The Theory of Wood

according to Brian Barrett
and copied by many

With the growing number of wood species and exciting exotic’s, wood is the beginning force of any instrument in which the initial tone is created (beleive it or not). Different woods bring different tone options to all instruments. Every instrument is different, in the same way that every piece of wood (even the same type) is too. If you’ve ever had the thought that this bass doesn’t sound like it originally did, it’s because your now finding out the electronics while being wonderful, hide many tones that the woods have to offer over time. And until you have played a bass and the woods have seasoned, it is then you will begin to hear the true nature of the wood’s tone. Many people will say their “basses only get better with age”, and its because of the wood‘s seasoning.


Wood is the driving force behind the creative tone and strength of an instrument. Laminates are a factor in the strength aspect while combining different woods creates different tones in-an array of beauty. The strength in a neck comes from lamination of woods whether it is 2, 3 or 13. The fact is that strength is created by vertical lamination of wood. The added laminates begin to create tones when thinner laminates separate large pieces. Similar to the all-familiar tone plates on the body of instruments…. Well they do the same in a neck!

The tones different woods produce


The all-fabulous maple has been honored in a majority of instruments ever built. Maple produces a bright and high midrange tone that projects well. This is also a wood that has been used for its strength many times over in multi-laminate necks. Maple is also used as tops on bodies to provide snap to the tone of the instrument.


Wenge is one of my favorites as it adds many dimensions to an instrument with the bottom and depth that many try to tweak in with electronics and is easily solved by the use of wenge! Wenge produces low-end midrange and bottom. Wenge is a very- very rigid wood and is very good in the construction of necks. Padouk has a very similar woof to wenge and is orange-ish/red in color

Mahogany & Koa

These are two of the best known body core woods available. Many might not like the two combined because Koa is thought of as somewhat higher quality (which can be argued) needless to say they both are extremely productive body woods. These two woods produce a punch and the smoothness in the tone. They also work well in the neck lamination process and adding these qualities to the instrument. Zebra wood is another with the same tonal characteristics as Mahogany yet heavier for the most part. Zebra is a very beautiful wood and used quite often.


This over the years has become one of the strongest body woods for instruments. Maybe its going back to the 60’s Jazz, but man they had it going on. Alder is an even tonal wood across the freq. spectrum. Alder tends to be lighter weight over many of the other body woods while creating a rich and even tone vs. its counter parts that tend to focus in specific frequency spectrums.


Ash has more of a 70’s vintage and Jazz/P bass vibe with a high register mid. This wood give off tones in more of a brighter growl quality and not as much in the punch area of tone. Northern ash is a heavier ash with more girth and deeper tone quality than swamp ash.


One of the most generally used fret boards for warmth has over the years evolved into a wood that is used for many other aspects then just fret boards. Rosewood comes in many types and each produces different types of qualities in tones. Rosewood is a very important wood in the bass building world and produces a warmer tone then its counter part in finger boards then ebony. Rose wood is a great smooth and warm tone for fret boards and in the construction of multi-laminate necks.


Ebony is a choice many times because of its aggressive attack. It is hard and dense while lasting longer and provides a brighter, more intense tone. Ebony too, has been used in neck construction, as it is a hard wood that is used well in thin laminates between bigger woods like maple and wenge. Ebony too, like maple is used as a top on instruments because it provides a bright snap aspect to the instrument


Bubinga, while being one of the more heavier woods, brings tightness or solidness to an instrument. Bubinga at times is a very beautiful wood and creates a very pleasant tone and can be used in most any part of the instrument construction. Bubinga tones are bright, mid range, but most important provide solidness to the feel on the instrument.

Final thoughts

There are many other woods out there that bring other qualities and tones to an instrument. Everyone hears tones differently. Finding your tone can be a cost endeavor and be very frustrating. Many might need to actually contact a custom builder or know a knowledgeable dealer (which is hard to come by 🙂 or talk one on one with he/she on how to achieve your tone and what combination of woods will produce it. Of course you won’t have any luck with big name companies. That is why I support our custom builders out there and those that want to build for the love of music and the instruments… while being famous or at least having a name with some weight is nice, don’t slap your name on cheap instruments just to make a buck off poor souls that don’t know any better until after the fact. Everyone needs to live and I’m not in any way against anyone making a living or being very wealthy, but don’t cheat people! There are a few out there!

I hope this has been helpful. Please contact me about any questions or help with building a bass or finding a great builder to create your bass and tone. The coloration of your rig can throw a frustrating twist into what you hear, so consider a truer sound and not a colored rig until your familiar with the bass. And a thought to leave you with, always play a bass acoustically and remember electronics and pickups are easily changed!