Jump to content
TheLowDown

A luthier's experience with tonewoods

Recommended Posts

I recently read on another forum an interesting viewpoint based on one luthier's long term experience of tone-woods, and it is most likely the best interpretation of tone-woods I've heard so far.


You can read the much longer version in the link above, but to summarise:

  • -the stronger/stiffer the structure of the bass, the less the choice of woods matter to the tone. In most neck-thru solid bodies, the wood has zero effect on the tone. In most bolt-on solid bodies, the wood has almost zero effect on the tone. Only the strings and pickups matter to tone.
  •  
  • -the more structural weaknesses in the bass - such as cavities in hollow bodies, semi hollow, and acoustic guitars, and relatively soft wood - the more the woods matter to the tone. This is where you can hear the character between different woods and which is what luthiers work with.
  • -even in basses where there are structural weaknesses, you can't say that if it has X wood then it will sound any different to Y wood. It's possible to get a maple body/neck bass to sound exactly the same as what people perceive a mahogany body/neck bass to sound like, and vice versa, by shaping the weaknesses.
  •  
  • -for those that believe that woods matter to the tone and those that believe that woods don't matter to the tone,  you're both half correct.


Discuss.

 

Edited by TheLowDown
added "relatively soft wood" to the examples of stuctural weaknesses
  • Like 6
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If we've learnt anything at the numerous tests at Bass bashes is that even bass players/owners struggle to tell the differences. I think the closest we've come to any agreement is that Rosewood fretboards tend to be "warmer" than Maple boards.

Personally, I agree with @Doctor J, that looks make a difference. If I like the looks of a bass then this will influence whether I fall in love with the tones.

If all of this is only a placebo effect then great...if others don't agree, so what...

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I came to the conclusion years ago that tonewoods look lovely, and are something for people who sell them to talk about while they're selling*...there may well be differences, but in a solid-body electric bass they are so far down the scale of what affects tone that their influence is vanishingly small. Especially when the drummer starts hitting things...

 

* The Alembic website used to be awash with this sort of stuff, and tho they've toned it down (SWIDT?) recently, it's still dotted with gems like this: 'Tonally, Burl Redwood packs deep, dare we say "burly" bass reponse.'  OK, we get it, you've got to upsell your premium tonewoods...pffft... 😕🙂

Edited by Muzz
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

During the first half of a gig once I noticed my top strap button had worked loose in the last song. I finished the song by holding the neck up with my left to take the weight for fear of the strap button pulling out, and sending bass tumbling groundwards.

In the break I tried to tighten it but the screw wouldn't tighten properly so I went to the bar and purchased a box of matches, pushed one into the screw hole and broke it off flush. The strap button screw now did up nice and tight, great stuff, now I can enjoy the second half worry free. 

How wrong was I? All the way through that second set I could hear that the wood composition had changed in that bass. Like an idiot I had not asked for tone matches. What a fool I felt. 

  • Like 4
  • Haha 29

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, Maude said:

...  tone matches ...

I find tone toothpicks have a sharper top end. The wooden ones not the plastic ones, obviously.

  • Like 1
  • Haha 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, EssentialTension said:

I find tone toothpicks have a sharper top end. The wooden ones not the plastic ones, obviously.

I know, I'm an idiot. It ruined that gig for everyone. The audience were visibly shocked at the deterioration in sound quality. 

  • Like 2
  • Haha 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
36 minutes ago, TheGreek said:

... I think the closest we've come to any agreement is that Rosewood fretboards tend to be "warmer" than Maple boards...

Rosewood-esq wood fretboards tend to be plain... Maple-esq wood fretboards tend to be laquered or varnished....

Could the difference be more the laquer finish?

Anyone tried a laquered rosewood board, v's a plain maple board?

Edited by PaulThePlug

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, PaulThePlug said:

Rosewood-esq wood fretboards tend to be plain... Maple-esq wood fretboards tend to be laquered or varnished....

Could the difference be more the laquer finish?

Anyone tried a laquered rosewood board, v's a plain maple board?

Also on Fender basses the maple board is part of the neck whilst the rosewood board is obviously a completely separate piece glued on.

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It will always be the sum of the parts. Way too many variables to nail any conclusions down. 

Edited by bubinga5
  • Like 5
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, TheLowDown said:
  • -the stronger/stiffer the structure of the bass, the less the choice of woods matter

The woods chosen directly affect the stiffness of the system, & IME the stiffer it is the better it sounds.

Some will disagree on that, because they want 'warm', & really rigid woods sound bright, at least w/o some treble-cut.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I went to church one Sunday morning. The guy meant to be playing bass did not turn up. We were meeting in a school. I knew the music teacher so went to liberate a school bass to use. Plywood + I needed pliers to move machine heads. In my head I was thinking "this is going to be the pits". It played the big letter of the chords on beats 1 and 3 and everything was cool. Did it need a setup and new strings? Badly. Was the fact that it was plywood and minging an issue for THE TOOOOOOOOONE? Not at all. I gave up worrying about tonewoods there and then. Nice wood to look nice? Yes please. Maple for more "snap"? I am so over it.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read the original post and the bit where he says, and I quote:

Quote

(Another poster showed a bass of his where he had built a new mahogany body for it, and the tone had changed dramatically)


That's it exactly. An excellent example of what's going on. Now, is the new body very much different dimensionally from the old one? The lower stiffness of the body may be partly due to your weakening it in the design, and partly due to switching to the softer mahogany. Whichever, you got there. You softened the overall structure enough that you got the frame to start bringing in background coloration. Those are the off-harmonics in the background that make the warm sound.

