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Ash, Maple, and . . . Mahogany?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by CheshireCatFun, Apr 2, 2013.

  1. Swamp Ash and Maple should be fine . . . you don't need Mahogany

    17 vote(s)
  2. Mahogany would add a rich dimension and tone to the Swamp Ash and Maple

    16 vote(s)
  1. CheshireCatFun


    Mar 9, 2013
    I working on the woods I was going to use for the current build I'm doing, and being that this was largely going to be drawn from a Fender P-Bass, I was going to content myself with maple for the neck and swamp ash for the body, however, I've been hearing the siren call of mahogany. It would be sandwiched in-between two layers of ash, hidden by the black banding of the burst finish I'm going to do, so I wouldn't have to deal with any maudlin or ambiguous aesthetics rather having a classic P-Bass look, but I am just debating if the addition of mahogany would really make a difference.


  2. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    I don't see why you would want to add mahogany at all if you're just going to paint it.
  3. CheshireCatFun


    Mar 9, 2013
    Well, that was my thought. I was thinking along the lines of tone, and if it would make any noticeable difference, and, if so, how much should I add, percentage wise, to make a difference.

  4. musicman666


    Sep 11, 2011
    I don't know a thing about tones and wood but I say go for it and use some HOG wood!
  5. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Skip the mahogany, it will yeild no difference in tone.
  6. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Skip the swamp ash, and go with a mahogany body and maple neck!

    (I know, that wasn't one of the choices....)
  7. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    Ash neck and Walnut Body??? LMAO:eek::cool:
  8. With mahogany you will cut some high and mid frequency, so if you want a dark/deep sound go for it!
    But be careful of the weight....
  9. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Mahogany boards can vary a lot in weight. If you pick a fairly heavy board which is close to the same weight as the ash, then it won't make any real difference in the sound or, obviously, the weight.

    The lighter weight the mahogany is, the softer it is structurally, and the more it will tend to cut out highs and warm up the low-mids. But only where it's used in a structural part. The outer wings of the body don't do much. But the center section of the body, between the neck pocket and the bridge, can be very important to the sound. The lighter weight and weaker that area is, whether by wood choice or by structure (like chambering), the more it will cut the highs and warm up the lows.

    On your extended-range monster project, you also have to consider other things. You are going to be making notes way up at the top of the guitar range, so you need to have some serious high-end brightness and clarity, or those upper strings will be lost. I recommend that you go for stiffness, brightness, and clarity, and not worry about trying to finesse the mid-range warmth.

    Related to that, with 13 strings, you have some serious structural things to worry about....like about 3 times the load on a normal bass. Make it strong enough. It's really embarrassing to have your bass implode on stage.

    And, with all those strings, you need to worry about balance. The neck is going to be heavy, so it has to be balanced with some combination of body weight and body shape. Trying hard to cut weight out of the body is pointless if you have to hang lead bars on it to get it to balance.

    As a general comment, I'd always rather work with mahogany than "swamp" ash. Mahogany is nice and consistent and a joy to machine. Swamp ash is, well, partially rotted out wood. It's very inconsistent, even from one area of a board to the next. The boards are usually expensive, and you waste so much of them trying to get a decent section. Unfortunately, swamp ash is another one of those popular fad things that customers ask for. I'm forced to use it occasionally for some of my Luthier clients, but I don't use it in any of my basses.

    Normal white ash I really like. Up until a few years ago, I built all of my bass bodies out of it, using internal chambering to adjust the characteristics.
  10. You just lost 100 point with the "tonewood" nazis... :crying:

    Then again, then just won 1 million points with me for saying something totally sensible. :hyper:

    P.s. Bruce Johnson, love your work too. :)
  11. Jungy


    Jun 9, 2011
    I think all out Mahogany looks sweet in Burst finishes (think Gibson/ early G&L).
    I say go one or the other. Mixing is pointless IMO.
  12. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    I hope to never win points with "the tonewood nazis".

    I appreciate the work of all skilled and talented craftspeople (especially those more skilled and talented than me...which is just about everybody), but that doesn't mean I'm eager to hand over control of my faculties of reason to hypotheses supported only by the attestations of same.

    I will agree with Bruce in that swamp ash is a pain in the arse to work with, and that mahogany is a joy to work with. There is, in my opinion, no better-behaved wood when it comes to power tools.
  13. Will the tone change? Perhaps.
    Will it be perceptible? Unknown
    Will it change for the better or worse? Subjective
    If you paint it will anyone say, "Oh! I can hear there's mahogany in it!"? No
  14. CheshireCatFun


    Mar 9, 2013
    First, Bruce, thank you for your excellent, well thought out and studied reply. It makes a lot of sense.

    Second . . .

    Normal white ash = "northern ash"?

    How do you approach chambering, and is it even worth it with this body? . . .


    I think that, with all the stuff going on with it, and all the stuff going into it, by default, it will be "chambered", short of any elegant chambering techniques, such as long chambered channels running thru the length of the body and so on. I had the same experience with my Utah. I thought it would be great to try and chamber it, until I realized that, after all the control cavities and so on, there wasn't anything left to chamber.

