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Finding Your Way Through the Woods

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

The sound of the bass is directly related to the type of wood it's made of

by Jennifer Hughes exclusively for Teach Me Bass Guitar and Thunder Row

 


 

Most bass guitars are made from combinations of varieties of wood. Whether a bass is a solid body, hollow body or semi-hollow model, the type of wood used for building it contributes to how it sounds. The various physical properties of different kinds of wood have a bearing on the quality of tone they produce.


A combination of two or three different kinds of wood gives a bass guitar a tone that’s different from that of other models sporting a different tonewood combination. In some cases the difference can be subtle; in others it’s more pronounced. This is why many bass guitar players often choose their instrument based on the wood a guitar has.


When choosing the best bass guitar for your needs, consider the wood. Here’s a brief overview of some of the most common kinds of wood used in bass guitars and the tone they create.


ALDER: SOUND: Somewhere between bright and dark

Alder has a reddish tint and a hard and tight grain pattern. The dense grain makes it an ideal choice for those looking for tonal clarity. It has a full-bodied, well-rounded tone that’s balanced and even across the frequency range, though it does tend to highlight the upper mids. It’s used in many bass guitars because of its clarity, balance and overall versatility.


SWAMP ASH: SOUND: Bright and sweet

Swamp ash is a porous wood that gives bass guitars a lighter feel. The color is creamy and the wood has a bold grain pattern. As a tonewood it is extremely resonant across the frequency spectrum but with slightly scooped mids. The sound is balanced but has a little more sweetness and brightness.


HARD ASH: SOUND: Bright to cutting

Compared with its porous sibling, hard ash is heavy, dense and yes, hard. Because of its greater density, the sound it produces is brighter and has more sustain. A bass guitar with a hard ash body is capable of producing harsh, distorted sounds. It’s also highly resonant and the grain is similar to that of swamp ash.


MAHOGANY: SOUND: Rich and full to growly

This reddish-brown wood has a fine, even grain and is mighty heavy. You’ll often find mahogany in guitars made by Gibson, so if you’re lovin’ that Gibson sound, this is the wood you’re looking for. Mahogany produces a tone that’s full, smooth, soft and warm, with bold and clear low frequencies. The lower-mid frequencies are also more pronounced. Bass guitars with a mahogany body have a good sustain and a punchy growl, making these the instrument of choice among rock musicians.


MAPLE: SOUND: Punchy and sassy

Maple is also dense and heavy, particularly hard maple. Maple produces a bright, punchy tone with a good sustain. Lower frequencies are still clearly articulated but it’s in the upper-mid and high ends that maple bass guitars shine the most. Soft maple isn’t as bright as hard maple but it still has a good, bright attack. Maple also has a variety of grain patterns that are featured in many premium bass guitar models.


BASSWOOD (Great name!): SOUND: Well balanced, not too warm or too bright

Soft and lightweight, basswood - also known as linden or lime - has a rather plain-looking appearance that often gets covered up with an opaque finish. It does produce a good, balanced and warm tone. And because it’s more readily available than other kinds of wood like mahogany, basswood is commonly featured on bass guitar models for beginners and those looking for budget-friendly options.


Basses are made using a mix of different kinds of woods to balance everything out. For example, a warm-sounding mahogany body can be paired with a bright-sounding maple neck for a more even tone. Mixing up different kinds of tonewoods also helps in distributing the weight of the bass guitar more evenly so it’s more comfortable to hold and play.


We hope this information helps you build or choose a great ax.


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