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Materialsfor a bass


nadu

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Why are there diffferent woods in basses? are some woods better than others? or more expensive?

i thought that a bass or electric guitar, being electric, dont have anything to do with acoustics!

Of course, i know that some kinds of wood look better on your bass, for example i like a rosewood fretboard and an ash body, but do materials used in basses go beyond looks?

Nadu, the intergalactic

funk-grand-master

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I worked for a bass builder for 10 years (starting some 23 years ago) and I dissagree with the notion that the wood a bass is made from doesn't have as much to do with the sound of the bass as electronics and the player.

 

I think the player and the wood are just about even followed by the type of strings used. Any electronics that control the sound more than these other 3 components is not right. Electronics and an amplifier are just supposed to AMPLIFY what the bass , the player, and the type of strings sound like.

 

Bob Lee

Tobias Basses 1983-1992

BassLand

www.BassLand.net

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Hi Bob, Thanks for the information. I hope you are right about the wood contributing to the sound. I have always assumed that the electronics were the most critical element for a good sound. I wonder why, only the really beautiful woods sound the best? Has anyone ever experimented with a slab of c/D plywood covered in tar? Just kidding. I love beautiful wood as much as anyone and if I could buy a high-end bass I would want fantastic wood on it. We know what a 2X4 can sound like with cheap electronics (not that bad). Maybe I am blessed with poor hearing from too many years of high Db's (Race cars, Guns & Guitars). It may have saved me a lot of money.

Seriously, thanks again for the info. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Rocky :wave:

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb, voting on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."

Benjamin Franklin

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Hi Rocky,

 

You are most welcome. One could have basses with varieties of woods that did not look attractive but what purpose would that serve? Of course, esthetics are important. But the bottom line is...

 

If I could get a bass that sounded wonderful but did not look as striking as the "next" bass, I would opt for the better sounding bass. If the 2 basses sounded the same but one looked better than the other then and only then would the way it looked become a contributing factor.

 

At Tobias I once tried to get Michael to make a bass out of the leftover wood from the neck blanks (a sort of cutting board bass) but he refused. That is about as close to a "plywood" bass as we came LOL.

 

PS Happy Turkey Day!

BassLand

www.BassLand.net

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I wonder what the finished product would have been if Michael had made the body out of the leftover wood. (Assuming he was using the same neck, hardware and electronics that go into Tobias basses, using the same craftmanship and detail that he normally employs.) I'd like to hear that bass compared to one using much more expensive wood for the body.

 

I know that one would look better. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a difference in sound. I'd just be surprised if that difference was remarkable.

 

But then again, what the hell do I know, I've never built a bass. ;)

Push the button Frank.
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The woods definitely do make a difference...it can be a very subtle difference though, depending on how good your ears are, and depending on your technique. For instance, my Zebrawood-bodied Tobias Killer B-5 is noticeably more articulate than my Stingray5 and my G&L L-2500 Tribute. And, from what I've read of reviews (taking a grain of salt, of course), the now discontinued Zebrawood bodies had the most bite sonically. That articulate-ness isn't all that noticeable for more legato bass lines...however, it becomes very noticeable quickly with staccato bass lines. Of course, it also has totally different electronics than the other two (all three are quite different actually), but it does have the same player. :cool:

 

And I agree with the other poster...this bass could have looked like an old, beat-up piece of furniture and I still would have bought it because of how it sounds and plays. Luckily, it has only some very minor and barely noticeable blemishes.

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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Just to reinforce this, I have tried Fender, Nordstrand and Q-tuners PUs on my Jazz and er ... only a geek bassist (like myself) would be able to tell them apart. Indeed the hollow sound I was getting from the neck PU, which I didn't like, was the same for each PU. This is a very strong indicator (ie same strings, same wood) that wood and construction of the bass are paramount.

 

Davo

"We will make you bob your head whether you want to or not". - David Sisk
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These are good questions. I'm not even remotely expert, but I'll have a go.

 

Originally posted by nadu:

Why are there different woods in basses?

