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A luthier's experience with tonewoods

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As the making of musical instruments long predates the invention of electricity is it possible that certain woods were selected for their suitability for this purpose.

These woods are now collectively known as Tonewoods.

Specific factors such as density will affect the tone produced by the wood. 

These woods all have varying acoustic as well as aesthetic qualities. These may diminish when used to make a solid bodied instrument but the wood remains a Tonewood. 

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11 minutes ago, ezbass said:

Thereby making them the antithesis of tonewood.

Fromnewood?

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36 minutes ago, Killed_by_Death said:

When the string vibrates at a frequency resonant to the wood, you get dead spots, so yes it does make a difference.

When the wood is vibrating at a resonant frequency it saps away the energy from the vibration of the string

And specific harmonics are produced that we can distinguish as tonal variations, it's harmonics that we use to identify different instruments.

a guitar from a bass playing the same note or clarinet to a piano, the vibrations of a 440hz  'A' reaching our ears is an A but our brains can interoperate tonal variation including those on the same type of instrument, one bass to another depending on its construction. Tone is just volume of a particular frequency but add a unique harmonic signature to that. and Bobs your Aunt ☺️ tone wood starts to matter.

I may have to leave this thread as I have basses that need to be vibrated, just so they sound as good as they have done when i start gigging again.

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Some like 'warm', the removed high-end. I'd prefer they made instruments out of Titanium, so I can get all the rich timbre out of it as possible, and I want my split-coil wiring in parallel, not series.

Fender already takes away the top-end by using 250K Ohm pots.

 

 

 

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11 hours ago, BassTractor said:

Funny, but we are talking pros here, and we're not talking about say the deepest, richest violin that Guarneri ever made vs. a run-of-the-mill beginners model from Stagg.

Here's what I think I remember from this test: probably performed during the 80s, involving pro violinists, probably comparing with so-called "exact" copies, feelings of bewilderment and (unnecessary) shame and a willingness to keep this test a secret.
I'm aware this is spongey, but deemed it best to mention it anyway. My guess is the info is on the webz somewhere, but I haven't bothered searching for it.


BTW, I'm neither in the "tonewood is important" camp nor in the "tonewood doesn't matter" camp. To me it's physics  -  physics I know little about, think a little about and wonder a lot about  -  and I distrust confirmation bias and snake oil.

I realise that this is contrary to the spirit of Basschat, but I googled "double blind violin test" and this is a piece by one of the violinists who participated in the 2012 one saying what happened. It wasn't a test to find out who could tell what from which, but one to find out which ones violinists preferred. This is a piece about a couple of other double-blind tests which show that players and audiences could tell the difference between old and modern, and generally preferred the modern. Apologies for bringing facts in.

Back to basses. Seeing as vibrations will be travelling through the wood, unless it is a perfectly rigid material, it must have some effect on those vibrations, potentially absorbing some frequencies more than others. I would assume that the softer the wood, the more effect. How significant the effect is is a different matter. Pickups, strings, and electronics would be the main contributors to sound (as someone else said earlier on).

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18 minutes ago, deepbass5 said:

And specific harmonics are produced that we can distinguish as tonal variations, it's harmonics that we use to identify different instruments.

a guitar from a bass playing the same note or clarinet to a piano, the vibrations of a 440hz  'A' reaching our ears is an A but our brains can interoperate tonal variation including those on the same type of instrument, one bass to another depending on its construction. Tone is just volume of a particular frequency but add a unique harmonic signature to that. and Bobs your Aunt ☺️ tone wood starts to matter.

I may have to leave this thread as I have basses that need to be vibrated, just so they sound as good as they have done when i start gigging again.

It's timbre that we use to identify instruments, and that includes the envelope - which is why a plucked electric instrument played through a slow-acting noise gate or using a volume pedal sounds much like a bowed instrument.

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2 hours ago, Dan Dare said:

???? I have a friend who is a highly regarded violin maker (players in major London orchestras use his instruments). He also does restoration and repair on some pretty special stuff. I visited him once and he had a viola in his workshop. I asked, jokingly, whether it was a Strad'. "Yes", he replied. "It's actually the only Strad' viola in the country" (there are just a dozen known to be in existence worldwide).

I asked him whether he thought the working of an amplified solid instrument was more complex than an acoustic one and he was amused. I shan't mention his name because he would rather I didn't.

That wasn’t my point - I was just saying that the factors in a wholly acoustic instrument were not comparable with those of a wholly solid one pretty much incapable of delivering its own acoustic response 

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Given the apparent credulity of guitar buyers, I'm surprised manufacturers aren't already charging extra for connecting the electronics with "tonewire", attaching the scratchplate with "tonescrews", and so forth.

