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MoJo

Are plywood bodies necessarily a bad thing

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1 hour ago, Cato said:

Exhibit 1

Guitar body apparently made from Cotswold stone.

Sounds like any other distorted guitar.

Obviously good for hard rock

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My main player at home currently is a bitsa with a plywood body. The wood in the body makes little difference to the sound if it's covered in thick poly. Has tonnes of sustain even with a bbot bridge.

Only downside to plywood bodies is the weight as said, mine is a little heavy (whole bass weighs just over 9lbs), so not too bad. It's solid, very stable, great sustain. Too many people get overly precious about body wood. I'd agree if it had a nitro finish, but covered in poly is perfectly fine.

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1 hour ago, Cato said:

Exhibit 1

Guitar body apparently made from Cotswold stone.

Sounds like any other distorted guitar.

I love a slab body. 

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3 hours ago, MoJo said:

I had a feeling recently that, since selling my Camel Journey Bass, I was missing a P-bass in my life. A Vester Stage Series P-bass came up for sale locally and I impulsively went and bought it. One could limbo under the action when I got it. The relief in the neck was almost spot on for me and the truss rod worked, so I removed the neck to fit a shim under the heel. It was at this point that I found that the body was made of plywood. My heart sank. I decided to set it up the best I could and sell it on. I got the action down low and swapped the generic cheap pickups for a Warman Stealth pickup I had in my parts case. Plugged it in and it sang. Sounded like a proper P-bass with great sustain. I've decided to hang onto now. Swapped out the Stealth pups for Wilkinson Alnico V pups and changed the pots for CTS 250k with a Sprague Orange Drop capacitor. I was ready to right this off as a piece of junk as soon as I saw the plywood but it's turned out to be a very nice instrument

 

Once upon a time I had become a bit of a 'collector' of Jazz basses, which is weird as it's not by far my favourite kind, but that's another story.

I had three different Japanese Fenders, 75RI, a Roadworn, and various others of different qualities and prices. I think I had about 8 of them. When I came to my senses and I decided to 'thin the herd', I kept one and only one. It had the best neck, felt great and sounded fantastic. It is a '94 Korean Squier that has a plywood body, as I found out when I went to put some nice pickups on after I bought it. So what? :)

If it feels and sounds good, it could be made of cheese for all I care. Wood type alone is not a good indicator of how an electric instrument will turn out to be. 

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24 minutes ago, Maude said:

I love a slab body. 

Paving the way obviously

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I had a Precision type bass a while ago which had a ply body and it was ace. (For complete disclosure though, I own and love a Danelectro Longhorn which is made using a pine frame covered in hardboard).

There is also a belief that ply can be quite good for some acoustic instruments, particularly those with built in piezo type electrics. Apparently the rigidity of the ply helps with controlling feedback. 

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1 hour ago, casapete said:

I had a Precision type bass a while ago which had a ply body and it was ace. (For complete disclosure though, I own and love a Danelectro Longhorn which is made using a pine frame covered in hardboard).

There is also a belief that ply can be quite good for some acoustic instruments, particularly those with built in piezo type electrics. Apparently the rigidity of the ply helps with controlling feedback. 

Generally all the things that make an acoustic instrument have a desirable sound are nightmares when it comes to amplifying the instrument.

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1 hour ago, BigRedX said:

Generally all the things that make an acoustic instrument have a desirable sound are nightmares when it comes to amplifying the instrument.

You make a very good point there.

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Plywood isn't a bad thing at all. As with any instrument if it's constructed correctly then ply can be very good, and as good as any other wood.

My old Korean Squier P bass was made of ply. No one would know unless you took it apart

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5 hours ago, Cato said:

I strongly suspect that you could mold a P bass out of concrete 

Might not be good for abstract music though.........

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In short, no. 
if you ‘connect’ with an instrument and is made in a way that speaks to you musically, it’s all good. 
Some of my main stage basses (bc riches) are ply and sing beautifully. The only thing that lets one of them down is the pup. the hardware is really well made. 

