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Woods and Finishes-Yet Another Semi-Poll


wraub

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Greetings again, bass lovers. Once more I venture into the fray in search of your collective wisdom and opinions. Recent threads on tone woods and custom basses got me to thinking...

 

Today's subject is woods and finishes, as noted, but specifically this:

 

1.How much of your perception of a bass is based on its appearance? (Is it "wow that bass is really pretty, I must have it" or "wow that pretty bass must be really expensive"?)

 

2.Do you automatically think "custom" or "high-end" when you see highly figured woods?

 

3.Would you buy a custom made bass if it didn't feature pretty woods?

 

4.All other things being equal (price aside), including the sound and tone (as equal as possible) would you automatically choose the highly figured bass over one, say, painted in your favorite color? Why, or why not?

 

I'll hit you with my reasoning in a bit, & I'll likely have more questions as well.

 

Thanks in advance.

 

Peace,

 

wraub

 

I'm a lot more like I am now than I was when I got here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wraub,

 

What do you do with all this knowledge you accumulate? :D

 

1.How much of your perception of a bass is based on its appearance? (Is it "wow that bass is really pretty, I must have it" or "wow that pretty bass must be really expensive"?)
A bass cannot be asthetically repulsive (to me, Bongo or Parker). Feel and quality of construction are more important to me. I'd say approximately 7.3% of my perception is appearance driven.

 

I think I've posted this before regarding my 4-string Warwick Streamer Pro-M. When I was shopping for this bass, I tried out one model with very nice flamed maple body and a beautiful amber finish. It felt and sounded great. I was ready to drop the coin on it. Then, for kicks, I tried the 'meh' red one with the miserable flame pattern on the rack. This was T-H-E bass. There was no doubt in my mind after I fondled this misunderstood beauty. It was M-I-N-E! :D

 

2.Do you automatically think "custom" or "high-end" when you see highly figured woods?
Not any longer. 10 years ago, yes.

 

3.Would you buy a custom made bass if it didn't feature pretty woods?
I have done so. I would do so again.

 

Caveat: I do not particularly like figured woods, but I do like to see some grain through a transparent or semi-transparent finish. That said, one builder that amazes me with his use of flamed tops is Michael Tobias. He seems to nail the finishing to make a bass look great with such tops.

 

4.All other things being equal (price aside), including the sound and tone (as equal as possible) would you automatically choose the highly figured bass over one, say, painted in your favorite color? Why, or why not?
Whoops, I think I just answered that question. :D
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1.How much of your perception of a bass is based on its appearance? (Is it "wow that bass is really pretty, I must have it" or "wow that pretty bass must be really expensive"?)
I'd say about 50% of my perception is based on appearance. Like getz76 said, I won't buy a bass that I find ugly. But in general when I see a pretty bass, I think "it must be expensive" before I think "it must play or sound great".

 

2.Do you automatically think "custom" or "high-end" when you see highly figured woods?
No. Carvin is the perfect example of a mid-level product that specializes in figured tops. Heck, even bargain products from Peavey and others have figured tops (thought the "top" might be a thin laminate or other faux finish).

 

3.Would you buy a custom made bass if it didn't feature pretty woods?
Sure, but what does pretty mean? I'd buy a custom ash or alder bodied instrument, for example.

 

4.All other things being equal (price aside), including the sound and tone (as equal as possible) would you automatically choose the highly figured bass over one, say, painted in your favorite color? Why, or why not?
No. If I buy a custom bass, it will most likely be a J-styled bass with a pickgaurd and metal jack plate in either a red painted finish or a 2-tone/3-tone burst finish over the ash or alder body. I just prefer the traditional look. If I bought a bass with exotic body woods, like a Warwick, I prefer a simple, clear satin or oil finish. I'm not a big fan of quilted or flamed maple tops, and I personally dislike burl and spalted tops. My current bass has an ash body with a bubinga top, but the bubinga top isn't particularly figured and it didn't play a big part in my decision to buy.
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Originally posted by wraub:

1.How much of your perception of a bass is based on its appearance? (Is it "wow that bass is really pretty, I must have it" or "wow that pretty bass must be really expensive"?)

