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Alder and Ash bodies: Is there a difference?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by MOTORHEADBANGER, Mar 21, 2009.

  1. If you use a lot of FX and EQing you will not notice much difference AFTER but the original start tone will show.
    Here is a list and decriptions of tonewoods from Warmouth

  2. Tumbao


    Nov 10, 2001
    Alder is so good to my shoulder, ears and pocket.
  3. Lakland site FAQ:

    Q. What is the difference between Ash and Alder for body wood?

    A. Southern Swamp Ash tends to be a little lighter and has a more figured grain that is suitable for translucent and sunburst finishes It has great full-range tonal characteristics, very balanced. Alder has more of a "midrange punch." It is the type of wood Fender used on many of their early (pre-CBS) Jazz Basses. Alder offers what many consider the "Vintage" tone.

    NB: There's noticeable difference between "ash" (classic, think 70-ies Fender JB) and "swamp ash" (modern basses). Try to find out what year the bass was made and try luck in the Fender owners section to see what kind you're most likely to have got. Ash is much heavier, with a brighter responce and ringing clarity. Swamp ash is much lighter, bright but not SO bright, has this kind of expressive and stand-out sound that marks the sound of the bass in the mix. Alder is warmer and milder on the high end which, taken that this is a Precision bass, may be, and may be not complementing to the sound you wish to get.

    However, I am up with my both hands for what has been said about particular basses. I prefer swamp ash basses. One of my swamp ash/maple basses sounded just like I explained; the other didn't. In fact, my alder/rosewood bass (all 3 same model, pickups and electronics) sounded somewhere in between.
  4. IME the neck has more to do with tone than the body does.
  5. I have always auditioned basses prior to purchase by first playing them for a while unplugged, just using the "body amp" to feel the resonance, tightness, etc.

    Ash bodied instruments have *typically* seemed brighter and snappier to my senses. Alder slightly warmer. My old '77 'Ray was ash and to this day remains the brightest/snappiest of any bass I ever tried ala mode. But I agree with other posters that string selection/pickups/electronics and setup add at least an equal amount if not more to the total projected sound. And, once plugged in, your pre-amp/amp/speaker/cabinet and even stage placement makes a huge difference in the final sound product.

    That said, I do personally believe in some of the purported tonewood voodoo ... but you can truly make up for a lot of that (or render it moot completely) by your signal chain.

    My two cents ...
  6. PS: Swamp Ash can be quite light in weight also ... though I know some people won't agree.
  7. +1 on the Warmoth link for good basic description of the characteristics of various wood choices.
  8. maxbass


    May 22, 2002
    Milano Italy
    Neck for sure, but not the fingerboard
  9. Mr. Ray

    Mr. Ray

    Feb 20, 2009
    There are differences in every piece of wood. What I have noticed what can effect the timbre/tone is 1.) the weight 2.) How many pieces i.e one solid piece or multi laminations. If half the body has a different weight or density could that not effect the sound of certain strings? Overall you have to look at the complete bass...the body is only one factor in the sound.
  10. iammr2


    Jun 10, 2002
    I'm going to disagree here. I have never played a bass made from basswood or poplar that I could get a satisfactory(to me) sound out of. I've owned a basswood bodied Fender and tried many others. The tone I get is just dead and lifeless. Of course, that may be because of my technique, the way I play, but that doesn't happen with other basses that are made from tonewoods.

    Also, if that were the case, why wouldn't Fender, Gibson, Sadwosky, etc., be making their basses out of cheaper woods? I don't see Tobias himself doing that.
  11. BillyRay

    BillyRay Supporting Member

    Jan 20, 2008
    Two points:
    a) The cheaper Fender bass that use cheaper woods (duh) usually also have cheaper pickups and quality of the construction and assemblage is usually not as good as the Ash/Alder bodied instruments.
    b) Sadowsky doesn't make their bass out of basswood because it looks ugly as sin and because of everyone's perception that alder and ash are superior. It also dents more easily since it's softer.

