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Wood and pickup balance

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Joblivion, Apr 10, 2021.


  1. Hey Y’all

    Question for you. Should you pick your pickups to balance or emphasize weaker tones of the body wood of your bass?

    I have an ESP LTD B5E mahogany bass with maple neck and ebony fretboard. I just switched pickups because the stock bass sounded too thin and quiet. I installed PCSX5/TWX-R (neck/bridge) and I really like the sound . (*TWX is a dual mode pickup that switches between single JCSX and Humbucker CSX). My only concern is that the pickups are on the warmer side and mahogany is known to lack high end. Should I get a brighter sounding pickup for the bridge?
     
  2. A9X

    A9X

    Dec 27, 2003
    Australia
    Tonewood sounds in a solidbody are massively overemphasised. If you're happy with the sound, exhale and play.
     
    Solarmist, KaraQ, Jeff Scott and 9 others like this.
  3. Ok I figured as much. Is it kind of like a drum then? 90% of the sound comes from the heads and the drummer and really only 10% comes from the shell itself.

    If you had to give a percentage to the contribution of woods to the tone of the bass compared to the strings and pickups, what would it be?
     
  4. A9X

    A9X

    Dec 27, 2003
    Australia
    Can of worms subject and this is my personal opinion from being around 2 friends who are luthiers, engineering (electical and some mechanical) and watching a lot of DIY youtube builds where people build great sounding instruments out of concrete, plywood parquetry and resin full of cigarette butts or coloured pencils.
    I reckon it's about 90% electronics and pickup position, and the rest is the stiffness of the structure between the witness points, ie bridge saddles and nut.

    If there was no internet, most people would not be anywhere near as worried about the tone of the wood, only about aesthetics, weight and for the manufacturer, cost and ease of finishing. People generically say "maple sounds like..". Which species of maple and which piece and how is it used in the structure? My Steinberger is a solid carbon monocoque (stiff as hell compared to say a bolt on ash/maple bass) and it sounds like EMG P4 pickups basically.

    This is the most important sentence in the thread. Enjoy.
     
  5. Hahaha!
    Ok Sounds Good!
    Thanks For the input!
     
  6. A9X

    A9X

    Dec 27, 2003
    Australia
    There was also a YT video played here from a luthier who builds acoustics, but on solid bodies. I found it interesting. And convincing.
     
  7. ajkula66

    ajkula66

    Sep 23, 2016
    NEPA
    Well, do you feel that the current pickup lacks brightness ? If not, I'd leave it as-is.

    While I'm firmly in the "wood matters" club, every instrument is more than just a sum of its parts. It's the complete sonic picture that is really important.

    With that being said, if I had a $1 note for every time I had swapped a pickup in a stringed instrument over the past 40+ years, I could likely buy a very nice and expensive bass...:)

    My $0.02 only...
     
  8. NoiseNinja

    NoiseNinja Experimental-psychedelic-ambient-noise-drone

    Feb 23, 2011
    Denmark
    If you love the tone of your bass with the currently installed pickups I can't think of single reason why on Earth you would want to swap them for something different.

    I am personally in the camp that believes wood properties, especially being true for the neck wood, in fact does contribute to the tone of an electric bass or guitar (though here I really think the specific properties of specific individual pieces of wood and design/form factor matters more than general species generalizations), but so does pretty much every other aspect of it's construction, and in the end, in the big overall picture, we are talking about a relatively minor contribution, where strings and pickup choice would still be by far the dominating determining factors for tone in an electric string instrument.

    However all of that matter absolutely zero in this context, regardless of weather I am right or not, as long as you are happy with the sound your bass produces.

    What use is what your bass might sound like in theory and speculations in what kind of tone you think you might prefer or not if it doesn't actually match actual reality.

    A scientific theory is not a 1:1 analog to reality, in fact it isn't really actual reality, and no proper scientist would ever claim it to be so, it's a model that is used to explain and predict certain aspects of reality, so to speak a mathematical grid applied to a picture of reality from a certain angle (which might not match up from a slightly different angle), for measurement purposes alone.

    And in this specific case we don't even have enough unequivocally verified data to conclude anything useful whatsoever, at this point it's not even a theory, it's these, an unproved theory that can be used to conclude absolutely nothing based on it.

    We do have the fact of reality that you like your tone though, and are also aware of the fact that tonal preferences are totally subjective, so I'd say that ought to be all the proof we need, even if it can not be verified scientifically.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2021
  9. JakobT

    JakobT

    Jan 9, 2014
    Oslo, Norway
    If you’re happy with your tone, then great! If not - well, that’s what EQ is for.
     
  10. Low8

    Low8 Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2014
    I like this assessment a bunch. I'd only add that neck woods/materials/construction method probably contributes more to the sound of a bass than its body wood.

