Electric guitars are one of the major sources of entertainment for youth and elders alike all over the United States. Each year, millions of purchases of electronic guitars are reported in the United States alone.
After all, they are much easier to use as compared to the manual ones and also provide users with a lot of options as to what they want to do with the guitar.
If you have ever purchased an electric guitar, or atleast have seen somebody around you who owns one, you will be eager to ask them about which wood their guitar is made of.
That’s because this is the most common question when it comes to electric guitars.
There are two kinds of wood that have been used predominantly in the making or manufacturing of electric guitars. One is swamp ash wood, and the other is Alder.
While Ash was the wood being used in the olden days to make guitars, it has been supplanted to a large degree by alder wood, the reason being that Ash turns out to be quite heavy.
However, that is not entirely true, as the weight of a guitar is not only determined by the kind of wood it is made of but also by many other factors, such as guitar nuts, strings, and other aspects of an instrument.
It is only fair to now ask why only these two kinds of wood have been contributing majorly to making electric guitars and not others. Let’s try to understand what that is.
The quality and functionality of a guitar is determined by a lot of things, such as its weight, its tonal qualities, the quality of its strings, the frequency notes of the sound it produces, and so on.
Moreover, the durability of the material used in a guitar also contributes significantly to deciding its price and labelling its guarantee.
For this reason, Alder and ash wood have been successfully making their mark in the world of musical instruments for a long time now. The durability of these two kinds of wood is unmatched with any other kind of wood.
Although two of these woods have their own sets of benefits for the user, they also have some shortcomings. As always, we are here to assist you.
In this guide, we are going to study these two kinds of wood from every angle and then let you make a choice as to which one of these two kinds of wood suits your requirements best.
We are going to be talking about what really are these two kinds of wood, where do they come from, how they are different from each other, how you should decide which one to buy, and of course, the involvement of Fender regarding these two kinds of wood.
Have you heard of Fender before? If not, there is nothing to worry about. The Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, also more commonly known as Fender by people in the music industry these days, is an American company that has been many manufacturing musical instruments and amplifiers since the early 1900s.
Founded by Clarence Leonidas in Fullerton in the year 1946, the headquarters of the company is located in Los Angeles, California.
Although the company manufactures acoustic guitars and bass amplifiers as well, the one product that it is most renowned for is its electric guitar and bass guitar, which are undoubtedly the best sellers of the corporation.
Some of its most sold electric guitars include Jazzmaster, Precision Bass, Jazz Bass, Jaguar, Stratocaster, and Telecaster.
If you want to know more about the company and the products it manufactures, we suggest you to take a look at the company’s website, on which you will find full descriptions of every guitar you like.
Moreover, you will also realize on their website that a large majority of the guitars available on this website are made from Alder.
We will look into that a bit later as we delve into what each of these two kinds of wood is and how they have been used in the manufacturing of guitars.
What is Alder?
Belonging to the birch family, Alder is a type of wood that is extremely light in weight and gives a clearly pronounced tone to a guitar, compared to some other types of wood.
In manufacturing electric guitars, Alder is being vastly used today as it has an affordable price and offers a consistent, resonant tone.
The sound produced by the wood decays at a very moderate rate, which adds to the reliability of the alder-made guitars. Moreover, it covers a diverse range of tones which is a must for beginners and professionals alike.
That’s the reason why guitars such as Jazzmasters and Jaguars use alder wood instead of swamp ash.
If we talk about the rigidity of this wood, it ranges from soft to medium scale, which helps the guitar produce completely balanced, equalized tones.
Some of the other properties of alder wood are softness, suitable color schemes, a tenacious surface that does not allow for shrinkage or swelling, and the unique pattern in this wood, which adds a lot to the guitar’s overall appearance.
Red Alder, which is a type of alder wood, is used in the manufacturing of most of the fender guitars produced nowadays.
It is different from alder wood from a usability point of view, as it is more durable than Alder and glues well to the guitar’s surface.
Moreover, red Alder is also known for its sharp tones and incredible sustainability.