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Cloth vs non cloth wire

quality of wire

Types of solder

Ring terminal vs normal grounding

normal self tapping wood screws will do 

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I remember an article in the Bass player mag, about special bass amp mains cables, ( very expensive ?) possibly oxygen free copper etc. and how bad leads and mains cables can degrade your tone.  I did make up my own speaker cables with good hi-fi oxygen free cable anyway. But I was concerned after reading this, that on gigs I would often have to connect an extension into another extension for not only my bass but PA etc. So following the article I cleaned all three pins of my mains plugs with a fibre-glass stick to remove any oxidization, It was a noticeable improvement. After that i always made sure my bass amp was always first off a mains socket.

 

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Posted (edited)
17 hours ago, tauzero said:

this is a piece by one of the violinists who participated in the 2012 one saying what happened. It wasn't a test to find out who could tell what from which, but one to find out which ones violinists preferred. This is a piece about a couple of other double-blind tests which show that players and audiences could tell the difference between old and modern, and generally preferred the modern. Apologies for bringing facts in.

Back to basses. Seeing as vibrations will be travelling through the wood, unless it is a perfectly rigid material, it must have some effect on those vibrations, potentially absorbing some frequencies more than others. I would assume that the softer the wood, the more effect. How significant the effect is is a different matter. Pickups, strings, and electronics would be the main contributors to sound (as someone else said earlier on).

That first paragraph gives interesting info. Thanks!
Not important, but I was referring to research done when I still walked around in classical circles before '84 - possibly in the 70s.
I was expecting someone to google, but couldn't be bothered myself, and also I did expect later research to come up and expected the research I talked about to not come up: it was early days in this respect and the secrecy (whilst unbelievably misguided) was enormous.

I fully agree with the second paragraph.
If different vibration patterns are measurable on the body, then by definition they affect the sound - even if only by slightly changing the distance between the moving string and the now moving pup. The significance of this is an unknown to me, as I've said in this thread (and in previous threads on the same matter).
To repeat a previous point I made: in discussions on this topic i never see the bow being mentioned. My senses tell me it might just be a central notion: string amplitude induced tension changes bending the neck/body compound. Maybe true and maybe not true, but I wonder why it's not mentioned.
 

17 hours ago, tauzero said:

I realise that this is contrary to the spirit of Basschat, but I googled "double blind violin test"
[...]
 Apologies for bringing facts in.

Myself, I couldn't be bothered to Google - mainly for two reasons: people can do their own googling, much better than me, and I just wanted to relay something that I remembered happening long ago. To me a thread on BC is neither science nor pissing contest.

One would hope your sarcastic apology was written in the lightest of tones. 
If OTOH it's to be taken seriously, it says very little about me. I appreciate facts and appreciate being corrected, and in this thread I've been open about my limitations and about my hazy memory.

Edited by BassTractor

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It's a bit coincidental that the woods we're told give the best tone are the most expensive and rarest raw materials. Imagine how much less money they would make if MDF or plywood were the best woods for tone. 

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More florid obfuscation from the Alembic 'Premium Woods' page: 'Indian Rosewood has a rich look to match its rich tone. As with other Rosewoods, the complex tone is both bright and dark.'

So it's, erm, bright and dark? I think the only certain thing we can say is it's Premium, which means it's gonna cost you to find out...ditto Koa:

'Koa has a mellow tone, with big, plump low end response. Better for fingerstyle playing as a slapper will have to fight its mellow nature (but we certainly have heard players who can overcome the default tone of Koa).'

Ahhhh, right...better for fingerstyle...unless you slap it, of course...then it's OK, too...

These Premium Woods are a right old tonal conundrum...they do look nice, tho... 

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Posted (edited)
7 minutes ago, grandad said:

My current favourite for noodling is my Tanglewood Violin bass. The body appears to be ply including the top. Is it "tone plywood", (a subject not yet broached). 

https://www.projectguitar.com/forums/topic/10027-myths-about-plywood/

Naaah, you'll never charge more for it if you call it Tone Plywood...how about 'The body wood is a mellow yet sharp, dark yet bright Tonoply'? Double the price and Bob's yer Uncle, craddock's yer Aunt and yer dog's from Tarporley...  😁

Edit: the Naughty Filter's completely ruined that saying, then...pfffft 😕

Edited by Muzz

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Interesting piece for sure.  It's interesting, as an awful lot of more expensive instruments these days have some form of chambering, particularly on heavier woods to reduce weight down, so it seems in many cases the more you spend, the more likely it is the wood will make a difference?

Its certainly interesting when you compare the comments to that of someone like Sheldon Dingwall.  He designed the Z series bass to have two piece bodies made of different woods, specially selected to enhance the qualities of the low and high strings.  Is this just complete BS from him then?  Who is wrong?

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4 minutes ago, Muzz said:

More florid obfuscation from the Alembic 'Premium Woods' page: 'Indian Rosewood has a rich look to match its rich tone. As with other Rosewoods, the complex tone is both bright and dark.'