    I've seen plywood basses that sounded VERY GOOD (my old Memphis, how I miss ya...) and high-end Swamp Ash that sounded horrible and lifeless to me.

    To OP, try out the bass. If it sounds/plays good to you, don't think twice about woods.
  12. iammr2


    Jun 10, 2002
    Excellent points. Especially the last one to the OP.
  13. edubb


    Dec 6, 2006
    Several prominent builders. None that I spoke with think that "tone woods" are irrelevant. Mike Tobias would be one of them. He even told me what combination of tone woods he preferred sound wise, as well as the sound you would get from a bunch of different combinations. That is a far cry from saying they dont really matter.
  14. HammerSmashBASS


    Mar 22, 2009
    i'm not going to say that tonewoods are irrelevant. i simply said "nowadays" sometimes when i play some cello solos on my basses i always play them on my mahogony/wenge bodied sr5006e with the eq flattened right out, on an old old amp that only has a volume knob. or on my yamaha trb6iip. both have completely different tones. i just meant nowadays with the over the top tone mods that exist today. again like stated in other posts take a good look at it for yourself and compare, not all woods are created equal, but they can be manufactured or altered to be comparable (ie heat hardening, alternative drying process, chemical treating) but yeah just play it and if you like it get it. besides who really wants to stick to a single tone anyways?
  15. bassman_al

    bassman_al Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2008
    Fairfax, VA USA
    I have been trying to figure out how to tell what my '72 is made of. Ash or alder? How can I tell? searched on different threads for the last hour... Thanks.
  16. BassmanAd


    Mar 19, 2008
    You can normally tell between ash and alder on a 70's P by just picking them up. If it's ash, it weighs a ton. If it's alder it's much lighter.
  17. Fender32


    Jun 23, 2005
    Kent, England
    :meh: Hard to tell by looking at the pics - it could be either, IMO, judging by that wood grain.

    I think that ash was much more commonly used during the mid-'70s ... but in '72 :confused:!?

    As said, if it weighs over 10lbs, there's a good chance that it's ash (my old ash/maple '75 weighed 11.2lbs :bawl:). Still, you need to add a few ounces to discern the true weight of your bass, on account of all the missing fret wire :bag:.

  18. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    I agree. I own a swamp ash G&L Tribute. I had been looking to pick up a second one (to make fretless) for a long time (until I bought my MIA fretless L-2500).

    The point is I tried a lot of these basses looking for a nice used one. And I agree with Iammr2. Tribs come in basswood and Ash. And every basswood one I played was dull lifeless and unable to get that tonal edge. It's not like it ruined the bass or anything. You could still play it and the sound change was minor. But to my ears and feel it certainly was there. The "tonewood" stories are not 100% imagination!

    But this was a perfect test. All basses identical except for the tonewood. Now does that mean a bongo bass is dead and lifeless? I don't think so. Different bass. Different electronics. Clearly electronics sound can way overpower the minor effects of "tonewoods". And in the bongo case clearly the choice of basswood ADDS to the final tonal product when combined with the electronics and other bass characteristics. So wood choice is obviously relative and you can't make some hard and fast rule.
  19. Generally in the 70's if a bass was natural, it was ash. If it was a color or sunburst, it was alder.
  20. mulchor


    Apr 21, 2010
    St Pete, FL
    Note that prominent builders make their living by taking pieces of wood, shaping them, and charging for it.

    I'm not saying it's not true.

    And to avoid endless stupid flaming that happened in a previous thread let me make it clear that I don't think these are bad people.

    But as a point of logic, appealing to the purveyors of tonewoods is misguided.

    As far as Ash vs Alder: Ash (swamp ash) is going to look better in transparent finishes.

    Alder is a good wood to use because it grows like a weed (literally), and if crafted well can make an instrument that will sound lovely, without pillaging some rainforest for increasingly-rare species.

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