#1
Torn between my ban from the other forum on bass for pointing out the tone qualities of wood, and a recent line from Spaz 91, who I have found to be a quite experienced and respectable commentor, I post this offering on the named subject matter.

One of the most entertaining and succinct comments on the effect of wood on the tone majorly generated by Strings and Pickup selection, is this comment by Master Luthier and Designer Ken Smith [http://www.smithbassforums.com/showthread.php?t=2243&highlight=tone+wood]:

"The Top, neck and fingerboard. The parts closest to your hands, strings and pickups. [Influence the tone of the instrument] The pickups reproduce the sound given to them from the strings that come from the wood. Something like that. I think! .. lol"

Mr. Smith's observation lays the greater influence of wood to the tone of the instrument to be only the wood closest to the functioning parts of the instrument.

What is different from the Bass Guitar and its vanguard design attribute over its parent the Electric Guitar, is the ubiquitous use of active electronics since the Sting Ray and creations of Alembic. The use of power of 9-18v preamps has well magnified the vibration of the string to the point that more of us can sense more of the nuances of the harmonics and overtones of any such instrument.

Nevertheless, even for the world of parent guitarists, there is much accumulated knowledge and opinion on the tone of woods. One of these is here [http://www.guitarplayer.com/miscellaneous/1139/all-about-tonewoods/14591] by writer Dave Hunter. It is a nice exposition.

There are other Luthiers carrying an opinion about the tonal qualities of woods, such a David King [http://www.kingbass.com/woodphoto.html] who I have had the privilege of speaking with at length.

It would strain credulity for me to question the perception of men of great experience such as Misters King and Smith, Mr. Smith being a Major name of influence on the modern Bass Guitar, and Mr. King who may merely appear as a footnote despite his elegant work, but I am still an individual with my own perceptions and opinions on the subject.

This is important because each of you must resist the status quo of any group think marked to you.

Learn what you can, and then garner your own experience. You must be free for your own observations and experiences to formulate your viewpoint on the many elements that come into play in our making music.

In closing of this is my condition of not being a groupthink automaton on the subject:

Despite my great respect for the life's work of Ken Smith, his use of Walnut, the massive use of Walnut in Warwick Basses, and that MV Pedual Thunderfunk made mostly of Walnut that Guitar Center wanted $3500 for and I offered $300, I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would use Walnut as a majority wood in a Bass, or as a core of one.

At the same time I found the Walnut Stringers on the Ibanez BTB400 series basses I work with, to be more stable than the Bubinga on the 1006, from 2800 ft to Sea Level, from Miami, to South Texas, Chicago, and LA.

Otherwise, I really have as much affinity for Walnut as Escargo.

Any idea that we are all made the same is a lie. We are made similar, for similar functions and experiences, but we are far from the same.

So, do some reading from the people who are doing and the people with experience, then go out and try all sorts of instruments with different woods, and come to your own realizations.

This world was made to be open to your own interpretations.

Hey! Didn't Music have something to do with that individual interpretation thingy,... once upon a time?
Ibanez BTB 1006 Fretless and 405 (no Barts)
456 & 455(w/Barts)
Genz Benz NeoX400 112T & NeoX 112T cab.
Digitech BP-8 (x2)
Yamaha PB-1
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#2
Can you please paragraph your sentences properly. Its making my eyes hurt.
Quote by Axelfox
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#3
The pickups cannot "pick up" anything other than the vibrations of the steel strings, so this is the thinking behind the idea that the "tone woods" don't really add anything. Since the bridge and tuners are bolted to the wood, the density of the wood (and the degree to which the tuners and bridge are properly affixed to the wood) is about the only thing that can influence their vibrations. The denser the woods; the less resistant to dispersing and/or dampening those vibrations they are. Do they affect the vibrations to the degree that we can discern the differences in amplified sound? That is the sixty-four thousand-dollar question.

I suspect that walnut is so commonly used by bass builders because (a.) it is cheaper than a lot of other "tone woods," (b.) it is easier to find a nicely figured chunk of the stuff, (c.) it is usually pretty dense; thereby facilitating more string vibration for the heavier (and less tense) bass strings, and (d.) it is not as hard on bandsaw blades and sanding belts as are some of the other "tone woods."
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#4
^

Yup.

