Which one do you think is more important, the body or the pickups/electronics?

Hi folks.

New to bass here. I do not know where this discussion will go since I have less knowledge about bass so here it goes.

I am wondering, out of the whole elements in bass, which one do you think has a larger role to produce good sound? The wood of the body or the pickup/electronic?
Why are there bass players who use vintage bass rather than new ones? Marcus Miller is known to use 1977 Fender Jazz bass and Pino Palladino is known to use 1963 Fender Precision for example. Is it because they’re looking for the body? I suppose newer pickups/electronics is much better than the vintage ones? Are the wood of the body of these vintage basses are much better than newer ones? CMIIW

I understand that ideally the body and the electronics are great. But if you must choose one would you have :

A. Bass with body from solid wood but mediocre pickups OR;
B. Bass with body made of so-so wood but great pickups/electronics


+1 for electronics. IMO wood has much less influence on the tone than people think.


Interesting. Some of the higher end bass sold on the market seems to be expensive because of the wood used for the bass.

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Its electronics mostly, heck get distortion pedal and nothing will matter.

But woods can give slight change to tone.


Electronics and stuff like the bridge and the other hardware.
The wood doesn’t make much difference, at all.

On youtube, there is some guy who builds guitars from weird materials. Made a guitar out of concrete once. The difference to a normal guitar made from wood was negligible. So different wood types will have almost no effect, at all.

The thing why you might choose a solid body: You can swap out the electronics/pickups later.

Edit: let me rephrase the last sentence: “The reason why you would choose …”.
Because as the pickups are easily replaced, if you want to start with something decent, you better get something where all the hardware is decent, including the body. What good are the electronics if the bass can’t even hold its tuning because it is buid flimsy?


I’m just a layman and have no idea what I’m talking about, but I would bet large amounts of money that 99.99% of people (maybe even 100%) would not be able to identify the wood type based on the tone of an electric bass in a blind test


80-90+% electronics. Wood is at most 10-20% and I think even that is being generous.


Pickups for sure. In a double blind test (neither tester or player knows which wood is being played) I very seriously doubt even a professional musician would be able to reliably tell woods apart (assuming instruments were identical in all other regards).

I’ve only ever found one study that tries to really dig into this (although its electric guitar) without bias and the conclusions were interesting: Wood definitely effects how the solid body electric guitar resonates in a measurable way using a microphone not attached to the guitar - using a waveform and a computer to look for differences. But once you measure through pickups on the guitar - even the computer analysis can’t find a statistical difference in tone between the two types of wood studied. One thing not covered in the study is whether a human could hear the differences a computer could see mathematically in a waveform analysis for the slight difference found in the mic’d/no pickup test condition. My guess is that’s a hard “no”. (Although it doesn’t matter because we’re not all playing our electric solid bodies as acoustics without pickups.)
Study is here: http://www.stormriders.com/guitar/telecaster/guitar_wood.pdf

And in a maybe unpopular opinion: modern modelling works. Doesn’t matter if it’s on a multi-effects pedal, built into a modelling amp, on a computer plug-in, or done in post-production: A good model is pretty indistinguishable from the real thing - especially when it’s in the mix with the rest of a band’s sound. A sound engineer or producer listening to an isolated track on studio monitors might be able to tell. A live audience or someone listening to the full mix would never be able to tell. People think they can hear a lot more than they really can - and expectations have a LOT to do with it - placebo effect - if you think a tube amp should sound richer/fuller than you’ll perceive it that way - if you think a certain wood will give you a better top end - then you’ll hear it that way. But other people who don’t have the same expectations won’t.


The years on Fender doesn’t really mean anything really, it’s their way of protecting their intellectual properties. That and they don’t really have to race to the front with innovations the other companies spent millions in R&D. Hey if it ain’t broke why fix it.

Neck is the most important on a bass, then electronics, then hardware. Body would matter and move around the rank on that list for aesthetic purpose. If you have a Palladino relic it would rank higher on that list or an entire body made out of ebony, that would rank on the top on my list. Don’t think too much about how different it would sound unless you plan to hit it with the stick.

Hardware is another, some offer added functions like string through or top load or both, some tuners offer crazy 48:1 ratio for crazy precision fine tuning, or a saddles bridge. As far as keeping strings in tune, my cheapo Squier tuners hold the tune just as well if not better than the premium ones.

The components that makes the biggest difference in the tone is the pickup and electronics. Different materials like alnico 2 and 5, or ceramics magnets make big difference in the tone and the size of the pole has a lot to do with the speed of attack, like MusicMan style pickups.

Preamps offers additional options to your tone. As they usually offer at least a 3 band eq. Then it’s the most important aspect of the pickup, location. If you have one pickup in the middle like the p bass, everytime you move it up or down it changes. Warmer toward the neck and brighter/crisps toward the bridge. Throw in the mix is the combination of the second pickups and location will add more tonal options. Want to add more sure like Billy Sheehan or Stu Hamm.

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Marketing and cost of materials. Differentiation.


I actually think amp and cab sims sound better than real amps :slight_smile:


The wood and body material have near zero effect in a solid body electric instrument. It’s different in an acoustic instrument though.


They all have an effect, it’s a puzzle. You can make a case for any of them, and add in strings.

The body provides the foundation for everything else. Is it light enough to play for hours, does it neck dive, does it have a fast neck. These are more important than the tone of the wood. I would throw in solidly built.

If you have a good body you can change the rest.

I just finished taking my Jaguar from a passive bass to an active bass with a preamp. Dream to play now. I think body is very important because if it’s comfortable to play, you can fix the rest.

Check out all the Ray 4 builds out there

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there are a few threads that address this already in the forum.
Each thing brings something to the party, some are more impactful, some less, some very small but if you can hear the difference, than it may or may not be impactful.

If I remember correctly ,this is it in a nutshell…
Pickups are #1
Strings (may be even higher)
body shape

Let alone amps/cabs/pedals/players

May not be perfectly right, but



Seriously though you could make a bass out of sheet aluminum, no tonewood at all, and it would still sound great with the right pickups, preamp, and strings.

And then charge $4k for it :slight_smile:



added @howard, good catch


I think they can sound better too - infinitely tweakable.

Vintage stuff is incredible though - not necessarily because of the sound - but because some designs are iconic or historically important - or they’re in the lineage of an instrument that one of the greats played, etc. None of that can be sim’d by a computer chip. I’d happily take a vintage Vox if someone’s giving them away just for looks/history alone. But some people conflate the factors above with the actual sound - but the sound is very reproducible. I love the Zoom B1 Four - turn on both pickups full, set tone midway - leave everything else on the amp at 12 o’clock, turn on the Zoom and click->Motown, click ->fat tube, click ->Bassman, click ->Ampeg Portaflex, click->SVT. So cool!

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10% for tonewood would appear to be generous. You must be in a good mood :sunglasses:

IMHO everything affects tone. It’s just what percentage it affects it.
The body, bridge, strings, nut, pickups etc.
Pretty much everything I’ve read and heard over the past few years leads me to believe it’s the electronics ie pickups and pre amp that have the most affect.

I am prepared to be corrected by the hive mind. But it makes the most sense to me.


It’s funny, most guitarists have accepted that tone wood is not significant in solid body instruments but bassists seem to be lagging a bit behind in that :slight_smile:

Yes, because guitars are more than just functional items and nice wood is nice to look at. Also, heavier woods like ash stand up to abuse much better than lighter woods like basswood. Heavier body woods also feel more substantial and often balance better.