There are many factors.

One is price: inexpensive basses for beginners usually are made of inexpensive types of wood. Other players are willing to pay more for more "premium" woods.

Another is appearance: there are lots of woods (& wood combinations) that look great in very different ways, & that's cool.

Another is sound: when the string vibrates, the whole instrument vibrates; different woods vibrate differently, & this has an effect on the sound, both in tone & in sustain.

And another is weight & density, which obviously determines how heavy the instrument is, as well as how it vibrates.

 

Different people will want an instrument with different mixes of these factors, & there are a lot of possible combinations.

 

Sometimes you see a lot of different woods in a single bass. This is about looks, and/or sound. It can also be about stability; some necks are built from several pieces of wood so that any fluctuation in one piece will tend to be canceled by the other pieces.

 

are some woods better than others? or more expensive?
Some woods don't (usually) make good-sounding instruments. (You see lots of oak furniture but not a lot of oak basses, e.g.) Some are just so hard to use that it's not feasible. Among those that do work well in instruments, "better" is in the ear of the behearer. :D

 

As I said above, some woods are definitely more expensive. Agathis & poplar, e.g., are very inexpensive. Ash tends to cost a bit more than alder. When you start getting into walnut & koa, stuff like that, price goes up again. And if you're into exotic figured maples etc., the prices can go very high indeed; you can go cut down another ash tree, but a curly maple flecked with birdseyes is something Mother Nature takes her own sweet time about.

 

Also, makers have to use more "select" pieces on instruments where the wood will be visible, so how the wood is finished can also impact the price of the wood.

 

Some makers cure their woods for a long time, to make them more stable; this means they're spending a lot on labor & storage, so that puts the price up. Plus some woods are more difficult to cut, shape, and/or finish than others, and the extra labor required again puts the price up.

 

It's all a matter of what people are willing to pay for.

 

i thought that a bass or electric guitar, being electric, dont have anything to do with acoustics!
There's definitely a difference between electric & acoustic instruments, & orchestral instruments are another thing altogether. But an electric bass makes sound with vibrating strings, & the vibrations of those strings determine the "raw" sound. That vibration is affected by the way the player moves them, what they're made of, the shape of their windings--and by how the instrument as a whole is vibrating along with the strings. That's where wood, as well as construction & finish, come in.

 

Pickups, circuitry, & amplification then all have their own impact on the raw sound, but the raw sound is all they have to work with. So it's pretty crucial, & that's a big reason why makers use the different woods they use.

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When comparing basses I always do so unplugged initially - the bass is first and foremost an acoustic instrument and if it doesn't sound good acoustically it will not sound good plugged in.

 

Here's some good info about this from Michael Tobias, guru of bass luthiery: http://www.mtdbass.com/articles/quest_for_tone.pdf

 

A note can be broken down into four phases - attack, decay, sustain, release. The attack consists of the initial percussive (finger on string noise etc) and the swell of the note as the string starts moving. The decay consists of the string's initial large vibration calming down and becoming the real meat of the note. The sustain is then the phase as you hold the note. The release is how the note ends when you lift the finger off the fret.

 

http://wiki.delphigl.com/images/4/41/Tutorial_SoftSynth_adsr-prinzip.png

 

The tone of any instrument depends not only on the balance of overtones in the initial sound but on how the balance of overtones varies over the duration of the note.

 

When you pluck the string for the tiniest fraction of a second all you hear is the string. But then everything else depends on the construction of the bass.

 

The attack phase is shaped by the fret-fretboard-neck-neckjoint-body-bridge system - if this is perfectly stiff (which is impossible) then all the overtones of the string will remain in the string and the decay of the sound will be entirely dependant on the string coupling with the air directly and transferring its energy. But because this system is never perfectly stiff, some overtones are absorbed by the wood, whilst others remain in the string (and so you hear them).

 

Basically the stiffer the neck system, the brighter and clearer the sound, the softer the system the duller and woolier the sound. Also the less stiff the system is, the more bottom you lose.

