Basswood versus Alder

Yup. I got around to it.

I threatened in the last post to supply some audio files which would help to illustrate the process of building the James Bisset 50th Anniversary Strat. And hey Ma! I done it!

I've also been working on WURK until around 3am every day this week, so tonight, in an attempt to blast it out of my system before having a cool weekend with my family, I appear to have drunk half a bottle of whisky. My delighted apologies if this post seems garbled.

To re-iterate: I had a Japanese 'Hank Marvin' Squier Strat which I loved. It didn't sound fantastic, but it felt just right. So I decided to add the elusive quality to 'Hank' that would turn him from yet-another-guitar into what I remember one writer calling the sound of 'silk and barbed wire'. Rather like whisky, don't you think?

Most guitarists tend to upgrade their guitars to improve the sound by replacing the pickups, but the pickups can only reproduce what's there already (and anyway, I'd already upgraded my pickups) and it seemed obvious to me that the guitar body wood had a significant impact on the sound. If I replaced the Basswood body on Hank with a slab of foam it would certainly sound different. What would happen if I replaced it with Alder, the traditional Strat body wood?

I hunted around for research on what are known as 'tonewoods' and after swithering over Ash and Swamp Ash - both woods that Leo Fender used, I plumped for Alder (I found very helpful - although the link doesn't seem to be working now).

When my new guitar body arrived, I was desperate to convince myself that the cost would make a significant difference, so I recorded Hank, then stripped it down and screwed and bolted all the bits onto the new body. Then I recorded again so I could compare the two.

For the record:

  • the neck pocket on the new body was slightly deeper, which resulted in the action being so low that the strings buzzed nervously every time I picked up a plectrum. I wasn't about to spend hours fiddling about to get the settings just right before stripping it all apart again to paint and rebuild, so I left it like that.
  • I D.I.ed the guitar straight into the computer. How can you compare guitar sounds if you introduce a valve amp, volume settings, mikes etc. into the equation?
  • I use relatively heavy strings - 11-49 D'Addario when I can get them.

Anyway, have a listen. see what difference a slab of wood makes even in the 21st century;

Basswood vs Alder