The concept that woods make an amplified electric guitar sound better are actually a relatively recent idea too. All the famous instruments that everyone considers the holy grail of tone were made from the materials they were because those materials were cheap and readily available. Not because they actually sounded good when amplified.
Quote by Axelfox
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#5
The makeup of an object affects how it resonates and vibrates etc, yes; the amount this affects the vibration of metal strings in relation to magnetic waves is near negligible. I'd say the hierarchy is this: player > strings > bridge design > pickup placement > pickup design > neck joint > frets > fingerboard > body wood.

That said, the weight and design of the bass will affect how the player plays it and of course people who are into tone woods are likely to hear differences in the same way that conspiracy theorists see UFO (no offense meant to either). Personally, I'm more likely to play more aggressively on a heavier bass onstage or in rehearsals whereas a lighter or more delicate feeling instrument always feels a bit dainty so I hold back a bit.

TBH, people wanting to hear things from tonewoods is no problem at all (ignore my sig in this case). If you get more out of your instrument as a result then colour me green. Just so long as you're not hunting down endangered trees in the tropics when a goo EQ pedal would do.
Wood doesn't affect tone. Grow up.
Last edited by Spaz91 at Oct 10, 2016,
#6
Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
^

Yup.

The concept that woods make an amplified electric guitar sound better are actually a relatively recent idea too. All the famous instruments that everyone considers the holy grail of tone were made from the materials they were because those materials were cheap and readily available. Not because they actually sounded good when amplified.


i thought the les paul was deliberately designed with the maple top to add brightness?

you're right when it comes to fender, though. though of course that doesn't necessarily mean that they don't affect it, either.

also dave hunter's kind of a coot. in one of his books i have about guitar rigs, he pretty much ignores modern (!) high gain rigs, even his "metal" or hard rock rig is a The Who rig from like the early 70s FFS. And he says non-master volume amps sound better than Soldanos IIRC. Not cool.
Quote by crownegamers
I saw in a couple of pictures that on Bucketheads Les Paul (only some pictures) that his neck pickup is painted in white. Can anyone explain to me why he would do this, and if there are any pros and cons.

Quote by dspellman
The guy wears a KFC Bucket and a white mask during performances, and you're interested in the color of his pickup covers?

#7
Quote by Dave_Mc
i thought the les paul was deliberately designed with the maple top to add brightness?

It was the perception of that time that maple was considered a superior tonewood for acoustic guitars, so in part, you're right.

But the mahogany back and neck developed partly due to weight, but also because it was cheaper for Gibson to make the guitar that way. Same reason they used rosewood fretboards instead of ebony on LP Standards.
Quote by Axelfox
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#8
kabadi.man - if you properly applied Mr. Smith's analysis, the Ebony board and Walnut Top would be the factors that would make your tone mellow to you and quite dark to me.

I thought I would enjoy and ebony fingerboard, coming from the DBV, but I really do not.
I learned that an all Maple instrument with a Maple Fingerboard is way too bright for my liking, but easier to see.

Judging same pups and electronics, and Fingerboard from the 1006 to the 405, the difference being 405 has the Basswood Bodywood, and the 1006 has a Mahogany Core sandwiched by Maple. to me the Mahogany is really deep, and works for Blues and not so modern pieces.
Yet the 1006 has Bubinga Stringers and the 405 Walnut.

Otherwise, I really have no joy in doing anything else with the 1006.

Certainly the original reasoning for using specific woods was production costs, and over time we have learned benefits and consequences.

Thanks for keeping it civil gang!
Ibanez BTB 1006 Fretless and 405 (no Barts)
456 & 455(w/Barts)
Genz Benz NeoX400 112T & NeoX 112T cab.
Digitech BP-8 (x2)
Yamaha PB-1
Boss: SYB-5, PS-2, OD-20, EQ-20, PH-3,BF-3, CE-20, DD-20
Morely A/B
#9
I'm sure the answer yes/no to the question about tone woods affecting amplified sound can be scientifically proven (or disproven) - if it has not already been. My thoughts:

We know for sure that it all starts with string vibration. We know that every bass player strikes the strings differently and therefore each person has a different amplified tone; we know string material/alloy affects tone; we know string gauge affects tone; we know bridge and nut material affects tone - proving that anything which affects string vibration can affect amplified tone. String vibration produces resonance in the wood.

"In physics, resonance is a phenomenon in which a vibrating system or external force drives another system to oscillate with greater amplitude at a specific preferential frequency.".

The wood vibrates in response to the strings and in turn, the resonance of the wood affects the vibration of the strings. Ergo, wood type can affect string vibration and amplified tone.
Last edited by smtp4me at Oct 11, 2016,
#10
^
In theory you're correct but in practice I don't think the effect is significant under realistic conditions.

