The type of wood a guitar is made of greatly affects its tone, even for electric bass guitars. Most bass guitars are constructed from wood, and the density, hardness or softness of the wood shapes the tone of the instrument. The wood chosen for the body of the bass guitar has the most impact on its sound, but the wood for the neck and fret board can also enhance the sound.
There are several types of wood used to make bass guitars. Most woods are divided into two categories: hard and soft woods. Mahogany, alder, ash and basswood are soft woods, and koa, rosewood, walnut and maple are hard woods. Soft woods tend to give a bass guitar a mellower and warmer tone, and they are very resonant woods. Hard woods give a brighter and snappier sound.
Maple is a very common wood to use for bass guitars. Since maple tends to have a flatter sound due to its heavy weight, it works very well for amplified instruments such as the electric bass. Some maple has a "curly" appearance, meaning its fibers have a wavy pattern, which gives it an appealing look and allows the fibers to vibrate more freely. Maple woods are characteristically bright and poppy in their sound, and many players choose maple to get this particular tone.
Maple is used for almost any part of a bass guitar. Maple necks tend to give a very strong tone that will cut through other instruments. When a maple neck is paired with a rosewood fret board, the sound is warmer and fatter because of the rosewood, but the maple in the neck gives the sound a presence. Bass guitar bodies can be made either of a solid piece of wood or with one thin piece of wood attached on top of a thicker piece. Solid-body guitars tend to be more expensive. Solid maple for the body gives a bass a clear and bright tone. If maple is used as a laminate on top of another wood, both woods affect the tone; the other wood will likely mellow out the sound of the maple.
Maple guitars can be made from soft or hard maple. Be wary of soft maple, which is used often in Korean factories. Soft maple is cheap, and factory-made guitars tend to be of low quality; they do not give the great pop in the low or high range of the guitar. Hard maple is difficult on factory machines, so it is rarely used in factories. Hard maple gives a strong mid range, bright upper range and tight low range. When buying a bass guitar, ask where it was made and what types of woods were used. Ask if the neck is a neck-thru or bolted on; neck-thru basses are softer and mellower than the snappy bolted-on necks. Also, the shape of the bass, length of the neck and type of finish can affect the sound of the wood.
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