This makes Alder the perfect choice for beginners who are still getting used to working with a guitar and want a maximum number of features to experiment with.
Now that we have had a brief overview of what Alder is let’s look into swamp ash.
What is Swamp Ash?
Swamp Ash is another widely renowned type of wood when it comes to the making of Fender guitars.
It is a wood with reasonable weight and excessive pores on its surfaces which now comes out as a disadvantage because it minimizes the durability of the instrument.
Swamp ash is one of the two kinds of ash wood, the other being northern Ash. Swamp ash is also known as southern Ash and is a good material to work with in comparison with northern Ash because it is lighter in contrast and produces a sweet and balanced sound.
Moreover, it is also more durable than northern Ash. Swamp ash guitars offer strong low tones and clear, balanced high tones. Mids are relatively pronounced.
The wood comes in light grain color and is very dense in texture. These days, Ash is being used predominantly in making broadcasters, telecasters, and equalizers.
Although swamp ash was the only wood used to make guitars in the 1950s, its use today is greatly minimized, primarily because its accessibility has been truncated, and it is also heavy when compared with alder wood.
Difference Between Swamp Ash and Alder Wood
As we know that these two kinds of woods are extremely different from each other, let’s now look at these differences in a juxtaposed manner so that you are better equipped to make an informed decision when the time comes.
By definition, Alder belongs to the birch wood family and is lightweight. Swamp ash, in comparison, is also more or less lightweight and has a porous texture.
While Alder is being used these days primarily in making electric guitars such as Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Stratocasters, and Jazz Bass, Swamp ash is not commonly used to make guitars anymore.
Although you will still find some guitars made of Ash, lately, it is being used in the production of broadcasters, equalizers, and stabilizers.
Because red Alder is largely famous for its sharp tones and highly sustainable nature, it is used by Fender Corporation to make electric guitars.
On the other hand, swamp ash produces a sweet sound and, therefore, is being utilized in broadcasters.
Because swamp ash comes in a light grainy color, it is better suited for transparent instruments, whereas alder wood is commonly suited for solid colors.
Although swamp ash is considered to be relatively heavier in comparison with alder wood, you must bear in mind that this difference is subjective at times.
Because guitar manufacturers have the absolute control over how much a guitar weighs, they can make any kind of wood (Alder or swamp ash) lighter or heavier.
Therefore, before buying a guitar, you must carefully go through its specs so as to figure out if your ash guitar is truly heavier than the ones available in alder wood.
We have also talked about this before, but let’s look at it again by juxtaposing the two kinds of wood. While alder guitars produce a clear and balanced tone, ash guitars off clearly defined high, pronounced mids, and sharp lows.
You will probably notice an attacking, strong tone with an alder guitar. Sound-wise, Alder produces a balanced, resonant sound, whereas the ash guitar produces a more sweet sound.
Ash has a more subtle tone, which contributes to a pleasant end-product of the sound produced.
Nothing is good or bad when you the comparing the tonal qualities of alder wood and ash wood. It entirely depends upon your personal choice as to which kind of sound do you wish to experiment with.
Use of Ash in Fender Guitars
Fender – a guitar manufacturing company, used swamp ash to manufacture guitars from 1950 to mid-1956. It was the only type of wood used at that time.
However, today, Alder is being used to a large extent, and Ash is only used in a small number of guitars.
If you have ever encountered guitars having a blonde finish, you should know that they are one-of-a-kind because they have ash bodies.
Ashwood shows the finishing of these guitars exceptionally well, which is why ash guitars are now sold at extremely expensive rates.
Swamp ash, also known as southern Ash, is the most common wood used to make guitars.
It was chosen by Leo Fender, a prominent name within the Fender corporation, who then used it in making Esquire, Broadcaster, and Telecaster guitars.
On the other hand, northern Ash, also more commonly known as American Ash, is used in other practical applications such as making furniture, baseball bats, and also flooring in houses.
Northern Ash is found in the majority of the eastern side of the continent, which ranges from Nova Scotia in the north, Florida in the South, Minnesota in the west, and Texan down in the east.
