Most bass guitars are constructed out of wood. Tone wood refers to the woods used in a bass to enhance the sound, or tone, of the bass guitar.
One thing to consider when buying a bass guitar is the hardness or softness of the woods used. Most woods used on basses are classified as "hard woods", but we are talking about the relative hardness or softness.
Harder woods have a brighter, snappier sound to them. They give a bass a nice percussive tone. Harder woods include Hard Maple (or Rock Maple), Ebony, Walnut, Paduak, Wenge, Koa and Rosewood.
Rosewood is a commonly used wood on the fingerboards of bass guitars. While it is bright and clear, it has a bit more warmth and darkness than the other common fingerboard wood - maple.
Softer woods have a mellower, warmer tone. Softer woods include Alder, Swamp Ash and Basswood. These woods are commonly used for bass guitar bodies as they have very resonant qualities.
Mahogany is a medium-hard wood and is used in some bass guitar bodies.
The Janka Wood Hardness Test
There is a wood hardness test called the Janka Hardness Test. The Janka test measures the force needed to lodge a small metal ball into a piece of wood. This can give you an idea of how hard or soft the wood is.
Wood Hardness Chart for Common Bass Woods
Here's a list of common woods used for bass and their hardness rating. The higher the number, the harder the wood.
Mixing Up the Woods
Usually basses are created out of a mix of woods to balance out the overall tonal qualities of the bass and its weight distribution. You wouldn't want a 15 lbs neck and a 5 lbs body!
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