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A luthier's experience with tonewoods

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You can buy a device that you leave on the strings to simulate years of playing. 

Who's going to buy one to test and put the 'played in wood' argument to bed? 

Tonerite

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3 minutes ago, Maude said:

You can buy a device that you leave on the strings to simulate years of playing. 

Who's going to buy one to test and put the 'played in wood' argument to bed? 

Tonerite

So it... vibrates?

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2 minutes ago, Cosmo Valdemar said:

So it... vibrates?

I guess so. 

Have you got anything at home you could use instead? 🤔 😁

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1 minute ago, Maude said:

I guess so. 

Have you got anything at home you could use instead? 🤔 😁

I dildon't have any such device. 

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41 minutes ago, tegs07 said:

Thanks for confirmation.

So basswood is a good tonewood as is mahogany and Ash. If I was a luthier and was tasked to make a solid colour light weight bass I would pick basswood. If I were building a heavy dark wood instrument then mahogany if I wanted stain and oil to highlight the grain then Ash.

All tonewoods, all different instruments and I am pretty sure they would all sound slightly  different as well.

Plenty Stingrays, Bongo’s are basswood as are plenty other good basses, and yes other more grained wood is used and looks and sounds great

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9 minutes ago, Maude said:

'...makes all this possible in a nearly silent, high quality and portable manor.'

No good to me, then, as no-one could describes our humble cottage as a 'manor', still less portable..! :lol:

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47 minutes ago, Maude said:

You can buy a device that you leave on the strings to simulate years of playing. 

Who's going to buy one to test and put the 'played in wood' argument to bed? 

Tonerite

Why not buy an old bass that has been played for years , or better still practice more so your fingers make a difference, so when someone says its all in the fingers you can say I know. come and listen to me play my new £200 bass. 

Not aimed at you Maude but those he think a gadget would be more fun than playing to get a better sound and feel.

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11 hours ago, BassTractor said:

There was this similar thing with violins where it was postulated that old violins had vibrated for so many decades that they got better and better. Also this notion was flip-flopped with a similar notion about repairs and new layers of lacquer.

Yet in a double-blind test violinists proved unable to discern an Amati, Guarneri or Stradivari from recently built violins.

Bummer! 😀

 

I love the idea of a blindfolded scientist passing a Stradivarius to a blindfolded violinist, what could possibly go wrong?

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On 25/02/2021 at 14:53, bubinga5 said:

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

Can't disagree there.

I must admit when I bought my first bass and when I first dipped into BassChat I thought all this talk about tonewoods was nonsense. I'm a scientist by training and how could the tiny amount of energy I put into the strings move something as massive as a bass body in such a way as to affect the movement of the strings in respect to the magnetic field of the pickups enough to be audible? 

Well it's pretty obvious the bass body does vibrate, I can feel it through my body and those little clip in tuners work pretty much on any part of the bass (with varying success). It's fairly obvious that a lot of this is down to resonances within the structure of the bass. Those resonances are then related to the physical dimensions of the vibrating body (the bass's not mine) its Young's modulus (stiffness) and it's mass. Wood is so variable, growth rates vary from year to year, the relative proportions of different cell types and their structures vary during the growth of the tree and in different parts of the tree. Trees grow differently even planted at the same time and only a couple of metres apart. The density and elasticity of woods varies and species overlap hugely. Every screw, machine head, routed cavity, the strings, pickups and even where you rest your hands are going to shift and change resonances. 

Can a tonewood change the sound of a bass? Obvously. Is this predictable enough that you can reliably say which timber was used or how a bass will sound from looking at a body blank? Well I'm sceptical.

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2 minutes ago, Phil Starr said:

I must admit when I bought my first bass and when I first dipped into BassChat I thought all this talk about tonewoods was nonsense.

I think it's safe to say that 95% of the talk about tonewoods is still nonsense... 😁

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1 hour ago, Muzz said:

I think it's safe to say that 95% of the talk about tonewoods is still nonsense... 😁

Aye, and plywood also vibrates. As do most rigid or semi rigid materials. I have a Danelectro guitar, its made from masonite, cheap American hardboard, and it has great sustain and tone. The pickups bridge and nut have s lot to do with its sound.

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what would you call all the woods that bass makers reject? and have learnt to not use because they sound bad,  (non tone woods) ?

logic says hundreds of years of musical instrument making, using wood has led to some favorite woods now known as tone woods

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I remember being surprised that Kubicki factor bass's had a ply constructed neck, which i guess is the next step on from a 5 or 7 laminate neck employed for stability, but with 30 -40 lamination's working against the relief.  one would assume these lamination's are tone wood strips not just from 'construction site' shuttering ply ?   😦all those tones the lamination's add to the sound ! 😁

Or are you in the camp where some luthiers say glue actually detracts form the sound and resonance of the neck so should be minimized.

Is the Carbon rod introduction.  snake oil as well ?

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Posted (edited)
39 minutes ago, mikel said:

Aye, and plywood also vibrates. As do most rigid or semi rigid materials. I have a Danelectro guitar, its made from masonite, cheap American hardboard, and it has great sustain and tone. The pickups bridge and nut have s lot to do with its sound.

