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Woods/Components and how they affect the sound (Custom Bass!)

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by alexssandro, Jun 4, 2001.

  1. After browsing the DP Custom website and reading the related posts, I have a severe case of G.A.S. like I've never had before. I need to check into gasoholics anonymous. Wait a minute, that's what the Basses forum is!:D As usual, I am calling upon my fellow TBers to share their expertise.

    I am looking for a rather comprehensive breakdown of the various factors that affect the sound of a bass and how much weight each factor carries. Here are some factors/ questions to start a discussion. I know some of these have been discussed to quite some length, but I haven't seen a discussion on some, so here goes:

    1) Body size
    Aside from how it affects the look and feel, does it affect the sound?

    2) Woods used for the body
    How crucial is this for the sound?

    3) Neck/ fingerboard woods
    I've seen maple and rosewood being discussed, but what are other types of woods and how do they affect the sound?

    4) What determines how wobbly or tight the strings are?

    5) Does anything in particular affect how good the bass will be for slapping?

    6) Pickups
    I know there is a whole forum dedicated to this but....
    I know pickups are very important, but are they the single most crucial thing that affects the sound?

    I'm sure I missed so many important things to ask so feel free to include ANYTHING!

    Hopefully others can also benefit from the answers to these questions. Thanx. And hopefully trying to designing a custom bass will help alleviate some of my G.A.S. :)
  2. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

  3. Rickbass, thanks!
  4. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    alex - De nada. There is so much I left out and so many oversimplifications in that. But, you have to draw the line somewhere.

    For instance, on your question about strings being wobbly/tight, the simple answer is tuned to pitch is what you get. For a particular pitch there is only one tension for a string, given its mass and length. Or, on the woods, determining if any should be quartersawn or slabsawn, and is the wood pure heart wood for maximum burl or heart and sapling wood? It goes on and on.

    But, since we were looking at a bass from scratch, the components selected and the way they are adjusted/formed, (e.g., bridge and how slots are cut in the saddles), can make a perceptible difference, IMO.

    There are many other non-human factors that affect a bass's sound. One weak/inferior link in the components that produce what comes out of the amp, such as a crappy cable, can serioulsy detract from all the care that was put into a bass's design.

    A bass is organic, in the sense that, like our bodies, all kinds of systems and functions working/not working in harmony determine the final outcome. What may look perfect on paper, may be disappointing when it leaves the luthier's shop, while seemingly mismatched, salvaged parts together can produce a fine sounding "freak". Not likely, but it happens.

    If you get into this stuff at some point, like getting spec's together for Dave P., feel free to emai/private message me.
  5. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
  6. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    KONG - I forgot about that really fine article by Tobias.

    Brazilian rosewood, when it was legal in the US and not on the CITES list as endangered, was the holy grail of tone.

    However, I recently received some stuff from Luthiers Mercantile. Their most expensive wood is now African Blackwood, ($750 + s&h for an acoustic guitar back and sides). It is being touted as superior to Brazilian rosewood although it is harder to work with.

    The early Fenders used ash because it was a balance of tone suited to country/western music, workability, and its low cost, not optimal tone.

    Lignum vitae, the planet's hardest wood, might be good for a bright sounding fingerboard.......if you can find anyone willing to cut it.
  7. Balor


    Sep 24, 2000
    Montréal, Québec
    a good place to start for tone quality of different wood is Warmoth. They have a wide variety of wood, be it for the body or neck, with a relatively good description of their basic tone characteristic. Warrior instrument is an other place to check out wood combination and their potential sound, check the gallery bass description and some tonal quality, awesome site for sheer beauty of there woods and inlay.

  8. Balor


    Sep 24, 2000
    Montréal, Québec
    Anyone here as tried it's bass? or knows the man and it's product? I'm asking because I'd like him to build a bass for me.... don't want to be disappointed...
  9. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Do a TalkBass search. mcrracer (sp?) owns a couple and Luis Fabara has posted lots of pictures Dave sent to him of the progress on the one he is having built.

    They convinced me to go for one. Since then, Dave P. has been great in accomadating my very picky wood demands, but he is incredibly busy at present, so email response time isn't as fast as it used was when I first contacted him with my spec's.
  10. Adam Bartram

    Adam Bartram

    May 31, 2001
    London, UK
    I prefer an ebony fingerboard, as to type, macassar ebony seems harder and darker, and I think sounds more defined.

    I would always use maple for the neck, I've never had a bendy maple neck and it finishes beautifully.

    Other woods I've done fingerboards in are Wenge (very hard, aweful to work) scolar (really weird stuff, cut from a vinegar barrel and as hard as concrete), Ash (too soft), Oak (funny patchy colouring), Indian Rosewood (pretty good), Brazilian rosewood (Rio, very odl and I still have enough for another 3-4 necks!) and Walnut burr (difficult to keep stable but looks fantastic.