 

Once you get to the sustain phase the body becomes much more important in the sound, as energy moves in circles from string to bridge/fret-neck into the body and then back round to the string. The more resonant and lively the body, the more character the sound will have.

 

It's this combination of a stiff string support system and a resonant body that makes a great bass sound great, whether it be an early Fender with massive stiff maple neck and soft resonant alder body, or my Warwick with dense hard wenge thru-neck and fairly hard and dense yet lively cherry body wings.

 

Once you have a bass that sounds great acoustically you can then maximise that sound by choosing the right pickups for your needs, putting them in the right place, and wiring them to the right electronics. Then tweak the sound by finding the best strings for the instrument for your sound. And then match it to an amp that builds upon all of this.

 

Alex

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I think it would be very difficult to compare tones on instruments and say that one is better because of the wood. For example: You can have 8 or 10 acoustic guitars, same make, same model, made exactly identical. Even made within minuutes of each other. Usually there is one or two that stand out from the rest in tone. Why? I think it is the combination of all the sums of the parts, construction, etc. Comparing wood tone in basses could on be done in instruments that were exactly the same in every respect except the type of wood. To give credit to one bass over another saying that it sounds better because of the type of the wood when everything else on the bass is different is streching a bit.

Just my opinion.

Rocky

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb, voting on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."

Benjamin Franklin

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Just to expand on the wood thing, it's not merely about the species but it's about the individual pieces that are used.

 

Why are people willing to pay so much more for Sadowskys than near identical Fenders? Because Roger Sadowsky, a man with huge bass building experience and a true feel for the tonal properties of wood, goes through every piece of wood they use and specifies what it should be used for, be it neck, fretboard, body, top wood, or furnace.

 

This is one of my concerns regarding having a custom bass built by a newer luthier - I can see poor Robbie being persecuted by an obsessed bassist armed with a small mallet and some sharp ears...

 

Alex

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hmmm.... what alexander said about the attack, sutain and decay seems pretty interesting. I guess that different players want variations in the sustain, tone, decay etc. When trying basses i noticed that neckthrough constructed basses have a different sound. Its like if a bass with necktrough construccion were a acoustic guitar with a bigger body that produces strongersound.

 

Is there any advantage or disadvantage of having a necktroguh or bolt on construction?

Nadu, the intergalactic

funk-grand-master

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There is a difference between bolt-on necks & necks that go through the body. As a generalization, neckthrough tends to have more sustain & clarity than bolt-on. Vibration energy can be lost at the neck joint; that's why players are usually picky about how tight the neck pocket is. Bolt-on is a less expensive construction method. Neither is "better"; it's hard to imagine Chris Squire playing on a low-sustain instrument, or Duck Dunn on a high-sustain one!

 

But this generalization shouldn't be taken too far. A neckthrough instrument can still be muddy & have low sustain, if other things aren't right (I once played a Ric that, I was surprised to find, was a real dog in this department; maybe it was the setup?), & a bolt-on can have great sustain & clarity (think of all that stuffy Geddy Lee played on a Jazz which everyone assumed was a Ric). A lot of times, there may be no appreciable difference.

 

That said, I do love my neckthrough bass!

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Originally posted by BassLand:

I worked for a bass builder for 10 years (starting some 23 years ago) and I dissagree with the notion that the wood a bass is made from doesn't have as much to do with the sound of the bass as electronics and the player.

 

I think the player and the wood are just about even followed by the type of strings used. Any electronics that control the sound more than these other 3 components is not right. Electronics and an amplifier are just supposed to AMPLIFY what the bass , the player, and the type of strings sound like.

 

Bob Lee

Tobias Basses 1983-1992

I love you, man....

 

:)

Just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the utility of what is not.

- Lao-tzu

 

It's what I make - it's what I play

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www.warmouth.com has a section where you can order custom guitar/bass bodies. There is a section on the types of wood available and describes the up sides and down sides of the various woods. Even has a little idiot gage below the description that points to a linear graph with "warm" at one end and "bright" at the other.

 

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

 

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