Electric guitars, as well as bass guitars, use a type of wood that is called ash wood. It was initially used during the 1950s as a preferred material for building the bodies of guitars.
But there is a considerable debate and confusion about Swamp ash vs ash. You might have discovered several basses or guitars that are adorned in a blond-ish shade – all of which are made from the wooden material known as Ash.
Now, there are several types under the category of Ash trees, but for the manufacture of guitars, the American Ash tree is the most used.
Underneath this well-known tree, we find a variety of trees, such as the swamp ash, northern ash, etc., that carry different traits and characteristics.
As confusing as it may seem, our post today will discuss the variations of the ash tree and make various comparisons such as swamp ash vs hard ash and more to create more clarity on Ash tonewood.
So, if you’re interested, we suggest you keep scrolling down.
Is swamp ash the same as ash?
Under its generic name “ash,” there is a wide range of different wood that falls under the ash family. This includes “red or pumpkin ash” (fraxinux prufunda), which guitar makers typically name “swamp ash.”
But, the name does not indicate a variant of the tree, and it simply means an ash tree grown in swamp areas of Alabama and Mississippi.
Along with the swamp tree, there are other ash trees popularly known as Black Ash and White Ash, which are common in the regions of the north USA.
So, getting back to the question, swamp trees are basically ash trees. However, given the variety of ash trees, swamp trees cannot be categorized the same as any other ash tree.
Due to geographical region, every ash tree, including swamp ash, offers something different such as a change in tone and more.
Hence, the various names given to the same tree are to help distinguish the different characteristics such as density, color, weight, etc., which the tree develops due to its growth in different environmental conditions and areas.
To further understand the questions surrounding “swamp ash vs ash,” we have made several comparisons, which we will discuss in the next section.
Swamp ash vs ash: Tonal Differences
Being a versatile wood, one can get a lot of tone variance from the ash tree. For instance, hard ash will offer a bite, something mahogany-like.
Meanwhile, lightweight swamp ash can offer a much warmer tone with excellent mid and upper ranges.
But, how different are the tone? What are the tonal differences between swamp ash and other ash like northern or hard ash?
For one, swamp ash carries an airy, sweet, and twangy sound. It offers pleasant highs, firm lows, and a good sustain, along with a slightly scooped midrange.
Northern ash, on another note, provides a more pronounced high midrange, with more punch and tighter sound.
However, it offers very less bass. It may not be as warm like swamp ash, but northern ash can sustain pretty well with good articulation using high gain or distortion.
Lastly, in terms of tone, the hard ash carries more treble and less warmth with a great sustain. Although hard ash tone may not be for everyone, one can get a hi-fi territory in response to tone frequency.
Now, these three does not just have tonal differences but also carry various distinctions, which will be detailed in the section below, so continue reading on.
Hard Ash vs Swamp ash vs northern ash: how different are they?
Diving into more details about the Ash tree, it has two particular types used for guitar bodies—Northern Ash and Southern Ash.
The Southern Ash is more commonly known as the Swamp Ash. This type has a lighter color and consists of huge open pores. This trait of the Swamp Ash makes the guitar have a sweeter sound when playing the instrument.
But, there’s another member that’s widely used, i.e., hard ash. So, if you’re more curious about what sets these apart, here’s a more detailed guide:
Northern Ash Wood
The Northern Ash wood is a type of wood that originates from the same background as the standard Ash tree. The two trees are products of the same species of plant but differ vastly concerning geography.
The demographic difference causes the same category of trees to contrast with one another. The wood of the Northern Ash has a smooth texture, spread evenly with a light-shaded blond color.
The grainy design is usually found to appear straight most times, but some designs can look a little curly in nature.
Their colors typically range from a lighter brown hue to white shades that bring an aura of serenity and a pleasurably neat look.
Their build is stronger and harder than that of the Ash tree wood, which is also more stiff. Due to this stiffness, musical instruments, acoustic and electric guitars alike, are usually produced by using Northern Ash wood.
It also contributes to its shock-resistant trait, so furniture and tools can be produced from it.
The Northern Ash wood is comparatively heavier and harder than other woods. Working with it is made more accessible due to its resilience and flexibility.
Swamp Ash Wood
Swamp Ash wood and Northern Ash wood are both members of the same family tree, the Ash tree. Moreover, as previously stated, Swamp Ash is distinguished by the differences caused by demographic conditions.
Swamp Ash is the wood that comes from ash trees that are found in areas such as wetlands or swamps, and this explains why they were given the title Swamp Ash wood.
Swamp Ash wood is a type of ash wood that is popularly used in the production of instruments such as the guitar and bass. It is due to the fact that they are light in color and, more notably, lighter-weight woods.
They are a type of wood that is lightweight compared to other woods and have excellent workability.
The wood can come in a plethora of colors, ranging from light brown to beige and so on. They can be stained easily as they have huge open pores on the surface that absorb effortlessly.