Wow that looks very nice but maybe a bit too like ornate furniture for me.

 

Originally posted by wraub:

2.Do you automatically think "custom" or "high-end" when you see highly figured woods?

Hmmm... It seems like everyone's doing highly figured wood nowadays. I'd rather see something more subtle.

 

Originally posted by wraub:

3.Would you buy a custom made bass if it didn't feature pretty woods?

Yes. But I'd rather it have an unpainted, preferably unstained and ideally unvarnished (oil/wax) finish over pretty but subtle wood.

 

Originally posted by wraub:

4.All other things being equal (price aside), including the sound and tone (as equal as possible) would you automatically choose the highly figured bass over one, say, painted in your favorite color? Why, or why not?

I feel like I'm repeating myself... I'd rather have figured wood than painted (I still haven't decided on a solid colour I like and I'm not keen on bursts either) but I'd prefer plain wood (like my old Warwick Streamer). If there is a separate top wood, use it for tonal reasons (and make it thick enough to make a sonic difference) not just as a 'pretty' veneer.

 

Alex

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1. I probably won't buy a bass that I think is ugly. However, I would buy a bass that has only minimal aesthetic appeal to me if it feels right and sounds great.

 

2. Highly figured woods do not make me think "custom" or "high end" -- at least not automatically.

 

3. Yes, I would buy a custom that didn't feature highly figured woods.

 

4. I'm not sure. I don't like highly figured woods. I like the look of wood, but I like subtle figuring best. Put crudely, I like something about half-way between the lack of figure in the wood in my deck and the overly figured wood of a fancy coffee table. :D

 

For example, I often find the natural grain of clear finished, ash F Basses appealing, even though I don't always like their colored basses. I also think that there are some Wal basses that have very tasteful tops on them. For example, PJR\'s Wal w/ black walnut top is maybe just slightly more figured than my ideal, but certainly not an over-the-top burl, spalt, etc., and not as extreme as some claro walnut tops I've seen. (By the way, PJR, if that bass goes missing, you should probably check my house first. ;):D ).

 

Peace.

--s-uu

spreadluv

 

Fanboy? Why, yes! Nordstrand Pickups and Guitars.

Messiaen knew how to parlay the funk.

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I was just thinking about this recently. Back when I started playing in bands as a keyboard player (Early 80's), I couldn't stand any sort of wood finish on guitars or basses...it was, to my narrow high school mind, a leftover from the 70's, especially any that had multiple laminates down the middle of the bass...too grateful dead for me.

 

So 20 years go by (!) and I'm looking at these boutique websites (you bastards ;) ) with basses that show highly figured woods that still manage to look futuristic or at least contemporary. Something about these ultra-expensive finishes, though, turns me off. Still trying to figure it out, although I wouldn't mind Adrian's beauty.

 

When I see a highly figured top on a bass, I immediately wonder how much of a premium it added to the bass. I've learned that some of my favorite wood finish basses in terms of aesthetics (Schecter, for instance) would have benefitted from a bit more attention to fit over finish.

 

What I don't understand is the high price of true Custom Shop Fenders. I saw a CS P-Bass that I honestly could not differentiate from an American Standard - and I had them both next to each other - going for over $5000.00. In fact, they were so similar, the salesperson at GC first put the wrong one back in the high-end room.

 

I guess being a novice at bass, I have difficulty discerning the subtle differences in quality once you reach a certain level of craftsmanship...and at that point, one can only rely on looks as a qualitative determiner. I had the privilege to play a bunch of Warwicks at my neighborhood GC, and I thought they were awesome, but I would never buy one of the non-painted models. It's just not me. So I guess looks factor a bit in my limited judgment of an instrument. I think it comes from being a synth guy, where there are few if any aesthetic choices one can make. Have you seen[/] a reliable keyboard stand lately? Yuck!

 

Sorry for the rant. The short answer for me is: I wish I had everything in my life made of graphite. There. I said it. And if it has to be wood...ebony only. Oh, why couldn't there be a Status Squier? :D

"For instance" is not proof.

 

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Thanks to all who have responded. As promised, an explanation as to my intent.

