How Wood Effects Tone

Discussion in 'Luthiery, Modifications & Customizations' started by Danukenator, May 8, 2012.

  1. Danukenator

    Danukenator Kane's Bane

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    I've had a question about this for a while. It seems most people would agree that woods all possess a different tonal qualities.

    I don't understand how the wood effects to tone itself. The pickups and amp take the string vibrations and convert them into an electrical signal that can be interpreted. Where does the wood come into that? Can wood effect the electrical signal, that seems unlikely? Does it effect how the strings physical moves when struck?

    In a similar vein of questioning, how does being a hollow body effect the tone of something that is, again, coming from the pickups?
     
  2. bob123

    bob123 Banned

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    The wood is how the body resonates with the strings. The pickups pick up this said resonance via the strings. theres a reason a mahogany strat sounds nothing like an alder strat.


    Hollowbody's sound "thicker" and in general feedback easier.

    Im not a "tone whore", and I do believe MOST of the sound comes from string gauge and the pickups you use more then the wood itself, but the wood does play a factor in the type of tone you get.

    more wood = louder strings. Softer wood = more midrange tone from strings. Strings vibrate differently to produce said tone. Pickups reflect the wood you put them in.
     
  3. Explorer

    Explorer He seldomly knows...

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    In the few times someone has posted clips to see if people with "golden ears" could detect the difference in guitars which were made of different woods, I don't think anyone has been able to tell. Pickups have affected the sound noticeably, though.

    I also remember at least one go-around on the acoustic guitar forum where people couldn't tell the difference between the various tonewoods.

    Sorry, not up to doing the searches to find the various surveys out there, but I'd be interested if someone found studies which showed the opposite, that the difference in woods could be heard in an electric guitar.
     
  4. groovemasta

    groovemasta SS.org Regular

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    ^ I would think the only time it would be easy to discern is you played them both through the same amp with the same settings on a clean channel with the same pickups.
     
  5. Konfyouzd

    Konfyouzd has left the building

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    Seen the same on TalkBass 2 or 3 times.
     
  6. Konfyouzd

    Konfyouzd has left the building

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    We call that a control... :agreed:

    It's the only way the test is valid.

    Doesn't take into account technique tweaks to compensate/achieve a target tone.
     
  7. Explorer

    Explorer He seldomly knows...

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    I agree that establishing controls is important if one is testing to see how much of a difference there is in sound between different woods.

    However, if even the guys on the various acoustic guitar sites couldn't tell, with no pickups and identical guitars except for woods (Martin was one of the lines used for the tests, with different woods in the same configuration)... then it's likely even less of a factor than pickups, tone knobs and eq/amp settings on electric.

    Even a lot of what people think of as "woody" sound on semi-hollows in jazz is more about tone knob level than the guitar, IMO. Somewhere there's a vid of someone using Alumitones for a "clean jazz" sound, and it has the typical jazz treble roll-off.

    If someone has to do strict controls to be sure the tone knob on a guitar doesn't bury the difference between woods... that sounds like the wood isn't a factor to be reckoned with in a huge way.
     
  8. bob123

    bob123 Banned

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    And people think their 500k pots are all 500k too ;)

    Some have +-20-30% tolerances lol. I feel thats a part of it too.


    All the same, I have a hard time believing its JUST pickups though. Put single coils in a les paul... it aint gonna sound like a strat lol. Never seen a single coil les paul, but you can compare p90 strats to p90 les pauls easily enough.
     
  9. Munch

    Munch Luthier

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    I don't know how much wood realistically affects tone, or timbre, like the others mentioned, but presumably wood will affect it to some degree. One way to think about it is that different woods will have different natural resonant frequencies (I assume shape and size affects that too) which will sap away the energy of certain overtone frequencies that the strings produce as the wood vibrates. Energy is conserved, so if the the original motion comes from the strings and the wood starts vibrating, that means it's taking some energy away from the strings. The pickups only listen to the strings so it will pick up less of those frequencies. Wood acts as a sort of sound filter in this way.

    Anyway, that's my understanding of it. I plan to do some really controlled experiments to see how much is perceptible in a typical electric guitar, and whenever I do I'll be sure to post on this site. Also, I am really curious about this subject too, so I'm excited to hear what others say. Anyone feel free to correct me too if I am misunderstanding something. Cheers!
     
  10. Munch

    Munch Luthier

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    Ooh, I forgot about that! That's totally true. My hopes are to make a bolt on guitar and swap literally only the body while keeping all the hardware, electronics, etc. the exact same individual pieces between recordings. I wonder if anyone's done that already?
     
