Wood resonance in basses

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by DavidEdenAria, Dec 18, 2014.

  1. DavidEdenAria


    Dec 13, 2013
    On a Hill
    Myself, coming from the 6 string guitar world, the emphasis on guitars in general, is how the guitar "rang out" or "resonates" etc....even unplugged.

    However, after a year or so on the bass forums like Talk Bass, I find little discussion or emphasis on "resonance" or "how the bass rings out"....or maybe I am missing those threads.

    Way more discussion about overall build quality, pickups, combinations of different woods, scale length, the neck, how it balances, string types etc...all of these are very valid points too.

    Now maybe I have NOT played enough high end basses made with multiple woods and extremely high quality overall to appreciate them....but I have heard plenty on recordings.

    Of course how you "play the bass" is very important...picking, using 1 or 2 or 3 fingers and how the bass hangs and is set up is crucial for playability & comfort and we all differ a bit in this regard .

    I get all of that.

    I come from the school of "how well the neck and body work together is FIRST priority" in terms of "ringing out" but am I wrong here?

    Are there basses that sound seemingly "dead unplugged" but "sound stellar thru an amp"?

    Is it because the many types of active pickups, preamps and EQ adjustments, the "tone shaping" availability..... that overshadows how the bass actually "resonates" or "rings out"?

    Sure, a Fender P bass is a "plug and play" bass, but many basses tend to get quite a bit of tone shaping either on the bass or at the amp vs 6 string guitars.

    Anyhow, how many of you folks make "body & neck resonance" a first priority....and if not first, where does it lie in overall terms when evaluating a bass?
  2. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    I do.

    That and the ergonomics of a bass are top priority. I can swap out hardware and electronics all day.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2014
  3. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    By the way, this is not about "what it sounds like unplugged" so don't go there.

    It IS about the response under my fingers to playing input. How much or how little input it takes to evenly and cleanly, how the instrument sustains or rounds off the string vibrations, etc. It's about FEEL, not sound produced un-plugged.
  4. hasbeen

    hasbeen Commercial User

    Sep 23, 2004
    Vice President, KMC/JAM USA: Distributor of Ashdown amplification
    I test all basses unplugged first. If it resonates unplugged and I don't like the sound plugged in, I can always change the pups.

    I think there aren't many threads on it because it is a given. .....maybe.

    I sell/market gear to bassists and guitarists. IMHO, I think the bassists on this forum are more sophisticated and such topics than most guitarists I caome accross. Guitarists tend to be much more influenced by brand, artists and such.
    Kryptonite likes this.
  5. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    My own personal experience, based on no scientific data whatsoever, is that a bass that sounds good unplugged almost invariably sounds good plugged in as well. There are many who believe that wood choice has no impact on how an electric instrument sounds, but I don't buy it. Case in point:

    I built a full-size mahogany body for my old Steinberger XP-2 to replace the minimalist hard rock maple body. The neck, electronics, tuners, and strings are the same as on the old body, so the only variable is the new body wood. The bass now sounds completely different, more of a mellow, deeply resonant sound, where before it was very crisp and somewhat "sterile" sounding. A friend played the bass before and after, and made similar comments about the change in sound, so I know it's not just wish-fulfillment on my part. I firmly believe that wood choice has at least some effect, either positive or negative, on the sound. A tight neck joint or neck-through construction has a demonstrable effect on sustain. For the same reasons, you can pick up two mass-produced basses in GC with identical parts, finish, electronics, etc., and one clearly sounds better. I don't see how you can discount the wood as a sound variable in that instance.
    Nedmundo likes this.
  6. Mustang Surly

    Mustang Surly

    Jul 10, 2013
    In my limited experience, basses that are more resonant unplugged tend to have richer, more complex tone plugged in than ones that are less so.
    Nedmundo and Funkmabassup like this.
  7. DavidEdenAria


    Dec 13, 2013
    On a Hill
    Time and time again, in the 6 string guitar world, many famous guitarists have used all kinds of cheap guitars on famous recordings.

    I never see this with basses..... other than Bill Wyman and a handful of others, its always Fender P and J basses & then the move towards very sophisticated basses etc.

    I do agree ergonomics seem to be a priority for bassists and its easy to see why with their longer scale!
  8. Mustang Surly

    Mustang Surly

    Jul 10, 2013
    "Time and time again, in the 6 string guitar world, many famous guitarists have used all kinds of cheap guitars on famous recordings."

    J.J. Cale took took that notion to extremes:

    DavidEdenAria likes this.
  9. DavidEdenAria


    Dec 13, 2013
    On a Hill
    He sure did!

    Of course JJ Cale is more about songwriting style and lyrics imo.....not so much great guitar tone but certainly not bad guitar tone on any of his several albums I own.
  10. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    The timbre is in the timber, but it's a crapshoot.
    boson_briney and Doug Parent like this.