 

Another poster on this forum and I have been designing a bass or two, with the aim of going public. To this end, I have been periodically asking the LDers for input, in the hopes of producing a better bass.

Partly motivated by aesthetic decisions to be made, partly by the need for a realistic price point (which has been a motivating factor all along) I have been pondering the "need" for a figured top at all.

In most designs, the top wood has little or no beneficial affect on tone, as it is usually too thin to do much work. However, some studies suggest that the laminating of a top to a body wood can have either a "choking" affect on the tone of the body wood, or, conversely, can magnify both the more and less desirable aspects of the body wood's tone. Science is fun!

Anyway... I have felt for some time that the whole trend towards outrageous woods might be getting a little out of hand, and some of you have echoed this as well.

The "hippie sandwich" basses of the 70's/early 80's gave way to neon colors and wild airbrushed and graphic design work of the 80's/90's, and then the pendulum swings back to today's highly figured beauties.

This, plus the fact that the instruments that are considered to have "the best tone" are usually Strads and Amatis, or old Martins and the like, instruments made from woods like spruce (which has little apparent figure), and figured tops seem slightly silly sometimes, y' know?

I guess I am just trying to spot the next pendulum swing.

 

Thanks again to all of you.

 

Peace,

 

wraub

 

I'm a lot more like I am now than I was when I got here.

 

 

 

 

 

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1)Well my first impression is usually based on looks if i see it in a store. If i see another person playing it live and it sounds good, then that comes into play also.

 

2)usually yes.

 

3)If i like it, yes i would.

 

4)I am a fan of high end looking wood finishes, so i would go with one of those.

We distort. You abide.
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1.How much of your perception of a bass is based on its appearance? (Is it "wow that bass is really pretty, I must have it" or "wow that pretty bass must be really expensive"?)

 

Not much. Several of my axes are "ugly". Tone and playability are generally my priorities in picking an instrument. That is not to say a bass with gorgeous, highly figured woods isn't going to catch my eye, but it doesn't rate high on my list of priorities for choosing a new purchase.

 

2.Do you automatically think "custom" or "high-end" when you see highly figured woods?

 

Maybe 15-20 years ago, but not these days. As was stated earlier, there are several low-mid to high-mid priced manufacturers who make instruments with some pretty nice looking woods, and a lot of lower end stuff with rich looking caps and laminates that at first glance seem to be exotic looking.

 

3.Would you buy a custom made bass if it didn't feature pretty woods?

 

Been there, done that. I'd do it again, too. :D

 

4.All other things being equal (price aside), including the sound and tone (as equal as possible) would you automatically choose the highly figured bass over one, say, painted in your favorite color? Why, or why not?

 

If all other things were equal, including playability, tone and aesthetics.....honestly it would probably depend on my mood.

Later..................
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1.How much of your perception of a bass is based on its appearance? (Is it "wow that bass is really pretty, I must have it" or "wow that pretty bass must be really expensive"?)

 

Looks count. I turned down a good price on a green MTD because I don't usually like green (sorry Taz). Most other colors (or natural) are OK by me, and I suspect I'm more tolerant of shapes. My thing is that I'd rather a smaller than larger body.

 

2.Do you automatically think "custom" or "high-end" when you see highly figured woods?

 

Like Getz said - not any longer. And there are fairly "ordinary" woods used on Lulls, Sadowskys, and Laklands at times. Still great basses.

 

3.Would you buy a custom made bass if it didn't feature pretty woods?

 

I like lots of types of wood. I'm too cheap to pay for them. That's why my Kinal is alder without a fancy top. I could have gotten a very nice top for another $300 - just not worth it.

 

4.All other things being equal (price aside), including the sound and tone (as equal as possible) would you automatically choose the highly figured bass over one, say, painted in your favorite color? Why, or why not?

 

I would want both - my favorite color ("Gibson" red) and figured/fancy wood (price no object). I like a bass to be on the darker side (no white thanks). But the figured tops are quite nice, and I like the intricacy of them. When stained well, they look fantastic (Adrian's Nordstrand being a recently shown example). I also agree that MTD does a nice job with their tops (though they certainly not alone).