I think the differences in density between the hardwoods we typically see in guitars are not consistently different enough from one species to another. Remember that woods vary in density within the same species, to the point that they can incidentally share the same level of density to other hardwoods. It's possible across an instrument that has an alder body, that has the density of an ash body. So you'd never be able to tell the tonal difference in a million ears.

If you compared a guitar body that was made from cast iron and another one that was made from sponge, then you'd have an argument. But I think the woods we typically see are just too similar in density and are too inconsistent between one cut to another of the same species to label one hardwood having a certain tonal quality over another.
Quote by Axelfox
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Last edited by T00DEEPBLUE at Oct 11, 2016,
#11
Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
It was the perception of that time that maple was considered a superior tonewood for acoustic guitars, so in part, you're right.

But the mahogany back and neck developed partly due to weight, but also because it was cheaper for Gibson to make the guitar that way. Same reason they used rosewood fretboards instead of ebony on LP Standards.


yeah that was it
Quote by crownegamers
I saw in a couple of pictures that on Bucketheads Les Paul (only some pictures) that his neck pickup is painted in white. Can anyone explain to me why he would do this, and if there are any pros and cons.

Quote by dspellman
The guy wears a KFC Bucket and a white mask during performances, and you're interested in the color of his pickup covers?

#12
Quote by Sliide90027
Torn between my ban from the other forum on bass for pointing out the tone qualities of wood, and a recent line from Spaz 91, who I have found to be a quite experienced and respectable commentor, I post this offering on the named subject matter.

...much left out...


This seems to be a hot button for you.

There may be some difference that wood makes.
But until there's some kind of reasonably repeatable and measurable way to quantify it, there's only anecdotal yammering, mental constipation and verbal diarrhea on display here.

It would take something like Carvin building a half dozen each of identical neck-through basses in, say, solid maple and solid mahogany, with each one plucked by a repeatable mechanical mother plucker with the results sent directly to a real time analyzer. This would at least average out some of the variables in build, pickup wind, electronics inconsistency, picking differences, etc. At that point, if there are statistically significant differences showing up, this topic can be revisited. Until then, it just seems like random casting of camel turds about (it's an earlier version of bullshitting...).
#13
The reality is that nobody cares enough to do the science - and only the science could say definitively. Until that point, it's just hearsay, snake oil, and old wives' tales.

Who would bother to do the research? Educational/research institutions have little to gain from doing it. Luthiers and manufacturers have a vested interest in the concept of "tone" woods - after all, they've got a great gig going selling them on to receptive musicians. It wouldn't do the likes of Warwick or Fodera any favours to prove that a cheap cut of agathis is just as effective as whichever rare and endangered Brazilian wood happens to be fashionable at the moment.

All the efforts to make an objective analysis of different woods that I have seen have concluded that wood makes little to no difference to tone. I recall an instance on TalkBass where a Fender neck was removed, alongside all the hardware, and rebuilt on a lump of plywood. In a blind poll of sound samples, it was apparent that nobody could tell the difference (or at least that neither sounded better by consensus). There exists plenty of evidence to suggest that we hear extremely subjectively - what we see or expect to hear has an enormous influence on what we perceive. The power of suggestion would seem to me to be a far more plausible explanation for the phenomenon of musicians perceiving a change in tone due to a change in wood.

If wood affects tone, then it is safe to say that it only does so by a proportionally small amount. There are many other factors of the instrument with magnitudes more responsibility for the sound that comes out of it; the strings, the pick-ups, the material of the frets, and let's not forget the most important of them all - the actual musician themselves. Why, then, deliberate over wood? It serves only to distract from other more important things. Personally, wood only matters to me as far as weight, durability, and aesthetics are concerned, and until such a day as someone actually performs rigorous science on the matter, I shall remain appropriately sceptical of "tone" woods and keep banging this same tired old drum.
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Last edited by Ziphoblat at Oct 14, 2016,
#14
Quote by dspellman
This seems to be a hot button for you.

There may be some difference that wood makes.
But until there's some kind of reasonably repeatable and measurable way to quantify it, there's only anecdotal yammering, mental constipation and verbal diarrhea on display here.