 

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The bass I've made most money playing was a defretted Peavey Milestone jazz bass thing with a plywood body. I don't know if it sounded good or not, didn't care as much about "tone" then as I do now, didn't have any pedals etc. I did practise a lot though, might have had something to do with it. 

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Typo

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I was the biggest Fender snob on the planet and spent years looking for the perfect P bass. Alder body, great neck blah blah. I now play a Classic Vibe P and couldn't be happier, for starters it was cheap... yay! and goodness knows what wood it is..who cares, but what matters is does it sound good and does it feel good...the lettering on the head stock ain't gonna make the crowd shake there whatsit.

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My main Stick is bamboo - many layers glued together, stays in tune forever, one of the more popular Stick choices. The hardwoods all look cool for all the reasons one would select them, but the substantial debate concerning effect on tone, including Emmett Chapman's, is that the material has none - it's the pickup choice. And that has a HUGE effect. I have to add for anyone unfamiliar w/ the Stick, it's one long neck, no body, all electronics are in the pickup housing. I also have a Danelectro Longhorn bass (Masonite), and you know what they sound like...

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I agree with those who say construction is what counts. "Tonewoods" don't benefit a solid electric instrument. They may look pretty, but can even be detrimental (as BigRedX points out). Pickups are not microphones. They sense movement of a string in a magnetic field and generate a tiny electrical signal. They don't "hear" the vibration acoustically by sensing vibrations in the air. As long as an instrument is properly constructed, the material it's made from doesn't matter (within reason, obviously - it should have sufficient rigidity). The key thing is that the pickups and strings are mounted solidly and cannot move in relation to one another and that there is no movement between the parts of the instrument (between body and neck, for example). There are plenty of expensive plywood basses. It's just that manufacturers refer to them as being of "laminated construction". If it works, it's good. If it's cheap and it works, it's even better.

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Tonewood.  Just this work gets my heckles up.

I'll again (try) be the voice of reason. Tone is subjective; it's the end result of many factors; pickups, amps, your hands, technique age of strings etc. etc.

Plys, blockwork, laminates.  It makes little or no difference.  Basswood, Koa, Mahogany, Korina, maple, various spalts and burls etc.  Little or no difference (almost probably the latter).  I'd bet that most people here wouldn't be able to tell the difference from a piece of ash from a piece of pine if they were holding a plank of each at the same time.  Cover any (ANY) wood with layers of poly and/or nitro and the evidence is gone.  You wouldn't have a clue what the instrument was made from.

I'll cite evidence from the SE Bass Bash a couple of years ago that 30 bassists couldn't tell the difference between 20-odd different basses in a blind shootout; some of these guys couldn't recognise their own bass, let alone a Jazz from a Precision AND it was deemed that one of the best sounding (*all tone is subjective) was off a scratch build bass from one of the attendees.

We really just need to take our heads out of our bottoms and stop being suckered in with this tonewood nonsense; as demonstrated by many builders posting stuff up on You Tube, you can built guitars out of pretty much anything and get wonderful results, the only caveat being that the thing will hold together under string tension.

 

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19 minutes ago, NancyJohnson said:

Tonewood.  Just this work gets my heckles up.

I'll again (try) be the voice of reason. Tone is subjective; it's the end result of many factors; pickups, amps, your hands, technique age of strings etc. etc.

Plys, blockwork, laminates.  It makes little or no difference.  Basswood, Koa, Mahogany, Korina, maple, various spalts and burls etc.  Little or no difference (almost probably the latter).  I'd bet that most people here wouldn't be able to tell the difference from a piece of ash from a piece of pine if they were holding a plank of each at the same time.  Cover any (ANY) wood with layers of poly and/or nitro and the evidence is gone.  You wouldn't have a clue what the instrument was made from.