 

Good luck spotting the next trend. MTD/Smith inspired basses? Fender-style basses (pick guards, minimal fancy wood)? Do you see what I see? Ibanez and Schecter with real and photo-flame tops for under $600, "boutique" makers offering Fender-style instruments from foreign manufacturers in the 600-2000 range. Makes me think there is no "next trend"....

 

Tom

www.stoneflyrocks.com

Acoustic Color

 

Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground. - Theodore Roosevelt

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Several thoughts come to mind, Wraub.

 

Opaque finishes came back into fashion in the mid to late 1980's as quality wood supplies diminished. That plus the availability of neon finishes that complimented other pop culture design cues of the time.

 

As people began to associate high end instruments with beautiful flamed or spalted maple tops, everyone and their wholly owned subsidiary that makes cheaper instruments began putting figured tops on anything they could.

 

I think most musicians realize that modern instruments with flamed tops aren't necessarily great instruments. Hell, some of them don't actually possess a real flamed top. Rather, they use a photo-flame covered in clearcoat.

 

If you have good reason to put figured wood on your instruments, do it. But if you're simply trying to catch the public's eye, make one or two and offer it as an option. That way you can decide just how many to manufacture with "pretty" tops. Bear in mind, to create a really high end look, several luthiers have tricks that darken the dark areas for a 3 dimensional looking flame. See Baker, McInturff, and Ed Roman's Quicksilver flame tops.

It's easiest to find me on Facebook. Neil Bergman

 

Soundclick

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Now, something a little "out-of-the-box": what I really think is a totally phat look if done well is figured wood pickguards. Conklin does 'em, and there are some folks who make 'em.

 

Something lighter like figured maple, some myrtlewood, or olive ash would look nice on a medium to dark wood body -- or even a stained wood body (e.g., stained ash). Something medium to dark colored like walnut, thuya burl, koa, or even ebony on a lighter colored wood body.

 

You could even do colored dyes on figured maple pickguards to go over stained bodies (for example on a translucent white ash body).

 

Of course, going this route would be more about aesthetics and not about tone. However, depending on how you go about it (even if you offer it as an option), it might distinguish your basses from others in the market. (Think: MM egg-shape 'guard -- whether you like it or not, it is distinctive.)

 

Here are some links to examples from Conklin:

Example 1 (I like the \'guard, not the body so much though)

Example 2 (I like the contrast, but not the \'guard shape)

Example 3 (pretty nice -- the Rocco Prestia model)

 

Peace.

--s-uu

spreadluv

 

Fanboy? Why, yes! Nordstrand Pickups and Guitars.

Messiaen knew how to parlay the funk.

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1.How much of your perception of a bass is based on its appearance? (Is it "wow that bass is really pretty, I must have it" or "wow that pretty bass must be really expensive"?)

 

A little bit. It has to catch my eye to be played. But then again, I take a look at the brand and model as well. I like basses that look natural. I think the Warwick thumb is a good example. As one of my friends said, "It looks like they just cut it down." I like them THAT natural.

 

2.Do you automatically think "custom" or "high-end" when you see highly figured woods?

 

No, not really.

 

3.Would you buy a custom made bass if it didn't feature pretty woods?

 

It has to be pretty, but I wouldn't say no to a bass simply for that. But if I assume all things equal, then yes, if I am going to pay a ton of money, it's going to look how I want it to look! :thu:

 

4.All other things being equal (price aside), including the sound and tone (as equal as possible) would you automatically choose the highly figured bass over one, say, painted in your favorite color? Why, or why not?

 

I would choose the figured. As much as I like a little color, it is not the favorite. That's just the personal preference.

www.geocities.com/nk_bass/enter.html

 

Still working on it...