It would take something like Carvin building a half dozen each of identical neck-through basses in, say, solid maple and solid mahogany, with each one plucked by a repeatable mechanical mother plucker with the results sent directly to a real time analyzer. This would at least average out some of the variables in build, pickup wind, electronics inconsistency, picking differences, etc. At that point, if there are statistically significant differences showing up, this topic can be revisited. Until then, it just seems like random casting of camel turds about (it's an earlier version of bullshitting...).

More to the point, I think its in the interest of the vast majority of guitar builders that they do not do such a test. For tangible fears that the tests show it makes no difference and accidentally creating the customer perception that said guitar builders are crooks for pedalling tonewood bullshit.

That would be a silly and unnecessary risk to take to a brand's reputation.
Quote by Ziphoblat

All the efforts to make an objective analysis of different woods that I have seen have concluded that wood makes little to no difference to tone. I recall an instance on TalkBass where a Fender neck was removed, alongside all the hardware, and rebuilt on a lump of plywood. In a blind poll of sound samples, it was apparent that nobody could tell the difference (or at least that neither sounded better by consensus). There exists plenty of evidence to suggest that we hear extremely subjectively - what we see or expect to hear has an enormous influence on what we perceive. The power of suggestion would seem to me to be a far more plausible explanation for the phenomenon of musicians perceiving a change in tone due to a change in wood.

The funny thing is that even though the placebo effect is very much in play. It's been consistently proven that even if you're aware that you're deluding yourself, it still doesn't stop the effect from working. So in the end the tonewood believers may have the last laugh after all, just not in the way that they intended.

The way we perceive things is weird like that.

I think this video is somewhat related and interesting.

Quote by Axelfox
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Last edited by T00DEEPBLUE at Oct 14, 2016,
#15
Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
(a) More to the point, I think its in the interest of the vast majority of guitar builders that they do not do such a test. For tangible fears that the tests show it makes no difference and accidentally creating the customer perception that said guitar builders are crooks for pedalling tonewood bullshit.

That would be a silly and unnecessary risk to take to a brand's reputation.

(b) The funny thing is that even though the placebo effect is very much in play. It's been consistently proven that even if you're aware that you're deluding yourself, it still doesn't stop the effect from working. So in the end the tonewood believers may have the last laugh after all, just not in the way that they intended.

The way we perceive things is weird like that.

I think this video is somewhat related and interesting.



(a) I agree with you. I'm not sure wood has no effect (though it depends on exactly where that wood is (body, neck, fretboard etc.) and the quality of it), but I'm with you guys in that most of the time it's well down the list of what's important. But at the same time I definitely agree that the only people who could easily do a test have a vested interest in not bothering...

(b) Absolutely, but the placebo effect goes both ways (nocebo?*)- if you think wood makes a difference you may well hear it. But if you think it doesn't you probably won't. I've definitely had situations where I thought I heard a difference when I thought beforehand that it should matter, and then later heard no difference when I was aware of the technical theory which said it shouldn't matter. But in which one was the placebo effect at play? In both cases I had been primed to think one way or the other before I heard the thing, which would influence what I thought.


* There definitely is evidence from medicine that people who were given painkillers, for example, but were told they'd increase the pain, reported feeling increased pain. So you can definitely fool yourself into thinking that something which very definitely *is* there isn't, just as much as you can fool yourself into seeing things which aren't there.
Quote by crownegamers
I saw in a couple of pictures that on Bucketheads Les Paul (only some pictures) that his neck pickup is painted in white. Can anyone explain to me why he would do this, and if there are any pros and cons.

Quote by dspellman
The guy wears a KFC Bucket and a white mask during performances, and you're interested in the color of his pickup covers?

Last edited by Dave_Mc at Oct 15, 2016,
#16
i will probably get lots of negative comments with what i say..

Tone wood has more effect in acoustic guitars than electric.. I'm sure we agree with that statement. but with electric guitar, the pickup has more effect on the overall tone than the density and resonance of wood.

The debate with tone wood is an ongoing endless topic.. anyways i hope everyone is happy with the guitars we own.
I have Washburn guitars 'Maverick Series' and bass 'Bantam Series' and a few pedals and amps, but man I wish to have more patience and drive practicing my playing, if it's equal to the modding itch, then I'm golden.
#17
Quote by psp742
i will probably get lots of negative comments with what i say..

Tone wood has more effect in acoustic guitars than electric.. I'm sure we agree with that statement. but with electric guitar, the pickup has more effect on the overall tone than the density and resonance of wood.

The debate with tone wood is an ongoing endless topic.. anyways i hope everyone is happy with the guitars we own.


Not at all. It makes perfect sense.

