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A luthier's experience with tonewoods

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Some MD's in my experience are out of their comfort zone, and more worried about showing their inadequacies to their peers. Those in the band that feel they have the monopoly of being musically correct. So they concentrate on obvious things like volume and dynamics, they never seem to address individual sections not playing in time, or explaining why we are called the rhythm section.  What ever bass you buy, if you have to plug into the mains you are not a real musician. Apparently.

Don't get me started 😡

Edited by deepbass5
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1 hour ago, deepbass5 said:

Most MD's in my experience are out of their comfort zone, and more worried about showing their inadequacies to their peers. Those in the band that feel they have the monopoly of being musically correct. So they concentrate on obvious things like volume and dynamics, they never seem to address individual sections not playing in time, or explaining why we are called the rhythm section.  What ever bass you buy, if you have to plug into the mains you are not a real musician. Apparently.

Don't get me started 😡

You must have worked with some dodgy MD's, because my experience is the total opposite.

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I'm no Luthier, so no idea if other factors are at stake, but Sander DeGier did a great tonewood comparison here. There is definitely a difference in tone between these three Soulmates...

 

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3 minutes ago, jbu09 said:

I'm no Luthier, so no idea if other factors are at stake, but Sander DeGier did a great tonewood comparison here. There is definitely a difference in tone between these three Soulmates...

 

Nice A/B/C shootout. Pity there's no blind section, but somebody could make one (put a static image on screen, put them in a different order, calling them A, B and C).

I suspect the 3 different pickups in the same bass might sound subtly different, I would say other factors are at stake than wood species, given these are 3 different (albeit very similar) basses, you have the whole system being compared (tone circut, strings, setup, etc., on top of the variables of playing).

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11 minutes ago, PlungerModerno said:

Nice A/B/C shootout. Pity there's no blind section, but somebody could make one (put a static image on screen, put them in a different order, calling them A, B and C).

I suspect the 3 different pickups in the same bass might sound subtly different, I would say other factors are at stake than wood species, given these are 3 different (albeit very similar) basses, you have the whole system being compared (tone circut, strings, setup, etc., on top of the variables of playing).

The pick ups looked to be the same Aguilar ones - are we also adding in in difference in manufacture of pick up per pickup despite being the same model?

They do look very nice basses for sure!

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20 minutes ago, jbu09 said:

I'm no Luthier, so no idea if other factors are at stake, but Sander DeGier did a great tonewood comparison here. There is definitely a difference in tone between these three Soulmates...

 

Problem is, as I mentioned before, all the Ricks I’ve owned have sounded easily as different as those basses (some far more so) and they were all maple, so that doesn’t really prove much in itself. At the very least you’d need a number of basses made from each wood type to see whether the differences are consistent across the board. 

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13 minutes ago, jbu09 said:

I'm no Luthier, so no idea if other factors are at stake, but Sander DeGier did a great tonewood comparison here. There is definitely a difference in tone between these three Soulmates...

 

You're no scientist either.

A sample size of one of each is statistically irrelevant.

For this test to have any real meaning it has also to consistently show that supposedly identical basses always sound the same. That means take 10 (at minimum - ideally 50+) basses with EXACTLY the same spec and show that the tonal variation between is insignificant.

Besides what are we hearing as the difference? Is it the wood species or the wood density? Is it unconscious player bias?

 

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2 minutes ago, Cuzzie said:

The pick ups looked to be the same Aguilar ones - are we also adding in in difference in manufacture of pick up per pickup despite being the same model?

They do look very nice basses for sure!

Of course you need to. Otherwise there would be no point in buying pickups of the supposedly the same design from different manufacturers.

Also how do you know that the pickups are the same? And if they are what are the manufacturing tolerances in terms of number of windings and strength of the magnets?

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1 minute ago, BigRedX said:

Of course you need to. Otherwise there would be no point in buying pickups of the supposedly the same design from different manufacturers.

Also how do you know that the pickups are the same? And if they are what are the manufacturing tolerances in terms of number of windings and strength of the magnets?

This is why I always pay more attention to what basses sound like acoustically, and why it’s interesting to swap all the other variables between instruments (hardware, electronics) to see how that affects things. 

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I should imagine the guy making them is exposed to the required sample size of all variations. I would take a pro luthier at his word. He is showing the difference tonewoods make to his basses. If there were so much variation between the other factors, i'm sure he wouldn't bother..

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16 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

Of course you need to. Otherwise there would be no point in buying pickups of the supposedly the same design from different manufacturers.

Also how do you know that the pickups are the same? And if they are what are the manufacturing tolerances in terms of number of windings and strength of the magnets?

Well the Aguilar range isn’t massive. They look very much like the AG 4P 60’s (which seems to be their current offerings on the web site although they have done a 50s style), all the pole pieces look the same size so I don’t think that one bass had the Hot ones in compared to the standard ones.

