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Swamp Ash vs. Alder Bodies? What to expect?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Droog, Jun 7, 2005.

  1. Droog


    Aug 14, 2003
    I am not to familiar with all the sonic characteristics of the myriad of woods out there, but I think a good start is with these two. Both are common yet and the same price, if I have to make a choice what are the differences? Thanks alot!
  2. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I have a P with ash and a J with alder. They're fairly similar in all honesty, but alder is slightly darker sounding and not as dense, so it's not as trebly as a bass with ash. I probably prefer alder but I'm not against playing a good ash bass.
  3. primus_55


    Dec 28, 2004
    Alder is heavier than swamp ash, as ash is a very light wood. Ash is brighter sounding than alder, alder is darker sounding than ash as jimmy pointed out.

    Alder is the standard wood used by fender in most of their basses. Alder has the more 'traditional' tone.

    I like them both. They both have good tone to my ears :)
  4. It is important to remember that the body wood is not the only thing that affects sound of course. The other woods used make a diff - if you have a cap in a different wood it will affect things, also the neck wood and fingerboard make a difference.

    I have a Fender p-bass in alder, the ash options you can get currently only come with certain sunburst finishes for some reason and you can't get those finishes on alder!

    And another passive p/j which is swamp ash.

    I also have a self built bass which is ash.

    Ash is generally not light as someone said - but swamp ash is light. As I made the bass myself I can vouch that it is pretty heavy - ash is also a very hard wood thats not so easy to work with. It gives a great bright punchy sound and clear lows but the mid range is not so good. Many will be happy to put up with this if the pickups/preamp, eq and amp combination make up for it.

    Alder is of medium weight (neither light nor heavy) and has good alround tonal response including the mid freqs, which is partially why it gets used a lot by manufacturers.

    I think most casual listeners would not be able to tell you the difference between diff woods.

    As is said here a lot....if it sounds good to you and you like playing it thats all that really matters

    I'm sure I've seen a great break down of the tonal quality of different woods on this stie somewhere or it may have been on the tone woods web site....do a search and I'm sure you'll find it
  5. Jim Dombrowski

    Jim Dombrowski Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    Colorado Springs, CO
    Perhaps you should post this question in the Luthier's forum.
  6. duckbutter


    Mar 30, 2005
  7. epoxo57

    epoxo57 Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    Perrysburg, Ohio

    Are you sure alder is heavier than ash? My wine-red G&L L-2000 w/ swamp ash is definately heavier than the Fender Precision and Jazz basses I used to have. My Sterling has an ash body too, and it is definately heavier than the Jazz I plinked on last weekend.

    I know alder has good mids and traditional tonalities that are popular with Fenders besides the natural finishes and exotics.
  8. sdguyman


    Jan 31, 2003
    San Diego
    I have to agree, my L2500 made of Ash is Way heavier than my USA Fender Deluxe V made of Alder.
  9. Droog


    Aug 14, 2003
    Thanks for all the info folks. Seems like it is something I should not worry about too much, though I think I will lean towards the Swamp Ash, if for no other reason than a natural finish is supposed to look nice.

    The reason I ask, is because I am thinking about building a Jazz clone (or moding a J) with a 35" scale neck. Something to handle a CGCF tuning a little better. Think I will be doing some inquiring in the Luthier forum.

    Thanks again.
  10. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    Regular Ash will be comparable to Alder Id think weight wise. Swamp Ash on the other hand is the lighter variety of ash and is lighter than Alder. Specific boards may vary. If you after a wood for weight, be sure and tell your supplier what your after. You may be unpleasantly suprised if you dont and end up with a piece of lead instead of the nice light wood you were expecting.
  11. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    I'll just add here that the tone of wood can vary even within the same species. "Alder sounds like X and swamp ash sounds like Y" is a tendency, not a guarantee. Expect the unexpected.
  12. Minger


    Mar 15, 2004
    Rochester, NY
    The thing is that some woods are more consistant sounding than others - such as if i remember correctly the combing off in the midranges of ash varies much greater than say, alder.
  13. Sprudellio


    Oct 16, 2002
    Is there a difference in sound between regular ash and swamp ash?
  14. didnt feel like reading all the posts, so sorry if im repeating anything...

    The darker the wood, the darker to tone... The lighter the wood, the brighter the tone.

    This also applies to weight. Lighter weight = Brighter, Heavier weight = Heavier tone.

    Hope I helped a little,
  15. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2005
    Seweracuse, NY
    To add to the fun...a tree can produce different weights of wood from the same trunk. I had a nice talk with Tommy at USACG a while back about this...Wood density can be based cell density, and it differs depending on how and when a tree grew. There's also a difference in ash where stuff has been 'forced' to speed up the growth vs. stuff that grew naturally.

    Alder, in many cases is lighter than much of the swamp ash available today.

    I have a 3.5lb telecaster body that's pretty sweet, and the lightness doesn't necessarily mean it has bad tone...it's got great thickness to its sound and also plenty of sustain.
  16. toad


    Jun 26, 2002
    Let me add nothing useful to this discussion....

    I have a light swamp ash bodied jazz and an alder bodied jazz. To my ears, the ash bass has a fuller tone, more blossoming in the notes; the alder bass has a crisper tone, more attack in the highs. The alder bass also has a BAII bridge and the ash bass has a Fender bridge. The alder bass currently has GHS Boomers; the ash bass Fender nickel plated SS strings. The alder bass has a maple fretboard; the ash has a rosewood fretboard. The alder bass finish has a big crack in it; the ash bass has a little ding.

    I have no idea why they sound different, and no one in the crowd notices what I clearly hear.

  17. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    BTW, Ash and Swamp ash are sorted by weight, not species as Larry Davis pointed out to us.

    Usually Northern Hard Ash is what becomes regular ash, and Southern Soft Ash is what becomes Swamp Ash. However it is not species specific. They cut and mill all the boards, then sort them into ash or swamp ash by weight.

    There is a good discussion of this in Larry's Commercial Forum. He also mentions that swamp ash is lighter because of growing in the swamps. It makes the vessels of the plant swell from all the water and when it dries, it leaves bigger pockets for air and thus, lighter weight and density wood.
  18. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine

    And what most people call swamp ash is generally similar or lighter than a typical chunk of alder, and what most folks just call "ash" can also be refered to as "white ash" (as I recall) and is generally MUCH heavier... I had a late 70's J that killed me (but had great tone).
  19. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Lineā„¢ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    I've read here that many think Alder is darker sounding than Ash. Maybe it could be said instead that Alder is more neutral than Ash (Northern, Swamp, etc ...), and that Ash has an mid hump in it that is its signature sound.

    If you are in the studio recording, or playing out live, it's easy to add this midrange boost to an Alder bodied bass and closely mimick the tonal characteristic of an identically equipped ash bodied instrument. Unfortunately if you're recording or gigging an Ash bodied bass, it's not so easy to notch out Ash's signature hump. It's because of this that many of the local session pros I know prefer an Alder bodied bass coupled with a Maple/Maple or Maple/Rosewood neck. One session pro in particular really dislikes a rosewood fretboard (say it sounds muddy and has a loss of focus) and insists on Pau Ferro instead.

    Of course YMMV. As noted above, there's more to the bass' sound than just the body wood selection.


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