Poplar, Alder, or Ash?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by MasterBasser18, May 29, 2002.

  1. MasterBasser18


    May 29, 2002
    Which of these woods do you prefer for the body of your bass and why?

    The reason I ask is because I am looking into getting a Fender J-Bass and I'm wondering what the different types of wood do for the sound.

  2. Hategear

    Hategear Workin' hard at hardly workin'.

    Apr 6, 2001
    Appleton, Swissconsin
  3. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    For me, it would just boil down to "ash vs. alder/poplar," NOT, a 3-way comparison, "ash vs. alder vs. poplar." The reason I say that is that alder and poplar are practically interchangeable on a Fender, tonewise. If alder or ash was so tonally superior to the other, I doubt Fender would offer both for such a long time.

    If I intended to use the bass mostly for straight-ahead rock, I'd go for the ash. It is known for its
    "snappier" tone with edgy brights while it still can exhibit round low-end warmth and long sustain.

    For music that begs for a smooth tone more suited to jazz/R&B/blues, I'd prefer alder or poplar for the mid-emphasis they produce.

    Alder vs. poplar is a toss-up for me. Both woods get hidden by paint or a sunburst finish because they aren't much to look at. So, the paint/finish makes the tonal nuances between the two woods even less apparent to most ears, IME.

    The only Fenders I ever played which had the tonal characteristics of the wood really hit me in the face were a pre-CBS Precis that was sanded down to the bare ash and a pre-CBS Jazz that had been played so often over the years that its resonance was outstanding.
  4. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Poplar yields a little more low, boomy, upright style tone than alder. And weighs less.

    Contrary to Rickbass, I've found several alder and poplar planks, that are not spectacular, but much prettier than a paint finish. Alder is sort of pink-orange, and poplar are greenish.
    Root planks can be quite burly and intriguing(sp?) too!
  5. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Sub - We're not contradicting each other. We're talking about two different things.

    You're talking about a few boards you found that were exceptions to the rule.

    I'm talking about what a person is going to find as representative of the specie in almost every case, not the aberrations. I didn't see any value in my telling Masterbass about a minute percentage of alder and poplar that he won't see, in all probability.

    The only natural (unpainted/stained) guitar/bass I've seen is the Vigier Excalibur (I think that's the model name) electric guitar. The only natural poplar guitar/bass I've seen is the Gibson MK guitar.

    Funny thing about those instruments is - the alder and the poplar didn't look like typical alder or typical poplar......here's the Gibson which is advertised as "natural poplar," (but I have my doubts). :D

  6. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Right and wrong, Rick!
    I said "several" planks, meaning a majority!
    But then our references probably differ. I know that you, Rick, are very, very fond of spectacular grain of differnet kinds. This will hardly be found in alder, and seldom in poplar. In case of alder, only root pieces seem to have visible grain. In case of poplar, grain is ther, but colour differences are not too big. But, on occation...

    Bottom line is, that alder and poplar are visually comparable to maple, though with different colours. Which may make them interesting in a simple way.
    Than again, very, very few luthiers want to build simple looking instruments. Without covering the simple, but pretty, wood with some ugly, plastic feeling paint.:rolleyes:

    Never saw an unapinted all alder or poplar guitar myself - so far.
  7. MasterBasser18


    May 29, 2002
    I just wanted to say, thank you all for your input. I'm glad to finally find some place that I can ask questions about bass and get an intelligent answer. As it seems that around here whenever I ask questions at music shops, all I get are guitar answers. So I really appreciate your answers and opinions.

  8. To my ears:

    Sweeter, more mids, softer attack
    Think pre-CBS Fender L-series basses.

    Swamp ash:
    Punchier, a bit brighter
    Think Marcus Miller.

    Can't go wrong either way.
  9. BFunk

    BFunk Supporting Member

    I realize that this is a common view of alder .vs. ash, but honestly I find Alder to be very punchy sounding. Ash, to me, has a pop in the upper mids, but not nearly the in-your-face punch.

    Alder is like getting hit by Marvin Haggler and ash is like getting slapped by Woody Allen.
  10. Woody Allen voice on:

    What do you meannn getting slapped by me? It's more like the Spanish Inquisition....or the Nazi storm troopers. Do we have to talk abou this now?! I feel so insecure......
  11. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Well, aren't we agreeing now, Sub, with your back-pedaling on your original statement ??? - (Your original statement that tried to contradict mine) - "I've found several alder and poplar planks, that are not spectacular, but much prettier than a paint finish..."

    The back-pedaling comes in with your subsequent post, - "This will hardly be found in alder, and seldom in poplar." Uh, yeah, go find a 4-leaf clover. ;)

    What you have selected and found in your corner of the wood world is hardly representative of what 9 out of 10 people will find.

    As I said before - Why bring up the random oddities that will only confuse the person asking the question??? It's a big world. In the world of wood, representing "several planks" of aberrant poplar/alder is interesting, (and. Sub, you're right - I've seen spalted alder/poplar that is quite nice). But, the "freak show" you've found doesn't serve the question of the thread starter very well.

    Before, you said my info about the typically plain-jane cosmetics of alder/poplar weren't true because you found a few freak planks that looked fine, cosmetically.

    But, as I read it, this latest statement of yours is doing a 180-degree as a result of my pointing out that visually appealing alder/poplar is a rarity. No big deal.

    I totally respect your experience. You know more about wood and lutherie than I. But I have done some homework, so please don't infer that "the rule" isn't true because some isolated exceptions have come your way .
  12. Offbase


    Mar 9, 2000
    Alder. Nice warm tone, plenty of bottom. If'n ya slap, though, ya want ash.
  13. steve-o

    steve-o Guest

    Apr 17, 2002
    i like alder.
    why not maple? is this being custom made?
    hear is a alder body and it was just tung oiled!
  14. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Rickbass, my friend;
    I did not turn 180. I'm just trying to point out the possibility to find, that plain-jane wood is at least as beutiful as any "Mona Lisa" paint job! Heh, just came to think of my taste in girl "cosmetic" paint-jobs,,,,quite the same actually. :D

    Taste varies, though! At least when it comes to wood;)
    And I can't say anything about your choise of planks Rick, but: wooahw!!
  15. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

  16. jokerjkny


    Jan 19, 2002
    NY / NJ / PA


    nice impression Jim... :D
  17. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Here's an alder body, unpainted (it has a flame maple top with some light spalting, so it's still kinda cute ;) )

    And by the way, it's the punchiest bass I've ever owned. This includes a '79 Musicman Sabre with maple / maple neck and a 60 something jazz. I was told that neckthru basses tend to lack punch. Hah!!!!!!



  18. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Rick, my friend,
    I appreciate your ironic tone - appreciate in both sences;) :D :D

    Love ya, man! And your choice of planks.:)