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How much does wood choice REALLY influence tone?

Discussion in 'Warwick - Custom Shop' started by LiF, Oct 31, 2009.

  1. LiF

    LiF

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    Looking through the Custom Shop Gallery has got me pondering this question.

    First off, if someone wants a Streamer Stage 1, as an example, because of the classic Stage 1 tone, then putting in a CS order for exotic body and neck woods seems somehow counter-intuitive. The reasoning being that if the wood affects the tone that much, and the CS order is a unique combination of features/woods, then the resulting bass, which is a unique and unknown quantity, may not have the unique Stage 1 tone. The customer has laid out a stack of cash and got something different to his/her expectations, due to not being able to "try before you buy".

    Secondly, if the differences in tone are subtle for different woods, then what is the big deal? Gig the bass, and any subtleties are usually lost in the mix of vocals/other instruments and differences in venues with respect to their acoustic characteristics. Another point to be made is that the majority of audience members will not be bassists or even musicians, so will not be aware of differences in bass tone. In addition, add in choice of amplifier, effects and use of eq on the instrument/amplifier and it all becomes a bit academic. In the studio, the tone can be altered in a number of ways. EQ, how the bass is recorded ie direct vs amp and mike etc, the mix, compression, how the engineer is feeling that particular day etc.

    So, is wood choice just useful for when playing the bass alone at home?
     
  2. LiF

    LiF

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    My wife actually got me thinking about this. I was flicking through the CS gallery showing her a few options and her favourite was a Stage 1 with Zebrano wood body, Ovangkol neck and ebony board. I like the look of it but got to wondering how it would sound.
     
  3. Curtis

    Curtis Editor De Bassist magazine (NL)

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    I think a bass sound is a combination of a lot of things.

    - Body size

    - body/neck construction (neck through has a complete other way of building up the tone than set. Not better or worse but different. BO is more agressive, NT mellower. Question of taste.)

    - fingerboard wood (my maple board P sounds much different than my rosewood board P)

    - Body woods. I always recognize the nasal sound of mahogany

    - Bridge: More mass = less wood tone IMHO

    - Frets, jumbo or tiny. See bridge.

    - The place where the neck meets the body (part of the sound of the SG guitar) is made because of the relatively long neck.

    - Pick ups, electronics

    - Pick up placing

    (- and of course your fingers, style, ...)

    And more.

    All make the bass sound like it sounds and of course things like body wood types will influence the sound more than tiny vs. jumbo frets. So yes: Body and neck woods make big differences.

    How a bass sounds at home is one thing, but I always want to know how it sounds in a band. My Buzzard isn't my nicest bass if I play alone, but live it just cuts through the sound like a hot knife through butter. My Thunderbird's always nice but nicest with acoustic guitars.

    Okay, if you play on a ragety old amp with lots of distortion... Woods don't make a difference;)
     
  4. LiF

    LiF

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    Thanks for the reply Curtis. Good points.

    However, first off, are you, or anyone else, actually able to hear the sound front of house? I'm not.

    Doesn't answer my question, why should I pay extra for a beautiful CS with exotic woods when it may not sound like the original bass I was digging?
     
  5. Curtis

    Curtis Editor De Bassist magazine (NL)

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    Hmm.. Well, people may not hear the exact sound of the bass, but they will hear the character. Is it just a very low bass underneath the guitars or an agressive bass cutting through...

    For my rock band my Buzzard suits very well, but for my melodic pop band the Star Bass (not mine) was great! So yes, people hear the character of a bass.

    But: Exotic woods... A normal maple bass won't sound different than AA flamed maple or AAAA flamed... Well, each piece of maple will sound slightly different, but you'll know what I mean..

    You buy an exotic CS bass if you love it, if you've got the money, if you want to be seen, if you want to treet yourself on somethin nice... And of course if you have some strange ideas. As a workhorse a normal Warwick will do. And still beautifull;)
     
  6. Florin

    Florin Warwick Forum Administrator Staff Member

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    This is a good question my friend.

    Well, there are two kind of woods in CS. Ok... 3 of them.
    Some are just for aesthetic reasons, with no sonic properties like burls. Other are chosen for their sound - like you know how maple, or mahagony, etc will change your sound.
    Or you could chose nice figured good tonewoods, like spalted, flamed, birdseye, quilted maple, Zebrano, Swirly bubinga, etc.

    Having the possibility to change the tonewoods is a good thing, if you have good experience with that. Or if you have friends like us, with good experience :)

    However, if you like 100% a SSI, then the safest way is to order it standard.
    Or to chose different kind of maple. A Zebrano top will not change the sound too much, zebrano is pretty similar to maple when used for bodies.

    I hope you are not more confused now :)
     
  7. gricko

    gricko

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    i would not care much about woods, except for purely aesthetic reasons. :)

    apart from woods there are two other major ingredients - strings and amplification.
    giving you almost infinite number of combinations.

    using roundwounds vs flatwounds or steel vs nickel vs bronze vs nylonwound....

    if we were talking about an acoustic instrument - hat down for wood types being the major ingredient. as for an electric instrumens - woods are just a link in a very long chain.

    for example:
    i'm playing a thumb nt and rickenbacker 4001. two quite different beasts. both w/ d'addario nickel roundwounds and both through an ampeg v4b. live there is a very small difference. and that small difference is a result of thumb's hotter output.
    when i record them directly, thumb has a bit fuller sound, waves are more saturated [thanx to active electronics]. again - soundwise - not that different.

    this was one extreme opinion.
     