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/bassmagazine.com/.amp/artists/thats-a-wrap-a-tour-of-aguilars-pickup-department

No doubt you will berate that the actual figures of tolerance and tightness are not published across ‘x’ number of pick ups, but I am sure i could pick a fight with my own finger nails as well.

It seems as if the discussion goes, everyone agrees there is a difference, but it then comes down to there is not enough difference for everyone, but for some people there is, but actually there is a difference be it 1% or 20% - there is still a difference.

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12 minutes ago, jbu09 said:

I should imagine the guy making them is exposed to the required sample size of all variations. I would take a pro luthier at his word. He is showing the difference tonewoods make to his basses. If there were so much variation between the other factors, i'm sure he wouldn't bother..

I imagine the guy making them has a wealth of knowledge to go with the DeGeir reputation. Look at the attention to detail and variety of woods used: https://www.degierguitars.com/bebop-70s-gallery/  https://www.degierguitars.com/elevation-gallery/

I would take him at his word, I won't deny his experience, but he is a custom builder outside of an ideal "lab environment", i.e. very much a small sample size, typically 1, of each combo of woods and exact same electronics (not same brand/model of pickup & loom, the exact same one since we know pickups, pots, and caps all vary subtly, some quite noticeably due to pretty slack tolerances on most of them).

33 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

You're no scientist either.

A sample size of one of each is statistically irrelevant.

For this test to have any real meaning it has also to consistently show that supposedly identical basses always sound the same. That means take 10 (at minimum - ideally 50+) basses with EXACTLY the same spec and show that the tonal variation between is insignificant.

Besides what are we hearing as the difference? Is it the wood species or the wood density? Is it unconscious player bias?

 

Without a fairly large scale experiment with appropriate controls (e.g. all painted bodies, to blind the test to the players, then recorded and compared by a different group of people to hopefully have a double blind) that is reproduced, we can't say much.

I know a few people attempted to do this with a sample size of 1 for each species of wood, but these weren't even single blinded experiments. I would add that we could try to also eliminate the weight/density argument at the same time. Maybe add non-metallic weights to the bass body, or chamber the denser woods - since these would be painted (and of course we'd throw in a chipboard and plywood bodies) it should be easy to hide.

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I cheated, and listened through my (reasonably decent, but hardly studio monitor...) speakers, and not the headphones suggested. I'll admit to being much more 'auditorily challenged' than in past decades, too. To me, the bloke showed some excellent little licks, consistently played, with hardly a jot of difference in tone between 'em. They all sounded equally as good as each other, with nothing remarkedly apparent to differentiate. If it's that much more evident through 'phones, then I'd say that it's so little as to not be worth fussing over in anything more than a solo bass recording, and that, in a band or orchestra situation, there's no discernable difference whatsoever.
I'm a drummer, though, so what would I know..? -_-

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42 minutes ago, jbu09 said:

I should imagine the guy making them is exposed to the required sample size of all variations. I would take a pro luthier at his word. He is showing the difference tonewoods make to his basses. If there were so much variation between the other factors, i'm sure he wouldn't bother..

Why?

As a luthier who is showing that different woods for the body produce different sounding basses, he has an interest in actually making the basses sound different. For all we know most of the time his basses sound pretty much the same and that these 3 are hand picked as the most extreme sounding examples.

In short for a scientific PoV it shows nothing other than three different basses sound different. But we knew that already didn't we?

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8 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

Why?

As a luthier who is showing that different woods for the body produce different sounding basses, he has an interest in actually making the basses sound different. For all we know most of the time his basses sound pretty much the same and that these 3 are hand picked as the most extreme sounding examples.

In short for a scientific PoV it shows nothing other than three different basses sound different. But we knew that already didn't we?

Why? integrity perhaps

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5 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

 

In short for a scientific PoV it shows nothing other than three different basses sound different. But we knew that already didn't we?

Yes, and they didn’t sound so different anyway. You could make more difference in tone by how and where you played and use of EQ.

 

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1 minute ago, jbu09 said:

I should imagine the guy making them is exposed to the required sample size of all variations. I would take a pro luthier at his word. He is showing the difference tonewoods make to his basses. If there were so much variation between the other factors, i'm sure he wouldn't bother..

You’d be surprised. Many luthiers tend to have built in preconceptions too. 

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14 minutes ago, Cuzzie said:

Well the Aguilar range isn’t massive. They look very much like the AG 4P 60’s (which seems to be their current offerings on the web site although they have done a 50s style), all the pole pieces look the same size so I don’t think that one bass had the Hot ones in compared to the standard ones.

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/bassmagazine.com/.amp/artists/thats-a-wrap-a-tour-of-aguilars-pickup-department

No doubt you will berate that the actual figures of tolerance and tightness are not published across ‘x’ number of pick ups, but I am sure i could pick a fight with my own finger nails as well.