I'll cite evidence from the SE Bass Bash a couple of years ago that 30 bassists couldn't tell the difference between 20-odd different basses in a blind shootout; some of these guys couldn't recognise their own bass, let alone a Jazz from a Precision AND it was deemed that one of the best sounding (*all tone is subjective) was off a scratch build bass from one of the attendees.

We really just need to take our heads out of our bottoms and stop being suckered in with this tonewood nonsense; as demonstrated by many builders posting stuff up on You Tube, you can built guitars out of pretty much anything and get wonderful results, the only caveat being that the thing will hold together under string tension.

 

Tonewood is a name given to describe a group of woods that are commonly used to make musical instruments. The group is vast - it’s almost as arbitrary as hating the term furniture wood if someone used it.

Yes every piece of wood will have some tonal properties, but some will display better properties than others - and this will be for a myriad of reasons based on its internal make up, stiffness, water content, shrinkage profile, ease of working, availability, tradition etc. But as a general rule hardwoods for bodies softwoods for sound boards - those terms come by not because of how ‘hard’ they are but because of the grain.

Thats about all it is, but there will be a difference species to species, block to block even on the same tree which may or may not be discernible.

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Slightly surprised by the current of this thread going against body tonewood being a significant factor in tone, as to me it’s always been very much apparent that it is.

Yes, an electric instrument may have little in common with an acoustic one, but it does have acoustic properties.  A plucked string will transmit its vibrations to the body (and neck) on which it’s mounted, causing resonant vibrations within the wood, which will be transmitted back to the string as harmonics (causing the simple sound waveform generated by the vibrating string to become more complex) and also tending to dampen it (altering the attack / sustain / decay of the sound).   So at one extreme a hollow-bodied bass will tend to have a harmonic-rich tone and relatively poor sustain,  then going into solid bodies with resonant woods like mahogany or alder which will tend to have a “warmer” tone than denser woods like maple and ash, and at the other extreme very dense and homogeneous materials like stone (as the guitar posted earlier) or dense metal, which will have the tone closest to the pure vibration of the string.   Being an inveterate bitsa builder I definitely notice the difference when swapping bodies and necks around the same hardware and pickups.

Plywood, just like solid wood, varies immensely; from dense void-free ply like marine ply, to cheesy stuff that’s more air and glue than wood.    My only ply bass - a Columbus Jazz copy- was made of the latter, and undoubtedly the vilest bass I’ve ever owned (though probably more due to the feeble pickups than the body).    As posted above; ply basses can be superb.    No mention yet of MDF - one of my favourite basses was my very first; a mid-1960’s Kalamazoo KB1 which was Gibson’s first budget venture.    They subcontracted the bodies to a manufacturer of toilet seats using dense compressed wood pulp composite (effectively MDF)

excuse rambling post.......o.O

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1 hour ago, Shaggy said:

Yes, an electric instrument may have little in common with an acoustic one, but it does have acoustic properties.  A plucked string will transmit its vibrations to the body (and neck) on which it’s mounted, causing resonant vibrations within the wood, which will be transmitted back to the string as harmonics (causing the simple sound waveform generated by the vibrating string to become more complex) and also tending to dampen it (altering the attack / sustain / decay of the sound).   So at one extreme a hollow-bodied bass will tend to have a harmonic-rich tone and relatively poor sustain,  then going into solid bodies with resonant woods like mahogany or alder which will tend to have a “warmer” tone than denser woods like maple and ash, and at the other extreme very dense and homogeneous materials like stone (as the guitar posted earlier) or dense metal, which will have the tone closest to the pure vibration of the string.   Being an inveterate bitsa builder I definitely notice the difference when swapping bodies and necks around the same hardware and pickups.

You could make an argument for "tone wood" in a solid electric instrument if the bodies were made of a single piece of wood, specially selected for it's resonant properties and shaved and sculpted to bring out the best of those tonal features, in the way that a good luthier will work on the soundboard of an acoustic instrument.