But, the Swamp Ash takes a lower position under the Northern Ash and Alder when it comes to the wood’s hardness and stiffness. With regard to stability as well, the wood of Swamp Ash is not as adequate as the others.
However, despite all this, its versatile workability boosts its ranks, not hampering the production of musical instruments.
It can be worked on quickly with the use of light tools. The tunes it plays are excellent with every instrument it makes up. Whether it’s strikingly high notes or ones that are distinctively midrange or hefty lows.
The low tones allow the higher overtones to circle past and ensure colossal harmonious content.
Hard Ash Wood
When it comes to ash guitars, every guitar enthusiast may have come across the thought of “Swamp Ash vs Hard Ash.” after all, these two are very popular choices when it comes to bass bodies or electric guitars (laminate and solid).
However, they’re not as popularly used in guitar necks or acoustic guitars. Ash offers excellent sustain and open grain, with hard ash being slightly heavier, brighter, and denser than swamp ash.
Hard ash wood is also relatively easier to work, although it might require filling up the grain due to its large pores. However, you will find the wood finishing, staining, and gluing quite well.
Hard ash (typically those from the European region) tends to carry a pink shade with a much closer grain pattern. This results from the tree being much smaller in size than those growing in the US, making the wood deliver more brown strikes.
In terms of tone, Hard Ash offers more treble with less warmth and delivers a great sustain as well. However, a light piece of the wood can deliver a very similar tone to the swamp ash.
Swamp Ash as a Tonewood For Guitar
Swamp Ash is most normally linked to Fender Guitars, Solid Body, especially the Telecaster along with the early Stratocasters.
However, Swamp Ash doesn’t really pass the check for guitar necks, acoustics or fingerboards as it is not hard or stiff enough.
Regarding appearance, Ash can have some interesting grain patterns. But it can also be designed in simple and straight grains, which is quite boring and plain, unlike others.
The Swamp Ash wood is quite well-known for creating unusual and interesting patterns, including the Arches, Cathedrals, Eclipses, and Ovals.
If you happen to find a Fender dressed in a Sunburst body along with particularly distinct grains that pass in ripples/move/groups together, it’s most probable that you are gazing at a Swamp Ash guitar.
In general, Ash is considered relatively bright and resonant, especially with the company of single-coil pickups.
Moreover, Swamp Ash, in particular, is resonant throughout all frequencies. However, its highs are more noticeable as a result of their slightly raised midrange.
Swamp ash as a tonewood for guitar offers users percussive quickness if/when the instrument is flat-picked hard, while a balanced sweetness is presented when it is fingerpicked with light touches.
Moreover, swamp ash has an excellent dynamic range, as seen in instances like the loaded Gibson or the Humbucker (both are made of swamp ash).
The guitar produces a less cloudy sound that leans towards the open top end with a lightweight structure.
Weight & Price
When compared to other popular tonewood such as Alder, Ash wood is relatively considered a bit heavier.
Given its weight of about 3 to 3.6 kg, it is somewhat heavy. However, it’s essential to consider the guitar’s weight based on how companies manufacture it.
One thing about swamp ash as a tonewood is that it can be both light and heavy since the material varies depending on size.
Overall, swamp ash is pretty lightweight, and when compared to other tonewood, there won’t be much contradictions.
When picking out a quality guitar, the price of ash wood plays a major role. Generally, ash wood is considered not the cheapest, although it is not the most expensive as well.
Much of the pricing of a swamp ash guitar is also based on its lightweight character. Hence, it’s not commonly used in low-end guitars.
Is swamp ash hard?
Regarding its stability and stiffness, swamp ash provides a pretty solid structure. However, it is not as stiff and stable as its relative hard ash.
This is one good reason why swamp ash is not exclusively used for the neck construction of a guitar.
Although, it is popularly used for developing the bodies of bass and electric guitars as its resonant and warm tone improves the instrument’s tone.
Is ash wood a good option for guitars?
Ash wood is considered an excellent pairing for creating balanced tones, especially in the case of an electric guitar. Much of the popularity is also a result of its clear bass, scooped mids, and strong upper-midrange.
Overall, Ash wood is a popular and excellent tonewood for electric guitars, thus, sharing the stage with other wood such as alder and mahogany.
Is Fender still using ash?
Fender exclusively used ash wood for their electric guitar along with bass bodies from the early 50s to mid-50s. But, presently, the company uses ash on smaller projects.
Guitars and basses containing blonde finishes generally have ash bodies as the wood is able to take the finish quite nicely.
What is Swamp Ash commonly Used for?
Swamp ash, which is part of the famous tonewood ash family, is commonly utilized for one major musical instrument – the guitar. It is popularly associated with the instrument due to its lightweight characteristic.
Is swamp ash heavy?
With a range of 2-5ft diameter, the weight of swamp ash varies from light soft to even heavier type, which generally weighs from 36lbs to 41lbs.
Hence, swamp ash is not necessarily heavy, but some types can also be heavy, depending on its size. However, swamp ash is generally considered to be lighter than Northern Ash, one of its relative members.