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The heretic thread approved by Roger Sadowsky or For those who pretend tone doesn't come from wood...


Hellzero

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On 15/04/2021 at 18:26, Ricky Rioli said:

I would like to hear a test where everything was the same....including the wood. Would they all sound the identical, or would there still be variation from one instrument to the next? 

I wouldn't just want to hear a test - I'd want to view the traces on an oscilloscope.

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For those able to read in French, here is Félix SAVART mémoire about strings vibrations and the trapezoidal violin, published in 1894. Don't worry, there are images too : https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k9666718w/f351.item

 

The whole Roret Encyclopedia about Luthier is really worth a reading, but I'm afraid that there's no English translation...

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53 minutes ago, Hellzero said:

For those able to read in French, here is Félix SAVART mémoire about strings vibrations and the trapezoidal violin, published in 1894. Don't worry, there are images too : https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k9666718w/f351.item

 

The whole Roret Encyclopedia about Luthier is really worth a reading, but I'm afraid that there's no English translation...

Which applies completely to acoustic instruments.

 

as I keep saying all those factors are far, far less important with a solid bodied electric instrument.

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10 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

Which applies completely to acoustic instruments.

 

as I keep saying all those factors are far, far less important with a solid bodied electric instrument.

 

And as I said an infinite number of times, also confirmed by Roger SADOWSKY (and all true luthiers worldwide) in his article that almost nobody seems to have read, an electric instrument is, before all, ... an acoustic instrument.

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5 minutes ago, Hellzero said:

 

And as I said an infinite number of times, also confirmed by Roger SADOWSKY (and all true luthiers worldwide) in his article that almost nobody seems to have read, an electric instrument is, before all, ... an acoustic instrument.

No. No it is not. If it was a proper acoustic instrument it would be fine without amplification. 
 

I’ll explain in full when I can type on a proper computer and not on my iPad.

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5 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

No. No it is not. If it was a proper acoustic instrument it would be fine without amplification. 
 

I’ll explain in full when I can type on a proper computer and not on my iPad.

 

It's fine totally unplugged, with a weaker sound than, say, a double bass, of course, but with its true acoustic sound totally audible.

 

I'm waiting for your explanations, but if I remember correctly, you are a processed sound bass player (I mean effects in the signal path and distortion is an effect) and not a dry sound bass player (flat amp without any effect), so there is already something biased. No ?

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@Hellzero - thanks very much for sharing that Sadowsky post. When someone of Roger's calibre is prepared to go into print on a topic involving bass construction it's gotta be worth giving him our ear, right?

 

I've dug out the pdf if anyone wants to download it.

Wood & Sound - Sadowsky.pdf

Edited by Al Krow
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57 minutes ago, Hellzero said:

It's fine totally unplugged, with a weaker sound than, say, a double bass, of course, but with its true acoustic sound totally audible.

All well and good, but a magnetic pickup is not a microphone (you may wish to Google the differences). It doesn't "hear", by sensing variations in air pressure (detecting "sound waves", if you like). It senses vibrations of a string within a magnetic field and converts them into a minute electrical signal. The materials solid instruments are made from may, due to differences in density, rigidity, etc have a tiny (and I do mean tiny) effect on how a string vibrates, how long it sustains and so on, but it will be insignificant.

 

It will be different if you are using a piezo pickup or contact microphone (which is what double bass players normally use).

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While Roger Sadowsky is a well-respected luthier, he does have a vested interest in "bigging-up" the contribution of the woods used in solid electric instruments to defining the sounds of those instruments. He is after all a maker of instruments that are essentially Fender copies (admittedly very nice Fender copies - I've played several in his workshop in NYC - but still essentially Fender copies) and therefore to downplay the contribution of the wood to the sound of the instrument would be to instantly remove half the USP of a Sadowsky bass.

 

The problem I have with "tone woods" for solid electric instruments is that they are given as absolutes (which the article very much re-enforces) instead of what I think as VERY rough guides. I've played instruments that contradict probably all of these presumed absolutes. Perhaps if you are Roger Sadowsky and you get all your wood from exactly the same source (and here I don't mean the same wood merchant but from trees grown in the same small geographical location for any given species) then maybe we can put some weight behind those generalisations, but no-one can tell me that wood from an ash tree grown in the US is going to produce the same tone as wood from an ash tree grown in Europe (not withstanding the fact that "ash" covers 40+ different species of trees). Even Mr Sadowsky himself says: "When I coach people on buying an instrument at a music store, I tell them to try to listen to several of the same model, made with the same woods..." If wood of a certain species was a absolute there would be no reason for this statement.

 

The when you consider that most small scale luthiers are at the mercy of whatever their usual wood supplier can get in stock, and the large scale manufactures will on the whole buy with best value for money in mind, it is impossible to make anything other than most sweeping generalisations about tone when it come to choice of woods for an instrument.

 

My position on tone wood is similar to that of Carl Thompson who said that the choice of woods used will have a impact on the sound of a solid electric instrument, but you can't tell what it will be until the instrument is finished.