Because Southern ash or swamp ash is native to wetter and southern regions of the United States, it has a porous surface, which contributes to an incredibly sweet and resonant sound.
It has a moderately defined midrange, sharp low ends, and clear highs. In most of the swamp ash guitars manufactured by the Fender Corporation, you will notice that at least two to three pieces of wood have been joined together to make the body of the guitar.
However, you can also find some exclusive guitars with single-piece bodies. Of course, the single-bodied ash guitars will be way more expensive as compared to the multi-piece guitars.
Because swamp ash wood has a porous surface, it isn’t easy to manufacture it into a guitar. The pores need to be filled in properly before any final finishes are applied, and this often turns out to be a challenge for the manufacturers.
Moreover, one swamp ash guitar will never be the same as another swamp ash guitar.
Because of their porous nature, they will have tonal differences from each other, no matter how similar they are made. In comparison with this, alder guitar bodies have a consistent sound.
Why did Fender Stop Using Ash?
Although Ash is not used predominantly in the company’s manufacturing process today, there is still widespread mention of ash wood in the company’s history, as it was the only wood material used in making the company’s guitar from 1950 to 1956.
In an interview about why the company truncated the use of ash wood in the manufacturing of its guitars, Leo Fender said, “In order to uphold our legacy of consistency and high quality, we, at Fender, have made the decision to remove Ash from the majority of our regular production models.
Moreover, what little Ash we are able to source will continue to be made available in select, historically appropriate vintage models as supplies are available”.
In another interview conducted by the Guitar World, Justin Norvell – Executive Vice President of Product of the Fender Corporation, shared that the primary reason as to why the use of Ash in the guitar manufacturing business has been truncated is the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle.
This insect is of great danger to the wood and has destroyed the ash trees significantly in the country.
The vice president further added that ash guitars will still be available in the market, but not to the same extent as before.
They will be sold at a much higher price, and they will remain limited to only high-end American music shops and facilities.
Use of Alder In Fender Guitars
The only reason why Fender switched to Alder was that it was more readily available than Ash.
Since Ash was on the brink of extinction by the pernicious beetles and was also very expensive, the company switched exclusively to Alder, which offered more stability in guitars and that too, at an affordable price.
Ever since Alder has been the go-to wood for Fender Corporation for making guitars.
Fender chose red Alder in particular because the red alder trees grow in the vicinity of Southeast Alaska to Central California.
This gives the Fender Corporation a cornucopia of alder wood so that they can go on with the production of electric guitars conveniently.
Red Alder ranks in one of the top positions as the world’s largest tree, reaching a height of upto 100 feet.
Red Alder comes with many advantages for the Fender Corporation, as it is not only lightweight but also is a closed-pore wood that offers sharp attacks and resonant sounds.
In comparison with the other alder varieties, red Alder is the most sustainable, as it glues perfectly well to make a robust guitar body. Red Alder wood also puts a greater emphasis on the midrange and suits incredibly with solid colors.
Although Ash was used predominantly in the past, just like Alder is used today, the Fender corporation has also experimented with other kinds of woods as well.
Guitars having mahogany bodies were also constructed in the years 1963 and 1964, and to date, you can find some mahogany-bodied instruments in the musical market.
Basswood-bodied instruments were also launched in the 1980s and 1990s; however, very few instruments have a body of basswood today.
Some of the other types of wood being used to a smaller degree in the construction of guitars include koto, poplar, and pine wood.
Ash Vs. Alder Wood: Which Is Better?
Since Ash and Alder both have held the fort for being the best kinds of wood for guitars, we can not really demean one and exalt the other.
However, if we see from the pricing point of view, Ash is sold at extremely high rates today, which makes it accessible to only the elite class.
On the basis of functionality, both the woods are masterpieces of their own kind, and it truly depends upon your personal preference and requirements as to which bodied guitar to buy for your music studio.
For this reason, Alder becomes a much more affordable choice for many while offering similar features as that of Swamp Ash.
We did our job in enlightening you regarding the two kinds of wood that are used primarily in the making of electric guitars. The ball is in your court now; you are the boss to decide which one to go with.