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WHERE do electric basses get their SOUND from?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Arnel M., Jun 6, 2018.

  1. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    I'm not aware of anyone claiming it makes a HUGE difference. And while it does make a difference, I do not think it's enough to detect over computer speakers. I used to lean toward the wood makes a difference camp, until I put together 2 basses, each with 1 pc roasted swamp ash bodies and roasted necks. Oh yes there's a difference. One that you can feel as much as you can hear. I'm now absolutely convinced that the wood contributes to the sound and feel of an instrument. Not necessarily in a "huge way", but one that is still pretty obvious.
    EatS1stBassist likes this.
  2. Jim C

    Jim C Is that what you meant to play or is this jazz? Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2008
    Bethesda, MD
    Huge might have been too strong but folks get passionate (and nutty IMO) about body wood
    Might want to search Tone Wood or Does Wood Make a Difference to see what I mean

    Then we get into fingerboard material, type of finish, aluminum, plastic, or no pickguard.
    Assuuming same player, same instruments, same barometric pressure with the humidity, etc.:
    I find the age of the strings make a much bigger difference
    Even withan A/B test, I don't think one can remember the subtle differences without recording each.
  3. Ekulati

    Ekulati Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2016
    Richmond, VA
    Ggrrr, yes but another misconception: when the term "tonewood" is used by luthiers, it refers primarily to the very thin slices of woods used as soundboards that vibrate and thus produce c. 90% of the sound of ACOUSTIC guitars, acoustic basses, pianos, violins, harps, etc.

    The slab of wood in a solid body guitar or bass - while having some slight effect on overall sound - does not vibrate in anything remotely the same manner as that of a soundboard of an acoustic instrument, and thus is not accurately described as a "tonewood."
    Pbassmanca likes this.
  4. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    I'm not seeing any moving illusion in that image at all.
    Pbassmanca likes this.
  5. Cliff Colton

    Cliff Colton

    Nov 7, 2016
    By analogy, consider a simple light circuit consisting of a light bulb, battery and two wires connected in a circuit which emits light. Your question asks, ‘what percentage of the emitted light is caused by the bulb, wires, and battery, respectively?’ However, the light circuit is a system and will not operate without any one of the components, so assigning percentages to each individual part is illogical.
    However, you can ask ‘If I use a larger battery, larger light bulb, or larger wires, what percentage increase in light will be emitted?’ This is ‘relative’ change that can be measured, which is what I think you’re asking.
    I don’t know the answer to your question, but this is why I use Victor Wooten Power Cables.
    Arnel M. likes this.
  6. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    A comparison of 2 basses with the same neck - as I’ve said, the neck has much more influence than the body. And alder vs “scrap” wood as body wood? Alder is pretty close to scrap as far as I’m concerned -Alder is fairly light, not very special wood. I’d expect those bodies (with everything else, including the bridge identical) would sound very similar. Compare a “scrap”wood neck to a graphite or steel reinforced maple one, and you’ll have a comparison worth talking about.
    Pbassmanca, Arnel M. and JoeWPgh like this.
  7. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    I agree that the neck has a far greater influence than the body's wood. But in the food fight of whether wood matters there's a shorthand that the 'wood matters' crowd uses that is completely misunderstood by the 'wood doesn't matter' crowd. If a certain wood is said to have 'more midrange', it's not that the wood adds anything, It cannot. What it does is dampen frequencies. So, a more pronounced midrange is a result of the highs and lows being somewhat dampened. There are Strat players who swear by the universal 'swimming pool' rout. They say it gives them a brighter sound, with more sustain. And this makes a degree of sense, as there is less wood between the neck and bridge to dampen the notes. Out of curiousity, I put a 'swimming pool' rout on a Jag-ish bass, between 2 of Novak's Bisonic/Dark Star pups. The result was a noticeably brighter tone, with a bit more sustain. So, my personal experience tells me there's something to it. If the body's wood dampens too much, it will be a dull sounding bass. If it dampens in all the right ways, it's a winner. Unfortunately, there's no telling in advance what it will do. That's the voodoo of it.
    M.R. Ogle, Ekulati and Cliff Colton like this.
  8. This is the premise I wanted to make. Along those lines, I posted my query. Thanks.
  9. ad9000

    ad9000 Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2004
    Leucadia, CA
    I agree, but I'd also add that an experience player can take the quirks and deficiencies of a a funky instrument and turn them into something cool by exploiting them creatively - an example would be the typical dead spot on Fender basses around the 4th to 6th fret on the G string - use that as a stylistic tool like Marcus Miller does. Conversely, if there is a hot spot that causes feedback, harness it and use it creatively if there is room in the music to do so.
    TH63 likes this.
  10. DolphinBro


    Feb 19, 2018
    Having made a few and experimented a lot, I could not begin to explain what I learned without writing a book.

    Ask some experienced luthiers and I believe most will agree that it is the NECK that is most important first. And more specifically how the neck joins the body. My choice will be a rock maple neck. Little or no wood figuring. Pretty blan looking with rosewood fingerboard (not ebony). The neck would NOT be bolt on unless the connection is super tight. I prefer a neck thru so the sound from the neck has the best chance of resonating to the pickups. The body wings do little but look pretty and hold strap etc. Neck thru's have the clearest tones and best sustains. Composite necks are too sterile so hard wood adds a bit of warmth. My design of choice is a "full-face, neck thru" which is the neck thru the body with a thin layer of wing wood around the pups to make body top look like one solid block of wood.

