Wood Quality

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Warpeg, Jun 27, 2013.

  1. Warpeg

    Warpeg Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2005
    Okay, this may be opening a big can of worms or maybe not. I've been reading the TB forums for years and hearing posters explain that bass X is better than bass Y because the quality of wood in bass X is better than the quality of wood in bass Y. That's fine and dandy, but what exactly are the defining characteristics of good wood, bad wood and wood qualities in between?

    For example, I have read that one of the main differences between the EBMM basses and SBMM basses is the quality of the wood. I've examined and played many of each; I struggle to find the wood quality differences. Discuss....
  2. justification of higher price tags.
  3. Dave W

    Dave W Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2007
    White Plains
    Weight, grain patterns, & rarity.
  4. Number of piece glued
    tether to make the body, the number of irregularities in the wood (knots, irregular grain, etc)
  5. Warpeg

    Warpeg Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2005
    So then, by these measures, is it possible that there are tons of so-called "inferior" instruments having as good or better wood qualities to "superior" instruments"? Not being sarcastic; I'm genuinely interested.
  6. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
  7. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Not likely. Most of the instruments I know of that are in the high-quality bracket are made of wood that was acquired many years ago. This quality is not available today and if it were it would be horrendously expensive. The only makers that have such wood are high-end builders - they collected the wood long ago - and it's running out. Expect high-end basses to get more expensive with each passing year.
  8. Warpeg

    Warpeg Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2005
    Fair enough. However, what specific qualities make this older wood better than today's stock?
  9. Needenaneden


    Feb 22, 2011
    I've owned and operated a woodworking shop for almost 20 years now and still find it quite possible to buy quality wood at a good price. Plywood on the the other hand seems to be getting a little worse every few years.
  10. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    True in part. Some "inferior" instruments are made of quality wood. SX made from 3 pieces of Ash or Alder but not selected so there is luck involved in finding a "superior" one. And of course workmanship and other parts may not be "superior". The love for SX revolves around this fact and that some Mods can create a "superior" bass if you get lucky.

    Some "inferior" instruments (like my Squire PJ) use less than quality woods. For example mine is Agathis. It's softer and you can feel the slight difference the wood makes. But tone wood effects are minor so it's not a big deal though real.

    Some "inferior" instruments (like my MIM Fender Jazz) use good wood but in smaller pieces glued together (like 12 pieces of Alder). I don't know if this has an effect on tone or not (seems fine to me) but the larger wood pieces clearly give you the warm fuzzies better. My MIM Fender is covered with Alder veneer so it looks like a one piece bass!

    Some "Superior" instruments use "inferior" wood Like a Bongo bass which uses light and soft basswood. These woods (including force-fed maple) tend to be soft and roll off highs. Most cheap basses don't bother to compensate. This makes a rather "inferior" bass. The Bongo on the other hand has a design specifically designed to match the Basswood and is in every way a "superior" bass (except perhaps for dent resistance made up of course by MUCH lighter weight).

    But all these effects are pretty minor but certainly can be sensed by the player-owner, though I doubt a double blind sound test would reveal anything.
  11. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    The first obvious thing is the weight. Though it has been debated whether a heavy bass sounds better than a light one, for those who prefer a light swamp ash bass, it is getting harder to find good lightweight ones. One of the reasons that Roger Sadowsky started to produce chambered basses was that he found it difficult to obtain light weight swamp ash. So he reduces the weight by chambering heavier wood.

    The second is that many prefer a one-piece body, especially for a natural-finished instrument. Once again, it is harder to find board widths of the wood that will provide a nice aesthetic.

    Then there's CITES, the convention for international trade in endangered species. You can't ship Brazilian Rosewood across international borders - it will be confiscated. And there are few that will argue that Brazilian Rosewood is amongst the finest of the rosewood family. There are many other fine species that are subject to these restrictions. So even if a maker of inferior instruments had fine woods restricted by CITES, you probably couldn't get an instrument made from it.

    What makes these woods superior for fine instruments? Sonic quality, aesthetics, weight, workability, finishing characteristics, etc.
  12. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    Funny how many guys will drop 2000 on a multi piece neck through instrument and not worry about all that glue defeating resonance yet talk about a five piece bolt on ash or alder body and they start calling "cheap". What a crock.

    I could care less about the body wood species or construction of it. I only worry that there is a good supply of rock maple for making awesome necks. Just like the awesome necks on my three cheap Asian basses.
  13. spufman


    Feb 7, 2005
    Central CT
    Species, long-term controlled drying/storage and tap-testing for tone I do believe make a difference in the timbre of a carefully crafted instrument. But in broad terms I'm with 96bird - gotta have a killer chunk of neck, I think that's where most of the sweetness comes from, be it wood or composite.
  14. WoodyG3


    May 6, 2003
    Colorado, USA
    On one hand, I laugh at the notion that only exotic, rare woods that are quite expensive are considered worthy tone woods by some people. Alder is a pretty common wood (just ask people who live in the NW United States) yet many consider it the perfect wood for bass bodies.

    On the other hand, anyone who has worked with wood knows that the quality of the lumber determines, in very large part, the quality of the finished product. Use of wood that has not been dried properly, or that has certain imperfections will give poor results. To me, this is most important in the manufacture of the neck of a stringed instrument, and the neck is what I most closely scrutinize when looking at a bass I might be thinking of buying.