So it's, erm, bright and dark? I think the only certain thing we can say is it's Premium, which means it's gonna cost you to find out...ditto Koa:

'Koa has a mellow tone, with big, plump low end response. Better for fingerstyle playing as a slapper will have to fight its mellow nature (but we certainly have heard players who can overcome the default tone of Koa).'

Ahhhh, right...better for fingerstyle...unless you slap it, of course...then it's OK, too...

These Premium Woods are a right old tonal conundrum...they do look nice, tho... 

The thing is they are not saying anything false. The woods do have those characteristics. Whether or not they influence the sound on a solid bodied instrument is another matter. It’s like the bike analogy plenty of road cyclists spend a fortune changing all the components to make the bike lighter. Will this make them faster, better cyclists? I doubt it they would save more cash and weight by skipping pudding. At least Rosewood, Kia etc look nice.

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I think a more pertinent question is Who is making the money? See SteveXFR's thoughts above...

It's simply very good business practice to make a Premium product from more attractive materials and to then help justify the price of said Premium product with some claims which are, at the end of the day, completely subjective.

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13 hours ago, tegs07 said:

As the making of musical instruments long predates the invention of electricity is it possible that certain woods were selected for their suitability for this purpose.

These woods are now collectively known as Tonewoods.

Specific factors such as density will affect the tone produced by the wood. 

These woods all have varying acoustic as well as aesthetic qualities. These may diminish when used to make a solid bodied instrument but the wood remains a Tonewood. 

Agreed, but  they would have been acoustic instruments with hollow bodies. The overwhelming percentage of the sound would have come from the shape, size, structure and internal bracing of the instrument. Then factor in the quality of the glue, the craftsmanship, the bridge, nut and strings, the tone of the wood would be at best minimal.

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Posted (edited)
4 minutes ago, tegs07 said:

The thing is they are not saying anything false. The woods do have those characteristics. Whether or not they influence the sound on a solid bodied instrument is another matter. It’s like the bike analogy plenty of road cyclists spend a fortune changing all the components to make the bike lighter. Will this make them faster, better cyclists? I doubt it they would save more cash and weight by skipping pudding. At least Rosewood, Kia etc look nice.

Yep; as I've just mentioned, it's all very very very subjective, and therefore a lovely grey area...which, if it were being sold as a Premium Grey Area, would probably be described as 'Light yet dark; clear yet misty'... 😁

Edit: Although I'd love to see some nice scientific evidence that Rosewoods are 'bright and dark'...got anything? I'll wait... 😁

Edited by Muzz
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8 minutes ago, Kev said:

Its certainly interesting when you compare the comments to that of someone like Sheldon Dingwall.  He designed the Z series bass to have two piece bodies made of different woods, specially selected to enhance the qualities of the low and high strings.  Is this just complete BS from him then?  Who is wrong?

Funny, I watched that Bass show video yesterday, it sounds good to be thinking about the best way to bring out the bass side and also the treble side, I was originally taken in by this but the fact he also mentioned inconsistency in weight being a problem for fender in the past, I think he is more concerned with heavy basses sitting in shops unsold.  I would also think his fan fret design has already given the bass advantages for both bass and treble side.

The last time i mentioned Him in a thread here he jumped in on the next line so, stand back would be nice to get a manufacturers opinion 🤐

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I have a Dingwall, and it's a fantastic bass, there are several design features which taken together IMHO make it a step up from much of the normal designs around. It's made from Ash and Maple, but it's the way it's made that makes it extraordinary.

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Just now, Muzz said:

I have a Dingwall, and it's a fantastic bass, there are several design features which taken together IMHO make it a step up from much of the normal designs around. It's made from Ash and Maple, but it's the way it's made that makes it extraordinary.

No Bass wood then, must be the pickups :scratch_one-s_head:

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Posted (edited)

I've got Dingwall pickups in another bass (I upgraded the ones on the Dingwall (for different Dingwall ones) so they were spare) and they sound good in that. I did change the EQ for a John East U-Retro, though, which (again, IMHO) brings it to another level when plugged in.

It's not just the pickups; there's the fan frets, the compound radius board, the banjo frets, the recessed tuners, the lightness, and importantly the overall quality of the build - it really is flawlessly designed and made.

My point with the 'Ash and Maple' is that in terms of 'tonewood' it's a very very common combination for basses, yet no basses I've owned made from Ash and Maple sound much like my Dingwall.

Edited by Muzz

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Instruments made of the same woods, sorry, tonewoods, sounding very different to each other? What trickery is afoot?

We all know that if you take 10 of the most basic and mundane bass out there, the Precision, with ash bodies, maple necks and fretboards, they will not all sound the same. Wood is organic. No two pieces of the same species are the same. To apply blanket characteristics to something which, by its very nature, is inconsistent in cellular structure - before you get into age, how it is dried, how it is cut, etc, etc, etc, is just prone to error.

Still no-one can present a list of wood species which are structurally suitable but tonally unsuitable for solid body electric instruments?

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