  8. Mr Praline

    Mr Praline Forum Silly Person

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    Not at all. Basses of different brands/woods sound exactly the same.
     
  9. Florin

    Florin Warwick Forum Administrator Staff Member

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    Never heard of someone saying that the thumb NT sounds the same as a Rickenbacker. I don't think you can find basses with more different character :)
    Don't fool yourself mate, the wood has a MAJOR influence in sound, even for electric basses.
    The strings, electronics, pickups, amps, etc, will change the color, nuance of the sound.
    But the true voice comes from the choice of woods, and position of the pickups
     
  10. noodles

    noodles

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    I have a Corvette std. 5 w/Wenge neck, a Thumb BO 5 and a Streamer Jazzman 5. When I play slap on them acoustically they all sound very different. The Vette is the darkest and the Streamer is the brightest.
     
  11. LiF

    LiF

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    Or order one of each, standard and exotic! :eek:;)

    Okay, that provides a little more clarification. I haven't a clue when it comes to this stuff.

    The Zebrano example raises a point. You say it is pretty similar to maple in terms of sound, however, the bass I was referring to also has an ovangkol neck. I have read on here that neck wood has a great effect on tone, so what would that do to the SS1 tone?
     
  12. LiF

    LiF

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    This made me remember something. Many years ago, when I was at school, my band at the time made a little demo. We went to a local recording studio, and I took my bass with me. This was my first ever bass, a Westone Thunder 1 Our Guitar Selection/Electric/Westone Thunder 1A Bass. It cost me £125 and I had saved my paper round money up to buy it.

    I was a Marillion fan at the time, and Pete Trewevas was a Rick player. Anyway, the engineer asked me what tone I wanted and I told him and he was able to replicate it perfectly. He also did some twiddling and showed me a huge different number of tones all from that little cheap Japanese bass. I guess live is different though.
     
  13. MaxOnBass

    MaxOnBass The Chatbox Troll

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    well, in my experience (talking only about live gigs now), wood configuration has an effect on the overall sound in one major aspect: the body of the sound. What comes out of your bass is the base, the clay you shape with the amps and stuff.. it's the bottom of the sound chain and a foundation for everything, so it makes a difference. Also, speaking of difference, you can hear it very well when you compare two different basses. Once I had in my hands two customs, made by a local luthier, one 4 string mahogany body, maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard, other one a 5 string alder body, maple top, maple/walnut neck and ebony fb, both fitted with the same electronics, pickups, strings and both BO. Fiddled with them before their soundcheck and listened to them during the soundcheck: with same settings, in the same song, those two basses sounded VERY different to me, but it was a difference only a musician would notice.. So my two cents, IMO, IMHO etc would be that all those wood differences are there for the studio, for you, for your band and for the musicians in the crowd (in that order).
     
  14. Florin

    Florin Warwick Forum Administrator Staff Member

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    Well, LIF, you can replicate fairly well a RIC sound with your cheap bass. It looks to be NT, with maple neck, similar to RIC wood combo. And the pickup is a single P - it can sound similar with rick's too.
    But it is true, an experienced sound engineer, or even player almost can work wonders with a bass and his skills, both live and in studio.
    You can replicate a sound as long as some of the characteristics is there. For example a RIC is nasal - bright, and very low- deep too. A thumb (5 and 6 strings) is pretty much the opposite - centered around 250 HZ, with no "real" lows, and no "real" high mids. If the bass doesn't have those "real" high mids, you cannot boost them with the eq, because it is nothing there but noise.
    A SSII can replicate the ric sound better :)
    [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISeXZW_pZdk]YouTube - Florin Barbu - Bass Soundcheck[/ame]
     
  15. MaxOnBass

    MaxOnBass The Chatbox Troll

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    and Flo here explained the entire thread in one sentence (IMO) :)
     
  16. LiF

    LiF

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    I have owned cheap basses and expensive basses. I would always go with the expensive option, if I could afford it and given the choice. Better made, look better, higher quality components, easier to play and usually sound better.

    I guess I could rephrase my question. Given that I am going to buy a SS1 in the near future, should I just go standard(apart from ebony board) or should I go CS and get something that looks nice, but take a chance that it may not sound exactly like a SS1?
     
  17. LiF

    LiF

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    @Florin, see post 11, I asked about the Zebrano bass, any input you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
     
  18. Florin

    Florin Warwick Forum Administrator Staff Member

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    There are some options that will not modify (almost) at all the sound.
    Being a NT bass, the main sound is given by the neck, so little modifications to the body will still keep the original sound.
    A beautiful exotic top, or finish, inlays, LEDs, Nameplate, matching headstock, hardware, piezo, are only a few options that will keep the original sound but will bring something extra visual and soundwise (piezo)
     
  19. Florin

    Florin Warwick Forum Administrator Staff Member

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    There are some options that will not modify (almost) at all the sound.
    Being a NT bass, the main sound is given by the neck, so little modifications to the body will still keep the original sound.
    A beautiful exotic top, or finish, inlays, LEDs, Nameplate, matching headstock, hardware, piezo, are only a few options that will keep the original sound but will bring something extra visual and soundwise (piezo)
     
  20. LiF

    LiF

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    Some good answers here, seems a friendly forum. :d

    Okay, sorry to flog a dead horse, but I just thought of another way of re-phrasing this.

    Given a certain type of bass, for instance a SS1, will different choices of wood for body, FB and neck change the character of the bass? In other words, is there still the fundamental and unmistakeable character of the SS1?
     
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