 

The problem with all these so-called tone wood comparison tests is that none of them are valid from a scientific PoV because of both flawed methodology and sample sizes being far too small to give any meaningful results.

 

I've stopped worrying about the woods used for my solid electric instruments and concentrate instead on how each individual instrument looks feels and sounds when it is complete. It is only sane thing thing to do.

Edited by BigRedX
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19 hours ago, Bunion said:
19 hours ago, Stub Mandrel said:

 

A good bassist can make a pigs ear of a bass sound decent. The reverse is not true.

 

I don’t think that’s what you meant because a bad bass player can definitely make a great bass sound like a noisy toad, I should know… 😩

 

Trapped by my own double negative

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18 hours ago, Hellzero said:

Why ? Are you hearing with your eyes ?

 

Why?

 

Because it's impossible to hear objectively when you know what you are supposed to hear.

 

I read a review of a whisky that said it had a 'burnt rubber' nose. It wasn't until after several tastings that I realised that it didn't.

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There is one question I have never been able to get an answer to.

 

Why are all the best 'tonewoods' rare, exotically figured and expensive?*

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Yes I know I'm currently finishing a replacement body made of ash with a quilted maple front, but that's because it looks nice, not because I expect it to sound better...

 

 

Edited by Stub Mandrel
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This is sort of relevant I guess. I recorded a song recently with three different strats - a one piece maple neck fretboard (vester from 93); an 80s Starfire with a mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard and basswood body. And finally a Highway one Hss with a rosewood board. Used the neck pickup on all and they basically sound exactly the same to the point that I can’t tell which is which in the recording. 

 

 

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19 hours ago, Stub Mandrel said:

There is one question I have never been able to get an answer to.

 

Why are all the best 'tonewoods' rare, exotically figured and expensive?*

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Yes I know I'm currently finishing a replacement body made of ash with a quilted maple front, but that's because it looks nice, not because I expect it to sound better...

 

 

Apart from Brazilian Rosewood they're not really. Alder, maple, mahogany, Indian rosewood, poplar, pau ferro are relatively cheap, not exotically figured and not in short supply. Ash is becoming a problem due to the beetle which is decimating trees but for most of the last 70 years has been abundant and inexpensive. Ebony and purpleheart are more expensive but do show up on relatively inexpensive production instruments. 

More exotically figured woods typically used as tops like buckeye burl, poplar burl, figured maple, etc., are generally not considered to be tonewoods. Most builders say that a top has little to no effect on tone.

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My takeaway from some really excellent posts on this thread is that:

 

- the woods used in a bass can certainly impact the tone and feel of a bass;

- perhaps the most important aspect for tone is the woods used for the neck and fretboard but also whether it is a neck-through (for greater sustain) or bolt-on and also if it's laminated/single piece. That completely makes sense as the neck and fretboard have the most intimate connection to the strings;

- the overall impact is, however, going to be relatively small and will be easily swamped by other features, namely: pups (make, P, J, MM etc), choice and age of strings (rounds vs flats etc.), whether it's active or passive and choice of preamp - and that's before you get to the rest of your signal chain (pedals, amp and cab) which can substantially change things up again.

 

So I'm inclined to agree with those who have concluded that we shouldn't get too hung up on the woods in the bass in terms of tonal impact, but instead go for something that looks and feels great.

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2 hours ago, Al Krow said:

My takeaway from some really excellent posts on this thread is that:

 

- the woods used in a bass can certainly impact the tone and feel of a bass;

- perhaps the most important aspect for tone is the woods used for the neck and fretboard but also whether it is a neck-through (for greater sustain) or bolt-on and also if it's laminated/single piece. That completely makes sense as the neck and fretboard have the most intimate connection to the strings;

- the overall impact is, however, going to be relatively small and will be easily swamped by other features, namely: pups (make, P, J, MM etc), choice and age of strings (rounds vs flats etc.), whether it's active or passive and choice of preamp - and that's before you get to the rest of your signal chain (pedals, amp and cab) which can substantially change things up again.

 

So I'm inclined to agree with those who have concluded that we shouldn't get too hung up on the woods in the bass in terms of tonal impact, but instead go for something that looks and feels great.

I agree with most of what you say, but personally I feel the impact that the neck joint on things like sustain and punch has little basis in reality. I think the idea probably came about in the '70s because typical bolt-on basses (Fenders) were 'punchy', and neck-through basses (Alembic, Rickenbacker, Spector) did have sustain, but to attribute this difference to the neck joint when not taking into account things like pickups and their position, bridge and nut materials (massive brass bridges probably do give more sustain than BBOTs), and yes, even wood choice.

I'm sure there is a slight difference in sound between neck-through, set-neck and bolt-on, but it's subtle and has very little to do with punch and/or sustain. I have found that neck-throughs have more consistency in sound on all areas of the fingerboard, and some people say they sound more 'compressed' (I can't say if this is true or not).

A few years back Fodera built three basses, with identical body and neck woods, pickups and electronics etc. A neck-through, a bolt-on and a set-neck. I think the conclusion was that there was very little difference in tone between them (and that might not even have been down to the neck joint; the neck through would have had more maple in the body than the others due to its construction).  

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