Sounds weirdly like he's saying that wood that is shaping the tone. Softer wood = less rigidity = "background coloration"

And at the end he says:

Quote

Conclusions:
1.) You can't say that a particular wood will cause a bass to sound a particular way. Likewise, you can't say that a particular sound from a bass is caused by the presence of a particular wood. Maybe, but it's probably more complicated than that. You can get to a particular tone from different directions, using different choices of wood.
2.) You also can't say that wood doesn't matter...at all. In many cases, the wood choice may not make any tone difference to the player. But with your Steinberger, you've shown that it does.

It's all about the structural stiffness, and the choice of wood is just one of the variables.

Weirdly non-binary complexity alert!

Edited by bloke_zero
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This always confused me. Mr Wyn ( he makes some incredible instruments) dropping pieces of wood on the floor to demonstrate how they sound. ? They are all different shapes and sizes.erm, they are going to sound different.  Im sure different wood have different tonal vibrational qualities but surely his method does not really add up.? . Then you add different structural methods/pickups, etc etc. To add to this complexity guys like Mr Wyn add even more woods to mix with other woods.  Skip to 4.20 .   

 

Edited by bubinga5
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well in the cases of instruments that I’ve owned, I’ve found:

Ash tends to have less mids than alder, so sounds a tad brighter.

Mahogany has a deeper richer tone than alder.

But I stress, this is only in regards to the instruments I’ve owned and where I’ve had the same instrument in both wood varieties in order to make comparison.

I would echo the maple/rosewood thing though, at the Herts Bass Bash I think most that were there heard the difference on the shootouts we did.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll summarise it even better : a totally unknown self pretending luthier doing some TalkBass talk.

I've owned some 300 basses and played more, they all sounded different, but the most important thing is way more obvious : the sound is in the fingers.

Concerning the strings, there has been a very interesting comparison test for the Newtone strings that simply proved that the sound is made by the player. It's here :

That said, it's an always resurfacing subject.

I'll let the players make their own opinion based on their experience and I'd like to see the hearing test of those people unable to hear the difference and trying to convince the other that they are right.

To me, it's up to the listener and/or player to decide without being influenced.

Edited by Hellzero
Spelling
  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Always suspected that the concept of tonewoods was more about the listener than the wood itself.

Josh Scott of JHS pedals has a YT channel where he was, on occasion, addressed various myths about different types of circuit construction and components, and explains how little difference they actually make, provided the components are the same values and wired properly.

I think we like to romanticise and mythologise the gear we love because we want to rationalise why it feels so special to us, when it isn't rational at all.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The sound of my basses depends mostly on the strings I use and what mood I'm in at the time.

I bought a bass recently and when I plugged it in I really disliked the tone.

A week later I plugged it in again and loved it (and still do).

Weird?

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I couldn't stand the sound of the pickup I chose for my Stick until my playing improved. And that took years. Maybe it was just the laminated bamboo aging...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Maude said:

During the first half of a gig once I noticed my top strap button had worked loose in the last song. I finished the song by holding the neck up with my left to take the weight for fear of the strap button pulling out, and sending bass tumbling groundwards.

In the break I tried to tighten it but the screw wouldn't tighten properly so I went to the bar and purchased a box of matches, pushed one into the screw hole and broke it off flush. The strap button screw now did up nice and tight, great stuff, now I can enjoy the second half worry free. 

How wrong was I? All the way through that second set I could hear that the wood composition had changed in that bass. Like an idiot I had not asked for tone matches. What a fool I felt. 

Would rosewood matches have been a better choice, would have been warmer sounding 

 

  • Haha 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, PaulThePlug said:

Rosewood-esq wood fretboards tend to be plain... Maple-esq wood fretboards tend to be laquered or varnished....

Could the difference be more the laquer finish?

Anyone tried a laquered rosewood board, v's a plain maple board?

Yes but what type of varnish ... would relic make a difference since you’re introducing weakness

 

i think my new patented “snake oil” varnish is the absolute bomb for making your mex Friday afternoon special sound exactly like that 1957 strat you heard on a buddy holly record once, a long time ago 

Edited by Geek99
  • Haha 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, bubinga5 said:

This always confused me. Mr Wyn ( he makes some incredible instruments) dropping pieces of wood on the floor to demonstrate how they sound. ? They are all different shapes and sizes.erm, they are going to sound different.  Im sure different wood have different tonal vibrational qualities but surely his method does not really add up.? . Then you add different structural methods/pickups, etc etc. To add to this complexity guys like Mr Wyn add even more woods to mix with other woods.  Skip to 4.20 .   

 

This Wyn example really bugs me, I remember raising the point on the video that he should have at least have had all the samples the same thickness and size, as you say of course they're all going to sound different!! Some are practically veneers!

  • Like 2
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 minutes ago, spacecowboy said:

This Wyn example really bugs me, I remember raising the point on the video that he should have at least have had all the samples the same thickness and size, as you say of course they're all going to sound different!! Some are practically veneers!

Should be 'no veneers in here'

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.



×
×
  • Create New...