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Looks are more than most want to admit when it comes to what draws one to a bass. I for one, really don't care for the look of a horn that sticks out there, I really could'nt tell ya why, its just something that sticks in my craw. I dig the looks of Rics, traditional Fenders and the Stingray/OLP's. Something new that has caught my eye is the new "Bongo", I dunno what it is but, dammmmn that thing is cool. I've also read alot lately about what the differant woods do for tone and whereas I don't have a proffesional opinion about what does what, it kinda makes sense that darker and denser woods bring about a deeper tone. Quality is the number one thing to keep in mind though, stay away from obvious mixed wood/plywood/heavily glued construction.
Donnie Peterson
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My continuing thanks to all who have posted thus far.

 

Alex- I agree that seemingly everyone and his uncle makes figured tops, to the point of excess, and IMO the photoflame stuff just makes it worse.

And that Hoyt is indeed sweet, I like how the laminations give it the appearance of body binding. It's an old Alembic trick, but it is good to see it well done. I've been a Hoyt fan for a while.

 

Fantastic and redneck- I appreciate your observations. Actually, I am of the opinion that the more figured woods would be an upgrade, but I am also wondering about the place for "plainer" basses in the line, both from a marketing feasibility point and from a construction/budgeting point.

 

To me, A bass with all the appointments, hand work, and detailing still speaks as "custom" even if it's neon fuchsia. I would rather pay for the sound, the parts, and the quality before I'd drop a dime on a bass for its looks. I have a nice coffee table.

But me as a consumer differs some from me as a designer, or from any one else as either, so I turn to all of you.

It never fails to amaze me how similar tastes can be while differing madly. Two people can both love Ken Smiths, for example, but one loves the Bongo and one detests it. Go figure.

 

Sweets-As much as I am normally opposed to pickguards, you have planted an idea or two that I like. Thanks a lot!

 

And my thanks again to all of you.

Anyone else?

 

Peace,

 

wraub

 

I'm a lot more like I am now than I was when I got here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wraub - I know I said I like red, and don't care about figured tops. One of the other approaches that I do like is stripes. Stripes as in zebrawood type looks. Stripes as in laminates. Lots of builders do them from Jack Read to Conklin (I like their purpleheart neck stringers).

 

This is a sample from ReadCustom:

http://www.readcustom.com/bass6.jpg

 

Tom

www.stoneflyrocks.com

Acoustic Color

 

Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground. - Theodore Roosevelt

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I have mentioned in your other thread my deep and abiding love for beautiful woods and elegant inlay work. I attribute this to being a woodworker and perhaps to the fact that in my youth these things were the hallmarks of Alembic which, at the time, represented the angelic glory of ultimate bassdom.

 

Looking at my basses I realize that only 2 of them are natural finish. My Yamaha has a clear semi-gloss finish over its alder body; the grain is straight and simple. The bass I built in high school (a kind of Alembic Model 1 look-alike, hmmmm wonder why?) is walnut and maple hippie sandwich. There is some character to the grain.

 

Having said all this I must point out that I really like color finishes, both solid and translucent. I have a particular fondness for Surf Green and Sonic Blue for some reason that I cant identify. But in general I love the vintage Fender palette of colors.

 

Now as to your specific questions,

 

1.) How much of your perception of a bass is based on its appearance? (Is it "wow that bass is really pretty, I must have it" or "wow that pretty bass must be really expensive"? - I hate to seem cliché but, basses are like women in that if there isnt an initial attraction I will not usually investigate any further.

 

2.) Do you automatically think "custom" or "high-end" when you see highly figured woods? Not any more.

 

3.) Would you buy a custom made bass if it didn't feature pretty woods? - Absolutely! If I am going to commission a custom instrument then tone and playability are the first considerations. In fact I am considering a future custom project and it will most likely feature a solid color finish.

 

4.) All other things being equal (price aside), including the sound and tone (as equal as possible) would you automatically choose the highly figured bass over one, say, painted in your favorite color? No - Why, or why not? Because I like both.

 

If I could have any impact upon your design decisions it would be this,

 

Please, make all your instruments and options available Left-handed. Please offer them at the same price. I know from experience that it is no more difficult for the custom builder to make a solidbody instrument left-handed as it is right-handed and we lefties are tired of being treated as second-class citizens.

 

Hope this helps your research

 

Cheers

Nothing is as it seems but everything is exactly what it is - B. Banzai

 

Life is what happens while you are busy playing in bands.

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