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What's in the wood??

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by MikeyFingers, Dec 14, 2005.


  1. I've been wondering this for a while now.
    A determining factor in the price of a bass is the type of wood that's used. However, if the bass is painted, you can't see the sometimes gorgeous appearance of the natural wood. And since the bass is electric, I can't figure out exactly how/if the wood has any effect on the sound of the instrument. On an acoustic instrument, it's easy to understand why the wood makes such a difference. But on an electric bass, does the wood really effect the sound of a plugged-in bass? I figure that tone, sustain etc are determined by the pickups, bridge, nut and the way YOU play it. Yet I still hear that the wood makes a big difference.... but HOW?
     
  2. Bassist30

    Bassist30

    Mar 19, 2004
    NEW YORK
  3. Mudfuzz

    Mudfuzz

    Apr 3, 2004
    WA...
    I'd say about 60 - 70%. Of all the things I've swapped off and on basses the neck makes the biggest tonal change for me. Oone some basses I've changed the pickups three + times, even re-routed and moved where they are, changed bridges, pots and whatnot and Oh yes strings and every time a neck swap make the biggest change. I think pickups and bodies are about equal.
     
  4. Wow, great article. That answers my question. Thanks man!!:)
     
  5. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Bassist30, thanks for linking to that article. That article set in motion my disdain of judging basses by their electronics by one simple sentence Michael wrote:

    "If you amplify a 2x4, it will sound like an amplified 2x4."

    I often quote that when the tech-heads on here get to talking about how you can change your bass' tone completely with a pickup change.
     
  6. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    You mean to tell me that if you took an ash Fender body and swapped it out for a mahogany Fender body you wouldn't notice the difference? I sure would. That's why I got mahogany on my custom basses. I tried a whole lot of different wood combos on basses they had already built, and they all sounded different except for the ones that were made identically.

    As for the 2" x 4" Steinberger deal, you are talking to the right guy here. I own a Bradley Steinberger copy that I paid $75 for on Ebay. For all intents and purposes it might as well be made out of a 2" x 4". Sounds pretty much like it, too, but since I know how to make music on it, a lot of people think it sounds great. To me, it's the worst sounding bass I ever owned or played. When I got it, the pickups were horribly noisy, so i changed them out. I changed cheap humbuckers for 70's DiMarzio J's. The output was hotter and less noisy but the amplified sound was identical. Yes, I can play it and make it sound good, but I wouldn't call it a good sounding bass. And the pickup change didn't overcome the acoustic tone of it. Still sounds like a 2" x 4" to me.

    And obviously strings change the tone of a bass drastically, but strings aren't fixtures. Only stuff that's actually attached to the bass counts in these discussions.

    So for me, it's all about the wood. My alder Jazz sounds drastically different from my ash P which sounds different from my plywood P copy. Nobody really cares except me, though.
     
  7. Bassist30

    Bassist30

    Mar 19, 2004
    NEW YORK
     
  8. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Smash, to me the basses they made with identical woods sounded pretty much identical. Certainly two different pieces of the same wood CAN sound different, but it's been my experience that the differences are so minute that generalities can be made.

    As for the electronics on my Steinie copy, I mentioned them because it proves that the bass still sounded the same even with different pickups with different characteristics. Would it sound the same with a set of Barts on it? The EQ would probably change, and it would probably be for the better, but it'll still sound like an amplified 2" x 4".

    J vs P pickups? Again, the EQ points may change, but my P won't suddenly sound identical to my J if I put J's on it. I should know...I had J's on my P for a long time. But i will say that the placement of the P pickup will make a difference because of where on the string it's being picked up, not because of the pickup itself. I place very little stock in the tonal changes a pickup can make. Yes, it can happen, but you can also get the same sound with an EQ change on the amp. And that's why I don't agree that changing the electronics makes that much of a difference. Sure, you can put in a preamp that boosts certain frequencies, but you can buy an outboard preamp to do the same thing, and it still won't change the basic characteristic of the sound of the wood. As I always like to say, putting Alembic pickups on a Rondo won't make the Rondo sound like an Alembic.

    BTW, there is no way I would ever put stock in anything Carol Kaye says about building methods. Let's not forget that she also believes that you don't have to intonate the strings on an electric bass. Some people like Leo are strictly builders and know very little about playing. Some people like Carol are strictly players and know very little about building methods. Nothing wrong with that, but I wouldn't take Carol's word on luthierie any more than I'd take Leo's word on theory.
     
  9. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Well, in the end, all that truly matters is playing ability. But I guess discussions like these do help to advance the state of the art in building methods.
     
  10. Lots of appeals to authority here, so I guess I can make one too.

    Does a 2X4 always sound like a 2X4? See Bob Taylor's Pallet Guitar. The claim is that "... it's the design and the builder, and not the wood, that define a great guitar...." The claim is said to be proven by guitars with back and sides of "pallet grade" oak and a top made of uncertain wood from a 2X4.
     
  11. Mudfuzz

    Mudfuzz

    Apr 3, 2004
    WA...
    Most 2x4s are made out of soft wood: usually pine, doug fir, hemlock, redwood, cedar, spruce and so forth and almost all of them make great acoustic guitar tops.

    I made a bass out of a 2x4 [cheap fir I think] when I was 15 that had a bass E & A and the top three strings off a classical guitar, I used eyelet screws for tuning and a really old buffalo nickel piezo pickup. It had a nice slap sound from what I remember. I named it the Crapmanshick :p
     
  12. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I was thinking the same thing as I wrote it, but then I decided, what the hey...