    Of course the main sound comes from the strings vibrating above the pups so they are next in line. I am from the school that less is more so I prefer passive PUPs and minimal electronics. I want as few elect. devices in the circuit as possible to avoid coloring the sound. I use my amp to adjust EQ. Just minimal tone and volume at bass. Use your finger nail on left hand and pluck by bridge with right. Position your nail at diff. locations from bridge to neck. Certain spots will yield a clearer harmonic. These are the spots where PUP's are most effective. Some Warwicks (Thumb and Dolphin) are very effective with their Pup positions. I prefer bridge pup to be under a harmonic and close to the bridge and my neck pup is not as important to me as I use it only about 15%. But it will be under one of the solid harmonics. I don't slap and pop much except for accent.

    Any further details just too lengthy to cover. I think it is important to just know that most commercial basses are not really any good and to sound special will take some extra work. Too many basses today try to make up for deficiencies by using shear power. But what do I know?
  11. TH63


    Jan 30, 2016
    Phnom Pen, Cambodia
    I'd rate the pickguard higher, modern 5 ply gots nothin on vintage tort for toneful mojo.
  12. DavesnothereCA


    Aug 21, 2017
    I have not read ahead yet, so this may have been already covered, but one factor which I found which matters a huge amount is WHERE along the strings you put the pickup.

    To work from a standard here, for example on a Fender P, if you moved the same pickup to a different point along the strings, the sound will change dramatically, if you keep all other factors unchanged while performing this test, and pluck in the same place along the strings.

    This factor alone could easily be responsible for 50% of character of the sound at the jack.

    My FrankenRic 4001 sounds a lot like a Jazz because during 1985, in my final of many electronic mods, I semi-unintentionally located the pickups approximately where they would be along the strings on a Jazz.

    The pickups are neither those of a Ric, nor of Jazz (instead those of a Steinberger, active EMGs), but they still present themselves tonally much like a Jazz - however without any hum.

    But it still has the neck of a Ric 4001, my favourite part of that model of bass from the playability perspective.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2018
    T. Brookins likes this.
  13. DavesnothereCA


    Aug 21, 2017
    THERE we go ! :)

    Post #31 mentions position.

    Post #46 mentions position.

    Post #53 mentions position.

    Post #77 mentions position.

    BIG factor, IMNSHO.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2018
    T. Brookins likes this.
  14. T. Brookins

    T. Brookins Supporting Member

    This is IT!! This determines the harmonic signature:


    A second would be string type, tension/ tuning/ scale length.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2018
    DavesnothereCA likes this.
  15. T. Brookins

    T. Brookins Supporting Member

    You can pretty much make a P bass sound like a Marcus Miller by putting the pickups in the same positions. Any immediately recognizable qualities of a bass tone are all pretty much attributable to pickup positioning.

    Undeniable FACT.
  16. Ekulati

    Ekulati Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2016
    Richmond, VA
    Agree with most of your post, but re: the above, you do know that that only applies when you're playing a string open? (Or at the octave.) As soon as you fret a string, the "solid harmonics" have moved.
  17. DolphinBro


    Feb 19, 2018
    Good point. Got to think about that some. But it also works well right at the fingernail position. Either way, can't hurt, eh? Overall I think it makes the Pups more effective. Also noted that the angle of the Pups are not necessarily perpendicular to strings so each string should be tested. Example Warwick Thumb.
    DavesnothereCA likes this.
  18. ccfalkner


    Sep 19, 2016
    Dallas, TX
    I have learned a lot from this thread. Thanks for bringing it up. I am leaning to the string and, but mainly, pick up answer, and contemplated on the optical pickup, which would say, 100% the pickup. Take the player totally out of it because in the end, the player will always be you. Why go down the Wooten path?

    I was thinking about my journey into tonality. I started with my first bass, a SR706 which I am bonded to, perhaps for life, and a 1x12 + tweet combo amp. Everything about the bass fits me ergonomicly plus a fast neck, but I thought my sound was anemic. With humbucker PUPs I was supposed to be good there. I first upgraded by attaching a 15 cab and unleashing the watts on the combo. With the three speakers, I could reproduce nearly all the frequencies my bass could produce. I had a tube pre-amp laying around, so I put that in. Now I had the tone and the punch I loved to hear. I then got a $200 digital processor. After playing around with the presets, I found an acoustic bass sound that I fell in love with and used it most of my practice time. Hearing that tone coming from me and my bass made me never wanting to end my practice. For band practice and gigs I would use customized and presets as needed. The point of bringing up the processor is that none of the sound was my bass except for the sustain factor and the original frequency pattern.

    In the end, I ditched the processor for an older multi pedal and am happy with the sound of just the amp and pre-amp, and add the peddle affects as desired.

    To sum it up, my journey never touched the bass. The only thing I wouldn't mind is more sustain, but that can also be handled mostly with electronics and mine is decent as it is.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2018
    Arnel M. likes this.
  19. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    I don't disagree in terms of harmonics moving. But where a pickup is placed does "voice" the instrument. In this case, the mentioned harmonic is a perfectly valid reference point to locating the pickup, if that's the desired position.
    T. Brookins likes this.
  20. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005

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