However with few high end exceptions they are not. The bodies od solid electric guitars and basses are randomly cobbled together from two or more pieces of wood that have most likely been selected with an eye for getting the largest number of instruments out of a single plank rather than their tonal properties. They are joined at random with lashings of glue (compared with an acoustic instrument where to top is joined to rest of the body with smallest amount of glue that will still achieve a stable and strong join) and then cut and shaped to a template designed in the most part for player comfort rather than tuning the body for optimum sound.

Once manufacturers start applying the care that the luthier of acoustic instruments does in choosing and shaping the wood, and is able to produce consistent tonal results from the same species of wood then I might start believing in "tone wood" for solid instruments. 

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3 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

You could make an argument for "tone wood" in a solid electric instrument if the bodies were made of a single piece of wood, specially selected for it's resonant properties and shaved and sculpted to bring out the best of those tonal features, in the way that a good luthier will work on the soundboard of an acoustic instrument.

However with few high end exceptions they are not. The bodies od solid electric guitars and basses are randomly cobbled together from two or more pieces of wood that have most likely been selected with an eye for getting the largest number of instruments out of a single plank rather than their tonal properties. They are joined at random with lashings of glue (compared with an acoustic instrument where to top is joined to rest of the body with smallest amount of glue that will still achieve a stable and strong join) and then cut and shaped to a template designed in the most part for player comfort rather than tuning the body for optimum sound.

Once manufacturers start applying the care that the luthier of acoustic instruments does in choosing and shaping the wood, and is able to produce consistent tonal results from the same species of wood then I might start believing in "tone wood" for solid instruments. 

Some manufacturers do take care - i have seen personally.

Planks will be cut to get the most out of a tree - nothing wrong it’s that as wastage is terrible, but unless its a deliberate patchwork bass, tone woods will generally be matched to be the same variety of wood and have grain similarities - not always, but ones that care will

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3 minutes ago, Cuzzie said:

Some manufacturers do take care - i have seen personally.

Planks will be cut to get the most out of a tree - nothing wrong it’s that as wastage is terrible, but unless its a deliberate patchwork bass, tone woods will generally be matched to be the same variety of wood and have grain similarities - not always, but ones that care will

Which ones?

And do they check all the way through the process of turning the wood into solid bodies? I've seen videos of Sadowsky checking body blanks, but not the finished bodies. Do they alter the shape of the body if it would appear that doing so would make a better sounding instrument? I have seen no evidence of this?

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6 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

Which ones?

And do they check all the way through the process of turning the wood into solid bodies? I've seen videos of Sadowsky checking body blanks, but not the finished bodies. Do they alter the shape of the body if it would appear that doing so would make a better sounding instrument? I have seen no evidence of this?

Sandberg

The body shapes are of course standard to their range as much as possible, but they are hand finished at the end - I don’t think it goes as far as taking their precision shape and making an SG shape - but care at every step is taken

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5 minutes ago, Cuzzie said:

Sandberg

The body shapes are of course standard to their range as much as possible, but they are hand finished at the end - I don’t think it goes as far as taking their precision shape and making an SG shape - but care at every step is taken

The sorts of things I'm looking for is making slight changes to the body shape and/or thickness to improve the sound that the finished instrument will produce, rather than simply sticking to the templates. Of course this would mean checking the body at every stage of the construction, and for instance, if it was discovered that the process of removing wood for the forearm counter or the belly cut was making it sound worse, would they stop? Also would they bin a body if the finished item sounded less good that the original uncut blank?

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I think there are very few builders who would shape a body and neck - pop it together, insert all electronics and hardware - play it, remove all electronics and hardware, shave some off, reload, unload, shave etc. but experience and care about all the processes/materials along the way and checks before final assembly will iron out most faults and give incredibly consistent results.

You may get the level of detail you are looking for from a luthier and that’s fine, all I can say is I have seen each and every stage of guitars being made at Sandberg and the care take I don’t think anyone would complain at

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