    Body words are much more complicated. It seems that the harder and denser the wood, the brighter the tone and longer sustain, but they get heavy. Again, a personal view, I like Brazilian Mahogany with Maple a second choice (but often too heavy). Ash and Alder are the standards

    Getting the size of the body can be difficult. If you go for a heavy wood to get the proportions right for looks, it may end up being too thin, difficult to mount the hardware, and it's not stiff enough. If you make it thick enough to be stiff, it may look wrong.

    I'm fasinated with a snakewood fingerboard! I don't think I've ever met anyone rich enough, it's astronomic in the UK (£140 for a fingerboard blank!)
  11. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Adam - I've got a custom ordered with snakewood as the first choice. I thought I was going to have to buy a Bartolini preamp with my Bart pickups, but I found out they already come with harnesses, so that was money I hadn't counted on. It looks like the nuts! Plus, it is reputed to be very hard and dense (albeit oily and the dust is said to be poisonous).

    I'm a little puzzled by the availability and pricing. Some places make it sound like kryptonite and other suppliers don't seem to treat it like a big deal, either in availability or cost, although it is high. From what I've read, the trees are small and larger stock just doesn't exist.

    I found a source that lucked into a purchase of some quilted cocobolo. My luthier inquired about getting some for my bass but the pricks at Alembic jumped in and bought the entire supply before anyone else could get in on it. :(
  12. Adam Bartram

    Adam Bartram

    May 31, 2001
    London, UK
    I've been told that by just about everyone in the uk about snakewood, it doesn't come in big bits.

    Cocobolo does look lovely, but again I've never seen in here other than as veneer, and I don't like veneering guitars.

    Has anyone considered a stripe laminated fingerboard? You could get quite fancy, say maple and ebony stripes, one per string? Or a checkerboard, each fret alternating in colour?
  13. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson SUSPENDED Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    There was a sweet Stambaugh single cutaway fretless 6 with a Snakewood board on eBay a few months back. Went cheap. I bailed on it and wish I hadn't.
  14. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    I have been tempted to get a "milli-laminate" neck. However, in the research I've done, some authoritative sources said that, while it looks great, the more glue joints you tack on, the more resonance you lose as opposed to less pieces of wood sending vibrations through larger pieces of wood. Warwick's bois melange bodies knock me out, visually.

    I have a bass with a 3-piece body sandwich and a 5-piece neck, and I didn't find the 5 different species of wood in multi-layers give me anything more in terms of sound than a bass with a few less. Consequently, the custom I ordered is only a 2 piece body with a 3-piece neck.

    You can get thick cocobolo from places like Cocobolo, Inc., An Exotic Hardwood, Righteous Woods, and Tropical Hardwoods. The stuff I have ordered will be at least 3/4" on the finished instrument.
  15. I rather LIKE rosewood (ducks and runs...). Warm and satisfying.
  16. Adam Bartram

    Adam Bartram

    May 31, 2001
    London, UK
    I thought lamininated necks were made for stability? Each piece should face the opposite way to it's neighbours? Mine do, and I've never had one go bendy.

    I take your point about too much glue though, the checkerboard fretboard maybe too much.
  17. gfab333


    Mar 22, 2000
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    On the topic of string tension or "wobblyness of strings"...

    I believe that the "angling back" of the headstock may cause a firmer string tension.

    Also height of action and "stringing through the body".

    I'm not sure about this one, but I also heard that the distance between the nut and the tuning key. For example, with regard to the B string, the distance is greater on a Lakland than say a Fender V string
  18. i don't know if all that serves as a guide to string tension.

    i have a very tight B, probably the tightest around

    it has a sucken bridge, with stringing from the the custom bridge plate, a very low action over all 5

    not much angle on the headstock 10-15 degrees

    but the key in my eye's and feel is a over scale 35"

    saying that, i've been told that i could do with a 37" over the top two, so it will change from person to person, just make sure the scales righ, a B's no godd if it's like playing spaggetti.
  19. MikeyD


    Sep 9, 2000
    Regarding "tightness" of the low strings, I have a strong suspicion that the stiffness of the neck and its connection to the body play a significant role. For example, if the neck is "in resonance" with the string at certain pitches, it will interact somehow. Maybe it will feel mushy. I don't have the test instruments to check out this theory, but you might consider it. My Fender Roscoe Beck 5 has a very rigid neck and bolt connection, and people say it has a "tight" B string for a 34" scale. In terms of rigidity, I can readily "shake" the neck of my 4-string Fender Precision or Jazz basses and get a bit of vibrato, but with the RB? Forget it!

    - Mike
  20. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    gfab - I know all those factors seem true, from a common sense point of view, especially headstock angle. I used to buy some of them. But the experts will tell you they don't affect tension.

    The distance from the point where the ball of the string is anchored to the termination point at the tuning gear and tuning to pitch is what you get in terms of tension.

    After that, about all you can do is fool around with string design. For instance, when Casady and Lesh used 30" scales, the only thing that made that scale work, according to Rick Turner, is the fact that they used Pyramid Gold strings, a very flexible string somewhat similar in construction to double bass strings. When the Pyramids became hard to get in the US, they gave up the short scale instruments.

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