The frame for the Danelctro is most likely made of Poplar... 

Masonite / Poplar combo is often used by Danelctro.

Edited by tegs07
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50 minutes ago, deepbass5 said:

what would you call all the woods that bass makers reject? and have learnt to not use because they sound bad,  (non tone woods) ?

logic says hundreds of years of musical instrument making, using wood has led to some favorite woods now known as tone woods

What woods do they reject, out of curisity? What woods constitute non-tone woods? I'm guessing ones not rigid enough to support the stress of strings under tension but if anyone knows of a wood which is hard enough, stable enough but doesn't have tone, I'd love to know.

The only one which readily springs to mind is Fender being attracted to pine but finding it too soft and easy to damage, even though the instruments sounded fine and it was cheap and plentiful, their primary criteria for electric solidbody wood back in the 50's. Harder finishes have allowed pine to cross the treshold into Tonewood University, though. Even some Ekos were made of pine 40 years ago. No balsa basses I'm aware of. What wood would be good if only it sounded like it should?

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, deepbass5 said:

what would you call all the woods that bass makers reject? and have learnt to not use because they sound bad,  (non tone woods) ?

logic says hundreds of years of musical instrument making, using wood has led to some favorite woods now known as tone woods

I'd hazard a guess that many factors come before tone when choosing wood. Strength, stability, cost, availability, appearance and weight are a few off the top of my head. The balance of importance between these factors will change depending on other factors, whether budget or high end, painted or natural/stained finish, etc. 

Some woods might have gorgeous grain but are too heavy, some woods might be very light but lack strength. Imagine various woods and their attributes in a Venn diagram and the ones in the centre that have the required mix of qualities have become the standard woods for guitar/bass building and have become known as 'tonewoods', but I suspect tone has had little to do with the choosing of these suitable woods over the years. 

Now in the day of excess wealth marketing is king and 'tonewood' is an important word in marketing only. 

Find any wood that has the required strength and stability and I'd be very surprised if it couldn't be used to make a great sounding bass, it just might be very heavy, expensive or boring to look at. 

To take it to its extreme, are they any woods that have the needed strength, stability and weight but are unsuitable purely because of their bad tone? 

Edited by Maude

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@Doctor J, we seem to have been typing practically the same reply at the same time. 😁

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Posted (edited)

Shall we just rename tonewood to luthierwood then everyone will be happy. It’s just wood used to make instruments and is selected for its strength, appearance, weight and yes acoustic properties among other things.

Edited by tegs07

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9 minutes ago, tegs07 said:

Shall we just rename tonewood to luthierwood then everyone will be happy. It’s just wood used to make instruments and is selected for its strength, appearance, weight and yes acoustic properties among other things.

That's just it though, I don't think any wood is chosen for its acoustic properties, despite what a luthier trying to advertise their wares might tell you. I think the wood sounding good is a happy coincedence, a by-product of a certain wood having suitable strength and density to make a bass with. 

Can anyone name a wood that is strong enough to make a bass with that doesn't/won't sound good?

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Posted (edited)
11 minutes ago, Maude said:

That's just it though, I don't think any wood is chosen for its acoustic properties, despite what a luthier trying to advertise their wares might tell you. I think the wood sounding good is a happy coincedence, a by-product of a certain wood having suitable strength and density to make a bass with. 

Can anyone name a wood that is strong enough to make a bass with that doesn't/won't sound good?

Not sure about not sounding good. To relieve lockdown boredom I have done a few bass builds one was with a Squire which seems to be made up of loads of bits of wood glued together with ply front and back. Moving pickups between a 3 piece ash body and the squire there was a slight change in the way it sounded to my ears. It’s subtle but was there. Not enough to make a huge impact granted and I am sure if played loud in a room full of people would have  no noticeable difference.

Edit: long answer made shorter does wood choice influence sound made.. possibly. Does it matter for appearance and weight ... definitely.

Edited by tegs07

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@tegs07, agreed different woods might sound slightly different, as they will resonate differently due to density, and I agree that none will sound bad.

That's why I feel the word 'tonewood' is pure marketing waffle. 

The differences in wood used, and how they are used, is just that, differences. You might prefer your three piece Ash Squier, I might prefer your blockwood with ply caps. I prefer Precision to a Jazz, that doesn't make the Jazz bad, just different. 

As @Doctor J said, let's just call it wood. 

 

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1 minute ago, Maude said:

@tegs07, agreed different woods might sound slightly different, as they will resonate differently due to density, and I agree that none will sound bad.

That's why I feel the word 'tonewood' is pure marketing waffle. 

The differences in wood used, and how they are used, is just that, differences. You might prefer your three piece Ash Squier, I might prefer your blockwood with ply caps. I prefer Precision to a Jazz, that doesn't make the Jazz bad, just different. 

As @Doctor J said, let's just call it wood. 

 

I’m happy with that now onto hi-mass Bridges .... 😀

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