Perhaps a better question would be what are some woods that are rarely (if ever) used for building a bass or guitar, and why not? I mean; of course you wouldn't use balsa wood or something absurd like that, but there are so many weird and beautiful woods out there that it is a wonder why they are almost never used:

Sneezewood:


Kingwood:


Bloodwood:


Desert Ironwood:


Carpathian Elm:


Snakewood:


And so many others!

"Drinking is a skill and should be recognized as such!"

Quote by gregs1020
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Quote by Spaz91
DAMNIT FATALGEAR YOU RUINED MUH FLOW!
#18
I can't speak as much for the others, but Snakewood is very rare. It's a relatively small tree, so finding enough of it with the figuring is a task. It's also very dense and very brittle, so will dull blades or splinter very easily.

EDIT: And Carpathian Elm is just elm burl. It's just good ol' English elm.
Last edited by Deliriumbassist at Oct 16, 2016,
#19
Some of these woods are either super hard to work with, super toxic or super endangered. Not that stops certain companies coughGIBSONcough.
Wood doesn't affect tone. Grow up.
#21
Quote by anarkee


Hey; they only got raided because they didn't have their Indian Rosewood fretboards finished in India!

Some of the exotic woods are horrible on bandsaw blades and sanding belts, but considering what we pay for top-quality instruments; they can afford new ones!

As for exotics that come only in small sized, you can do a mosaic top like Mr. warm and friendly Jeff Berlin!



Or something actually pretty cool like this:



As for Gibson, they are torn by an old existential conflict that vexes so many of us:

"Drinking is a skill and should be recognized as such!"

Quote by gregs1020
FatalGear41 knows the ways of the obscure. I hear it's just not with Gibsons. Beware, Halloween approaches...


Quote by Spaz91
DAMNIT FATALGEAR YOU RUINED MUH FLOW!
#23
Yes, but there's a reason why chiropractors throughout the land send Conklin a Christmas card every year! Talk about a back-breaker!
"Drinking is a skill and should be recognized as such!"

Quote by gregs1020
FatalGear41 knows the ways of the obscure. I hear it's just not with Gibsons. Beware, Halloween approaches...


Quote by Spaz91
DAMNIT FATALGEAR YOU RUINED MUH FLOW!
#24
It's probably worth noting that you can get a bass built of pretty much any legally (or maybe not) attainable exotic wood at a certain price point. But that is at the top 1% of one-off builds. Anything being built in bulk needs to strike a balance between availability, sustainability, cost, weight, durability, stability (for necks), how easy/difficult it is to work with, and aesthetics (for non-opaque finishes). All in relation to the price point of the finished product.

We can do better than wood anyway. Viva plastic basses!
Composite Aficionado


Spector and Markbass
#25
3D printed guitars are going to be great once they stop trying to be clever and just do plain semi-hollow designs (with a wood veneer for the pickier among us.)
Wood doesn't affect tone. Grow up.
#26
Quote by Spaz91
3D printed guitars are going to be great once they stop trying to be clever and just do plain semi-hollow designs (with a wood veneer for the pickier among us.)


But then your printer will be raided by armed U.S. Customs agents because you did not have your 3-D printed fretboard finished in India!

Seriously; I don't know how well the stuff they use in 3-D printers would serve for making a guitar. I know the top-of-the-line units can use metals including titanium, bronze, and stainless steel, but most of them use some kind of polymer/plastic. I suspect it would have a very dull sound with little or no sustain.
"Drinking is a skill and should be recognized as such!"

Quote by gregs1020
FatalGear41 knows the ways of the obscure. I hear it's just not with Gibsons. Beware, Halloween approaches...


Quote by Spaz91
DAMNIT FATALGEAR YOU RUINED MUH FLOW!
#27
I think the sustain would be just fine so long as the neck and hardware are made in the more traditional ways.

The important thing to note is that you can 3D print wood.
Wood doesn't affect tone. Grow up.
#28
Carbon fiber composite neck, normal hardware, 3D printed plastic body. Boom, no wood required.
Composite Aficionado


Spector and Markbass
#29
But how would it affect the Spotted Owl and the Delta Smelt?



The little guy is counting on us!!!
"Drinking is a skill and should be recognized as such!"

Quote by gregs1020
FatalGear41 knows the ways of the obscure. I hear it's just not with Gibsons. Beware, Halloween approaches...


Quote by Spaz91
DAMNIT FATALGEAR YOU RUINED MUH FLOW!