  11. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    Amen. There's going to be a difference in wood mass when something is played acoustically, but very little difference based on the type of wood. In pianos there are full spruce soundboards and laminate soundboards, and although there is technically a difference, most people report they can't actually hear the difference, and construction and quality of the pianos way outweighs the soundboard type.
    In guitars, there are numerous myths about tone, including contradictory theories. For instance, some people think neck through instruments sustain longer, some people think bolt on instruments sustain longer. Even if there were a difference in tone between different wood species, there are so many variables in the makeup of a cut of wood there would be virtually no way to know how they're all contributing. And as most people have stated, if there is a difference it's tremendously minor. So my particular philosophy is to pick woods based on looks and price. Why? For every Alembic/Fodera/Vik/etc you see with an ostensibly "bright" wood top, body and FB you'll see one with a "dark" wood make up - and players will use the exact same adjectives to describe them.
     
  12. eddiewarlock

    eddiewarlock SS.org Regular

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    the only test i can tell, and it wasn't a test, we just compared basses was one that i did.

    I built an all mahogany 5 string bass, neck, with Yamaha pickups taken from an RBX bass.

    My brother has an alder body, maple neck bolt on RBX bass, same pickups.

    We compared both on the same amp, same settings.

    All i can say is that the mahogany bass sounded fuller, very balanced in lows, mids and highs.


    The alder and maple neck bolt on one, sounded more bright.

    To me it sounded like a stereo, one very well equalized, and the other with a lot less bass and lots of mids and highs
     
  13. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    Did you guys blind yourself to the bass that was used? I'd say that would be the most important thing to prevent subconscious bias.
     
  14. gs_waldemar

    gs_waldemar SS.org Regular

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    I would say guitar woods are like, uhhh - Jesus. Some say, he's all the meaning and all the difference, some don't even think he exists...

    Certainly if you try measuring the difference in a scientific way - you will fail, if you just believe in it, you will hear it above everything else!!

    btw I am a religious and tonewood atheist :) I can never hear a difference in pickups or wood if it is not something really lousy, like some stock pickups...
     
  15. eddiewarlock

    eddiewarlock SS.org Regular

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    No, that's why i said it was no test.

    But we didn't have any prejudices, we had only heard that the mahogany bass would be VERY dark, and since it was a neck thru, it'd be muddy as hell.

    And it wasn't...


    That said...

    I have been thining of using this old Ibanez plywood body and make a thru body neck for it. just for shits and giggles. I figure it can't sound bad
     
  16. vansinn

    vansinn SS.org Regular

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    It's interesting that so many mostly talk about the body and how it resonates.
    Some years ago, a US university did a controlled test showing how vibrations are placed throughout both body, neck and headstock:

    http://www.acs.psu.edu/drussell/guitars/index.html

    The tests were liminted to a few instruments sponsored by Gibson.
    This made the test insufficiently conclusive, but still provides very interesting results, clearly showing not only how different bodies vibrates, but also how the necks and headstock playes-in.

    Munch (IIRC) above said the tonewoods behaves like a filter, which is actually quite close to what takes place.
    Any wood will affect tone and sustain by coupling, or vibrating, more with certain frequencies than others, and vise versa, not coupling too well with yet others.

    Where and how such couplings occur, will determine where in the frequency spectrum we'll have a peak, due to resonance, and where we'll have a dip, due to out-phasing.

    I of course have no data to show, but I believe different categories of woods behaves more or less the same, and as such, that which specific wood specimen in such categores are used matters less than which of the categories is used - and separately for body and neck.
    I also believe that size and shape plays a decent role to tone and sustain.
    From there on, I believe the electronics is what mostly shapes the final tone.

    FWIW, this site has a number of interesting links (I haven't had time to peruse them..):
    http://www.guitarengineer.com/index_files/Page2240.htm
     
  17. Danukenator

    Danukenator Kane's Bane

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    Well this is all very interesting. I really want to see some of these blind test threads. Does anyone that mentioned them remember the thread at all?

    I should also ask, does anyone own two very similar guitars. Perhaps if two -people own similar guitars but both have Axe-Fxs they could play through the same patch.

    Also, any builders want to chime in? We already had one.
     
  18. broj15

    broj15 SS.org Regular

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    I don't really think that each species has it's own effect on tone. I do, however, feel like different species of wood resonate better than others, thus providing you with more sustain. But for metal that kind of become irrelavent in a metal setting when your using alot of gain. Especially when active pickups are involved
     
  19. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    What would wood do? I have a bumper sticker saying WWWD. :lol:

    But you're probably right. There is never going to be a test that can definitively rule out all variables to the point that everyone is satisfied, because wood is organic, and very hard to control for variations.
     
  20. eddiewarlock

    eddiewarlock SS.org Regular

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    I like that explanation, wood acts like a filter. I think that's the most accurate description.
     

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