    ROOTSnFIFTHS Low-end Lover since '78!

    Oct 25, 2012
    NJ to Sin City
    Owned a bunch and actually the loudest acoustically and most resonant are my favorite sounding instruments.
    Not sure if I believe the science behind this resonance theory though. I have had a few that did not seem to resonant and were pretty silent acoustically and plugged in were amazing. So I'm on the fence here.

    3 of my are very resonant including a Squier from indonesia! I bought that bass for under $100 and it is one of the best sounding J out of many I have owned.
  12. OldDirtyBassist


    Mar 13, 2014
    Resonance is a science I don't quite understand, but I do know alder sounds best when the bass is unplugged. I think you're paying for looks pretty much when buying exotic hardwoods and all that.
  13. tjh


    Mar 22, 2006
    ... different world

    .. like aged flats, and then on occassion even stuff a hunk of foam in front of the bridge ...

    .. how long I can get a note to ring is a non-issue in my world, but I am always trying to develope better/more effective left and right hand muting techniques ...

    ... I can't say I ever owned/played a bass ($100 or $1000), that I wished had more 'sustain' on stage ... I have wished it was lighter, balanced better, neck was a bit different in some way, had different gauge/type of strings, etc (the usual 'stuff' OP sees regularly on TB) ... ;)

    JMHO's ...
    jim nolte likes this.
  14. DavidEdenAria


    Dec 13, 2013
    On a Hill
    Interesting you mention sustain....I don't know that sustain and resonance go hand in hand or are even related!

    Keith Richards once said he hated guitar's that sustained too much and lets be honest, in the 6 string guitar world, neck thru guitars are a rarity, though set necks common.

    I've played many cheap guitars that did not sustain well but were very resonant and woody sounding...probably Keith Richards type of guitar.
  15. BassDaddy77


    Feb 12, 2010
    NE Ohio
    I have couple basses that resonate very well unplugged, but are rather unremarkable in sound when plugged in. Not that they aren't good instruments, just that they don't have that "something special."

    By the same token, I have one particular J that seems to lack any reasonable amount of unplugged resonance. But plug in and turn up and it's the sweetest Jazz tone of any J bass I've ever owned.

    This may not be commonplace, but has been my experience nonetheless. YMMV
  16. tjh


    Mar 22, 2006
    ... they may, and/or they may not ...

    .. in terms of a solid 'fundamental' note, we generally like it to resonate well, that would be using the 'intensified/enriched' definition of resonance ... however, in terms of duration, resonant can also mean 'ability to continue to sound', which would be nearly synonymous with the 'to keep going/prolong' definition of sustain ..

    ... easy to confuse or even misinterpret the intent of each usage in our particular application ... but for the most part, I agree with your comment ... I definitely like a bass to resonate well upon striking the note, but as I mentioned earlier, for my purposes I could care less about its ability to sustain that note on its own for an extended period of time ... I often scratch my head when I read on here about people changing to a 'higher mass bridge', etc. to increase their sustain ... do they mean resonance? or do they actually want the note to ring for a longer period of time? ... the two words may very well be intended to imply the same thing, and to the next person be perceived as something completely different ...
    jim nolte and DavidEdenAria like this.
  17. BassDaddy77


    Feb 12, 2010
    NE Ohio
    I always understood it to mean that they wanted the notes to ring out longer - which is what I always thought of as "sustain."

    My experience with high mass bridges is a mixed bag. I feel that they offer a bit more sustain (see above) and enhance the brightness of tone somewhat. This comes with the added disadvantage, IMO, of increased sympathetic string vibration. I find myself having to dampen the unplayed strings more on basses with high mass bridges. Again, and as always, IMHO.
  18. DavidEdenAria


    Dec 13, 2013
    On a Hill
    Very good points.

    That's another thing....changing bridges to a 'higher mass type'....I wonder about that one, but there seems to be some disagreement about its effect.

    Compressors enhance sustain by 'limiting peaks and boosting lower volume signals' which is the opposite of dynamic (dynamic range expanders) which is 'expanding the difference between the quietest and loudest notes'.
  19. DigitalMan

    DigitalMan Bring Back Edit/Delete

    Nov 30, 2011
    Bay Area, CA
    To me like most others here it seems, sustain implies time and resonance implies fullness. And I very much can correlate the sounds of my basses from unplugged to plugged. While some signal processing is additive, in other words provides net new information to the signal path, most of the signal processing for bass IMO is multiplicative in the sense that it enhances only that which is already there.
  20. Chad T

    Chad T

    Feb 10, 2013
    From what I understand, resonance and sustain are inversely related. i.e. The more of one, the less of the other. An instrument with a lot of resonance is transferring a lot of the strings' energy to the wood. On the contrary, the less string energy transfers to the wood, the longer the strings will ring...giving more sustain.
    bassomane likes this.