It seems as if the discussion goes, everyone agrees there is a difference, but it then comes down to there is not enough difference for everyone, but for some people there is, but actually there is a difference be it 1% or 20% - there is still a difference.

Lots of information without any actual important detail when it comes to actual tolerances. 

For mainstream electrical components the tolerances of the components is ±10%. That's a 20% overall difference between the two extremes, which is a large variation. I would hope that for something that has supposedly as much care taken over them as these pickup the tolerance is much smaller than that. Hopefully under ±1%.

My position has never been that wood makes no difference to the sound of a solid electric instrument.

It is that:

1. In the overall scheme of things it is one of the less important factors

2. It is not consistent

3. It is not absolutely quantifiable.

Given all of those, and the fact that I have yet to see any proper study that absolutely shows that this is not the case, I'll stick with my opinion that the choice of wood on it's own does not matter in construction of a solid electric bass or guitar.

Consider each instrument as an individual and sum of it's various parts. Don't try and attribute one particular element to producing the sound, because it is a complex system and you simply can't do that.  

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I think based on experience, the only thing I can say is that the different pieces of wood used in one instrument as opposed to another appear to sound different, which it being organic and therefore variable in nature I would expect. 
I do tend to feel different species may impart certain sonic textures but I wouldn’t like to try and prove it. 

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33 minutes ago, Dad3353 said:

I cheated, and listened through my (reasonably decent, but hardly studio monitor...) speakers, and not the headphones suggested. I'll admit to being much more 'auditorily challenged' than in past decades, too. To me, the bloke showed some excellent little licks, consistently played, with hardly a jot of difference in tone between 'em. They all sounded equally as good as each other, with nothing remarkedly apparent to differentiate. If it's that much more evident through 'phones, then I'd say that it's so little as to not be worth fussing over in anything more than a solo bass recording, and that, in a band or orchestra situation, there's no discernable difference whatsoever.
I'm a drummer, though, so what would I know..? -_-

To me, they sound noticeably different, and it could well make a difference in a band situation, certainly when recorded. 

The whole  “well, it’s all in the ballpark so what does it matter” argument makes no sense to me, and not just when it comes to the sound of instruments. If I’m painting a landscape I don’t just think “well it’s green, that’ll do”. You’re surely aiming at specific shades, even if no one other than you cares. 

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1 hour ago, 4000 said:

... and it could well make a difference in a band situation, certainly when recorded...

I wonder how many concerts and recordings, over the years, have been messed up because the bass wasn't the 'right' wood..? 9_9

...

:lol: :P

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3 minutes ago, Dad3353 said:

I wonder how many concerts and recordings, over the years, have been messed up because the bass wasn't the 'right' wood..? 9_9

...

:lol: :P

Everyone of mine

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1 hour ago, BigRedX said:

...My position has never been that wood makes no difference to the sound of a solid electric instrument

...2. It is not consistent

3. It is not absolutely quantifiable...

I would tend to agree, the material the instrument is made of can make a massive difference, the most common demonstration we would have all experienced is dead spots caused by resonance (I think it's mostly density in this case, how you tune a wooden block instrument is you make it lighter by making it smaller, I think somebody already mentioned the experiments where this theory was developed: https://www.vintageguitar.com/1772/fender-headless-bass/ https://web.archive.org/web/20200918180102/https://www.vintageguitar.com/1772/fender-headless-bass/).

My interpretation would be the species alone tells you only half the story, given how much wood varies within the same plank, let alone the same tree, let alone the same species. Without seeing the grain and knowing the weight we have only a general idea. 

I think we could theoretically do a large scale series of carefully designed tests to establish if it's a quantifiable difference to a bassists/guitarists ears solo'd vs. in a mix. I can't see anybody bankrolling it, given you would need dozens of identical bodies from each species, and even if you did the research, who would reproduce it to demonstrate it's validity? I won't hold my breath!

I think all those DeGeirs sound lovely, but they do not sound different enough to my ears to be a factor in choosing any over other factors (e.g. what's in stock, which colour I like etc.).

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I've just listened to the video without watching it, and I'm sticking with my '95% of the talk about tonewoods is still nonsense'...I'd like to see a blind test when the wood species wasn't given, and let's see who can tell from the sound what species it is...should be easy, yeah? I'll bet the lads at Alembic could do it with their eyes closed...'Oooooh, it sounds burly...that'll be burl maple...' 😀

And that test was possibly the simplest bass design of all, with three big chunks of wood (and presumably one-wood necks); what about adding body caps, fingerboards and laminates? Where's the tone gonna go then? Are we gonna end up with a Gilly Goolden* tone description?

Pfffft...

* 'Sweaty gym shoes on hot tarmac' being one of my favourites of hers...

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