. Like alder vs basswood matters to me. Alder vs ash? Not so much. Not familiar with walnut in a bass, but I did just have a handful of walnuts as a midnight snack :D
  3. ajkula66


    Sep 23, 2016
    Walnut is likely to be heavier than alder, based on my limited experience. YMMV.
    BergerHead and gln1955 like this.
  4. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    it can make dramatic difference with the body and neck as do a lot of other factors. just out of strong curiosity thanx to luthier extraordinaire Steve Wishnevsky and cos I luv the look of walnut I've wanted an aged walnut bodied bass for a long time and think it'd be one of those dramatic examples.
  5. As far as tone being affected, That will be debated forever. I’d opine it does have a subtle affect on tone. (Body wood as well as fretboard wood. Certainly pickups and electronics will have a greater impact.
    My buddy and I have been discussing building a bass. He said he has a real nice piece of walnut he was thinking about using. I said the bass needs to be under 8lbs, he said no problem. It IS a heavy wood and we kicked around various weight relief solutions and he’s leaning towards larger chambered vs many small holes for weight redux.
    Fuzzbass likes this.
  6. chaak


    Apr 25, 2013
    now here
    comatosedragon and 123321 like this.
  7. dabbler


    Aug 17, 2007
    Bowie, MD
    I have no walnut instruments. But the short answer is Everything matters. The question is to what degree. My experience tells me that body wood makes less of a tonal difference than neck and fretboard. I believe that you could hear the difference between alder and walnut, playing by yourself. But in a band, I doubt that anybody in the audience would be able to tell the difference.
    ppiluk likes this.
  8. Boogie Woogie

    Boogie Woogie

    Aug 9, 2017
    when you plug the guitar into an amplifier, the most important thing about the wood will be your strap and your shoulders..
  9. BioDriver

    BioDriver A Cinderella story

    Aug 29, 2008
    Austin, TX
    Walnut will be heavier, that much is for sure.
    HighD likes this.
  10. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Visually it matter, but only to you. When you get in a situation where you are playing live, I doubt you'll notice any difference.
    JRA and lancimouspitt like this.
  11. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw

    Depends on the characteristics of the pieces of wood used.

    Depends on whether you can perceive any differences.

    Depends on how you feel about any differences you can perceive.
  12. interp

    interp Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2005
    Garmisch, Germany
    For the folks in the “wood doesn’t matter” school, try putting a balsawood fingerboard on your next bass. It shouldn’t matter.
    Greenstreet, bassicg, 928cat and 3 others like this.
  13. FugaziBomb


    Jun 5, 2017
    From my experience, wood does not affect the tone enough to really hear. I had swapped necks on my old Jazz from rosewood to maple board and there was no audible difference. I even recorded both before and after, but - at least to my ears - I couldn't hear a difference. I do think it matters for aesthetics for sure. Also, some woods are more durable than others. Basswood dents really easily, but my maple bodied Ibanez SRX400 could crack a hammer. I did watch a video a few years back where someone replaced an alder Jazz Bass body with some kind of reclaimed countertop material, which did have a subtle difference. I think the real trap with tonewoods is trying to assign a characteristic to a certain wood - i.e. mahogany is mellower than ash, etc. The reason that doesn't work is that two pieces of mahagony might vary in density more than a piece of mahagony vs a piece of ash. Heck, even in the same tree, the variance of density between heartwood and sapwood can be immense.
  14. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    The person who is helping you at Keisel is trying to sell you a $200 piece of walnut plus whatever they charge to chamber it. They'll say anything. Do you like the way it looks? That and weight are all that's really important about body wood.
    JRA, Anhg77, lancimouspitt and 2 others like this.
  15. Coolhandjjl

    Coolhandjjl Supporting Member

    Oct 13, 2010
    Maple body>> Emphasis on harmonics, keeps harmonics ringing longer. Rickenbacker 4001/3
    Alder/Ash body>> Fundamental emphasis over harmonics, faster decay. Fender Precision (and many other basses)

    Everything else is in-between. For those who think wood is not important should read up on the tests with woods Ted McCarty did when creating the mahogany/maple sandwich for the Les Paul.
  16. Karlson541

    Karlson541 Banned

    Jun 9, 2018
    Wood does matter, even if some claim it doesn't, though you only need to think of the distinct characteristics of the tone of a hollow body bass vs. a solid body bass to realize the specific material the bass is made of in fact does matter.

    The only thing that actually produce the sound on an amplified bass is the vibrations of the strings that the pickups pick up, though how the wood resonate with those vibrations will influence back on how the strings vibrate.
    We are talking about nuances though.
    The factors that will have most influence on the tone of your bass is probably what pickup model(s) it is equipped with, pickup placement, as well as what strings you are using.
    Well and then of course how you play it and what amp and cab you use, though that would be external factors and not really related to the specific characteristics of the bass.
    Also neck and fretboard wood probably have more influence on the amplified tone of you bass than body wood has.

    Alder is pretty commonly used for basses and known for being the most balanced of the tonewoods, meaning that it responds pretty evenly all across the frequency spectrum.

    Walnut on the other hand is more rarely used and has a bit in common with Mahogany, as it is a warm sounding wood, which means a lot of low and low mid frequency response and a bit more subdued in the high frequency spectrum, walnut though is said to reproduce even a bit more low frequencies as well as having slightly more mid frequency content.

    Note though that the tonal qualities will vary slightly between specific piece of wood within the same species.

    Here is a basic blog about the most common tonewoods, specifically written with bass in mind: Bass Guitar Tonewood Guide - Andertons Blog

    And here's a really in depth description of each tonewood and including near every possible type of wood (to get to the descriptions go to "Species and Atributes" in the menu, then chose from the alphabetic list under "The Details").:
    Tonewood Data Source
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2018
  17. ficelles

    ficelles Supporting Member

    Feb 28, 2010
    Devon, England
    Go for oak - sustains forever, and every time you play it will be like going to the gym.
  18. Snaxster


    Nov 29, 2008
    It might matter:

    Search Results for Query: wood matter | TalkBass.com

    Search Results for Query: tone wood | TalkBass.com

    Search Results for Query: wood sound | TalkBass.com
  19. bearfoot


    Jan 27, 2005
    schenectady, ny
    It's a nice tonewood. Mostly used for bridge saddles, but also nice for soundboards/bodies if you can get it. I have an Appalachian dulcimer made entirely of black walnut.

    As for what it will do for an electric bass's signal path on the output jack, as a body wood, pretty much nothing. Not unless it's chambered. I think with solidbody instruments, you're essentially dealing with a giant clave. The only way you'd get a real tone differentiation from it is by hitting it with another piece of wood, or dropping it on a hard surface. Which is not usually how we play bass.

    The #1 main factor is it will look pretty.

    My friend and I have been experimenting making cigarbox instruments. We have used a stripe of walnut in our necks, and a walnut dowel as a main structure support.

    I would love to see evidence that tonewood matters in solidbody + magnetic pickups instrument choice, but so far all the rigorous testing indicates the exact opposite.
    lancimouspitt likes this.
  20. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    This merits repeating. Grabbing a random piece of wood and expecting a certain sound from it is a fool's game.

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