    And, possibly, referring to the core wood between neck and the bridge that you referenced - whilst disregarding the wings - there would be precious little area to actually insert any mahogany worth mentioning.

    Incidentally, I used northern ash and mahogany on my Utah body, along with a maple neck, which made for a nice combination, but I think your point is very well taken that with so many other variables going on, and the logistics of this being what it is, I think that having a uniform wood all the way thru, chambered or not, would be the best choice. And to that end, I'm thinking the ash family of woods would offer the best tonal range for all considerations.


    Attached Files:

  15. CheshireCatFun


    Mar 9, 2013
    Incidentally, is this the kind of Ash you're talking about?


    Btw, I just heard that a lot of Normal Ash now carries the risk of carrying bug larva, which can prove an issue down the road. Have you heard anything about this?

  16. miziomix

    miziomix Über on my mind Commercial User

    Sep 28, 2009
    Milan, Kuala Lumpur, Paris.
    Bass builder @ MüB.
    I may be wrong but that bass might end up with some serious neck dive, especially if you were to chamber the body. The headstock is almost as big as the body. Did you consider a longer upper horn and a smaller headstock? Or a larger body.
  17. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    That would be the Emerald Ash Borer, or EAB. It is a big problem. I have yet to encounter an infested piece of Ash, but I know many builders have not been so lucky.

  18. CheshireCatFun


    Mar 9, 2013
    No, no, and no. ;)

    The bass won't be played in the traditional position much, tho it could be for mixed playing styles, so neck dive shouldn't be an issue.

    As for your questions, they are definitely well considered, and would be very legit concerns if traditional playing position was to be a factor. However, odds are, most of the playing will be done in tapper position, which is a dead weight drop thru the bottom of the body, with the center of gravity very close to the axis . . .


    . . . versus the axis being 45° or more off from center of gravity, tho, ironically, that is how Warr's are often played due to their innovative strap button placement. It would be interesting to see if I could incorporate that into this build.


    There is also the matter of the upper arm strap that Emmett Chapman came up with for his Stick instruments. That particular elephant in the room definitely negates any issues with neck dive. ;)

    As for the specific questions, tappers are played "overhand" instead of "underhand", if you will, and a longer horn would only get in the way. In fact, as mentioned above, Warr Guitars have not only what might be considered a reversed body (à la Jimi Hendrix), but their horns run horizontal, not vertical. Rather counter-intuitively, and seemingly paradoxically, they balance beautifully . . .


    As for headstock, that's as small as it can get while still fitting all 13 guitar sized tuners on it, assuming I was to continue with the Fender motif. Likewise, the only way the body could be bigger is if I moved away from a more strat shaped silhouette and moved towards a more p-bass silhouette, which, again, would only be accomplished with a longer upper horn.

    Not only have they not been so lucky, I understand that few if any carpenters are messing with ash until they get this whole thing sorted out. That came from my wood man, and his story hasn't carried hardly any since this has been an issue. The fear, apparently, is that the problem could take upwards of 10 years to manifest, so you'd have a veritable ticking time bomb sitting in your lovely piece of furniture or guitar, waiting to have a nasty infestation issue some years down the road. Ironically, Swamp Ash purportedly doesn't seem to be affected by this condition, tho I'm sure that excellent link will shed more light on the subject.



    Post Factum: I just clicked on the link. :eek:

    That is just all kinds of wrong! :( :scowl:

    I thought that was the name of the condition or phenomenon. It's not. It's the actual common name of the insect. That's when you know it's a big problem!

    Attached Files:

  19. CheshireCatFun


    Mar 9, 2013
    Well, turns out no spot of ash is safe from the EAB, even swamp ash (. . . especially swamp ash).

    What do you all think of Alder or Poplar? And do you think if I did a 1/4" laminate on the front and back of Ash, that that would reduce or minimize the threat of EAB?

    Also, are there any fraternal twins to Ash that can be just as visually striking, with similar properties, that can work?

  20. I wouldn't worry about using ash as long as the lumber has been kiln dried. Most everything I've read indicates that the heat from the kiln drying process will kill the bugs and their larvae. Apparently they don't last long at temperatures above 130 degrees. Most states with restrictions on transporting ash exclude kiln dried lumber for this very reason. As an example, here's an article from the University of Kentucky Forestry Extension that talks about EAB sterilization via kiln drying: http://pest.ca.uky.edu/EXT/EAB/EABsawmil.pdf

    Obviously, air dried lumber would still be at risk.

    Of course your lumber could possibly get infested after it's been kiln dried. However, once the instrument has a finish on it, I can only imagine the chances of this happening are extremely low.

    Flatsawn oak. Very similar grain patterns, open pores and weight. Most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two under a finish. Quartersawn white oak has the distinctive "ray flecking" that would make it look different, which is why I said to use flatsawn. For some reason oak has been shunned by the luthier community, but it works just fine.

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