    And yes, if there was no internet, folks wouldn't get so hung up on this topic. :cool:

     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2021
    Joblivion likes this.
  11. ajkula66

    ajkula66

    Sep 23, 2016
    NEPA
    IDK. I remember the topic being hotly debated long before Internet became a thing. One major difference is that back then most people who dared enter such a debate actually had experience with instruments and some idea of what they were talking about, regardless of whether their views were similar to my own or not.
     
    chadds likes this.
  12. This never-ending tonewood discussion would have more validity for me IF WOOD WAS REPEATABLE. It's not. I would, however, definitely agree with A9X when it comes to hardness, stiffness, etc.

    An extreme example would be to duplicate an all-African hardwood Warwick in soft white woods, basswood, poplar, etc. Identical hardware, electronics, build method. You'd sure as hell hear a difference, but once you start mixing woods as typically found in most axes, this would blur real fast.

    And even acoustics: Line up 10 brand new Martin D35's, consecutive serial numbers. Same everything, presumably built from similar piles of woods for the tops, sides, necks, etc. They'll all sound good, but keep playing and rotating them and I promise you one or two will be 'not all that' and one or two will knock your socks off.

    It's the nature (and the lottery) of wood. Find the pickups that hit you, and you're done.
     
  13. chadds

    chadds

    Mar 18, 2000
    TB just came back from the dead. Could we wait maybe another week? :)

    On another site it was said TB went down because someone dared to question tort/sunburst P a the only grail. LOL :)
     
    Joblivion and ajkula66 like this.
  14. chadds

    chadds

    Mar 18, 2000
    Nice video. The significant point is that you don't want your solid body guitar/bass to act like an air pump. So. How does the density/stiffness of the EB body help it do what it's designed for? Seems like we are listening to someone who may be an expert in his field but is not addressing our concerns in our field.

    How an EB body "sounds" is really how it feels. What does it diminish of the string's vibrations because it doesn't add to those vibrations. What a musician makes it do is the feel. That many can't hear or feel these things doesn't mean they don't exist. Why is this Tele, Vince Gill's fave and not another? Cheap swamp ash, no "bouteeque" tone woods. Since so many of our fellows are concerned with other parts of their signal path they may not care about the quality of response that a musician focusing here primarily, is seeking. Read through the Tele discussion page or TB. What strings, Ibanez Tube Screamer all the way to people playing samples of actual instruments. We have our choices to focus where.

    There doesn't have to be a disagreement. This only happens when people choose to tell others what they have permission to perceive. :) That's when the sharing ends. The best you can do is say "I" can't hear it. :) That's the only thing you know and can state with authority.
     
  15. A9X

    A9X

    Dec 27, 2003
    Australia
    Agreed. I typically use the example of McLaren making the most rigid CF stricture they could, vs softwoods or papier mache just strong enough to hold it on tune. Good old fashioned engineering thought experiment which works very well in practice in my experience.

    It is definitely repeatable, but you'd need a rig to be able to pluck consistently, measure the outputs, and do a null test between them. I've done a huge amount of audio testing over the years, and especially since codecs were being developed, a lot more had become known about human perception, thresholds etc. Echoic memory is also short so saying you heard something even a half hour ago, you can't test it to know even with the exact same audio file as source which will never happen with someone playing an instrument even blindfolded.

    That was me. I set a vintage P, burst and tort on fire then danced around it naked till it was ashes. Seems the butterfly effect is real. Sorry Paul.

    Almost everything I've ever seen about tonewood characteristics has been described almost identically to the way it is in an acoustic. In an AG it is a very thin piece resonating, not a solid or multi-laminated 3/4" slab. Makes no sense at all from an engineering perspective, and most of the tap-tests I've seen are irrelevant as that's not the way it is used in practice in an EB/EG. If it were you could pick up a piece of RSJ steel, tap it and have been able to predict the Tacoma Narrows Bridge failure.

    Anyone is free to believe what they choose on this subject, and I've stated my thoughts are my opinions and why. As for the OP, if he's happy with the sound, rock on.
     
    KaraQ and Joblivion like this.
  16. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music. Supporting Member

    With the way pickup manufacturers describe the sound of their pickups.
    Hard to do.
     
  17. Wow! Video pretty much says it all for me. I've always been a little skeptical of how much wood really plays a factor in instrument sound. Especially with electrical instruments. I guess I'll just leave my bass alone and play it as is lol!
     
  18. HaphAsSard

    HaphAsSard

    Dec 1, 2013
    Italia
    Agreed. He isn't by any means addressing tonewood arguments comprehensively. A nice video regardless, just not the be-all and end-all.
    I've read an awful, if anecdotal, lot about how the characteristics of (slabs of) wood allegedly absorb and/or emphasise partials of the vibrating string, indirectly influencing what gets picked up by the electronics.
    As for me, I haven't got the need, the ears nor the money to fall into the tonewood rabbit hole so, from the comfort of my armchair, I'm not convinced with the above scenario, and basically stand where you stand on the argument. But -I reiterate- very idly so.
     
  19. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru..........

    Apr 11, 2006
    Don't forget about the shape of the instrument as that contributes at least 90% to the visually perceived sound. ;)
     
  20. Changing to a different string type can make a massive sound difference so maybe some new strings - or like others have said ... just leave it if you like the sound.
     
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

     
    May 8, 2021

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