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Swamp ash vs Northern Ash.

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by mrelwood, Apr 5, 2005.


  1. mrelwood

    mrelwood

    Dec 15, 2004
    Finland
    I have always loved the sound and attack of ash-bodied guitars and basses. I've got serious back problems, so a full body from Northern Ash is not possible. I read somewhere that Swamp Ash would have a lot darker tonality than Northern Ash, even darker than Alder.

    Is this true? Most of the Swamp Ash bodied guitars/basses I have liked very much. Or is Light Ash different than Swamp Ash?

    I originally intended to have my next bass body made from ash with numerous cavities in the body, mostly to reduce weight. The cavities would be covered and hidden by a 1/3 inch maple cap. I hope the maple will not alter the Ash attitude...

    Or should I go for Swamp/Light Ash instead?

    Other specs of the future bass:
    -5 strings, 35" scale, 24 frets.
    -Bolt-on, maple neck, maple or pao ferro fretboard.
    -Passive MM/J pickups.
    -Sunburst satin finish. :)


    -Aki.
     
  2. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Swamp ash is much softer and would thus have a lot less aggressive tone.
    On the other hand, the body is not the major contributer to tone. Rather the opposite!

    You have serious]/i] back problems? Then you need a lightweight and exceptionally well balanced bass. So, if you don't like BassLab STD, you should just leave out all heavy material, both in body and neck - and forget about a headstock.
    The majority of the tone is in the neck-string configuration, and in your hands. With some tweaking by the electronics.

    Who is making your bass?
    Since you are in Finland, you have access to some superb wood, just around your corner. Such as heavy ash, alder and birch. I suggest you consider an hollowed alder body core with a birch top. And that you keep the number of cavities low - and sizes big.
    Birch replaces maple 1-to-1, except that it's rather difficult to find birdseye birch.
     
  3. mrelwood

    mrelwood

    Dec 15, 2004
    Finland
    Thanks for the great insights!

    I have heard this, but I have noticed that every single instrument with Ash (or even Swamp Ash) body does feel and sound very "at home", like "this is what I've been looking for". There is something to the attack of the sound that makes me go crazy. In a good sense. Does light Ash mean Swamp Ash, or is it just Northern Ash that happens to be light? I've got two Strat -like guitars from '81 with Ash bodies, and they are not exceptionally heavy. They doesn't weigh more than a regular strat.


    I was in a surgery last year, and things are ofcourse nowhere near the same than they were before the surgery. My current "hifi" bass weighs about 5kg (11lbs), and that is too much to be carried around for long times.

    I really, really do not like BassLab basses. I am quite traditional when it comes to instrument design. Therefore I am not going to make a bass without an headstock. Small headstock has to be good enough. I believe the balance will be close to perfect as long as the upper horn goes past 12th fret. On a 35" scale bass that definitely should be enough.

    My luthier got a long time disease, so I'm currently without a luthier. I was thinking about making the body myself, and ask a luthier to make me a neck and the neck joint.
    The maple top is rather thin, so I don't believe birch would make that big of a difference. Thing is, the luthier already glued the maple top together... Not figured maple, just plain maple. So birch sounds exactly like maple?

    Big cavities. Is there any other reason to that than to keep the weight as low as possible? I don't want it to sound like a hollow body, but rather get the sound just a bit in that direction. Or by big cavities, do you mean 1" by 2", or 10" by 2"? I was thinking about roughly 1" by 2" cavities around the body, so it would have "walls" between the chambers to keep away any unwanted resonances.


    -Aki.
     
  4. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    Even "swamp ash" or southern Ash varys in weight substantialy. Talk with Larry at Gallery about a body blank for you...T
     
  5. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    If your tastes are more traditional, how about a BassLab Soul?
     
  6. mrelwood

    mrelwood

    Dec 15, 2004
    Finland
    I want a bass with 24 frets and 35" scale. Besides, since there is no possibility to try out a BassLab bass, I'd rather spend a lot less money and participate in the making process myself.

    -Aki.
     
  7. Marcus Willett

    Marcus Willett Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2005
    Palm Bay, FL
    Endorsing Artist: Bag End - Dean Markley - Thunderfunk
    I have had 3 swamp ash bodies made by Warmoth. My understanding (I could be wrong) is that in the case of swamp ash, it is the same tree, but growing in...well...swamps; the bottom of the tree is under water and the wood when dried is lighter due to lost resin. I do know THIS for sure: the lightest 5 string I've got is made of a swamp ash jazz body that weighed in @ 3.4 lbs. I paid a premium for extra-light. I've got another Jazz with a swamp ash body as well that is more medium weight. Definitely not dark sounding at all. You can get a super light body from Warmoth if you are willing to wait a while and pay a bit more, like an extra $75 or so.
     
  8. It was either Larry from Gallery Hardwoods or Ken Smith that said right here in the Luthiers forum that there isn't a species called "Swamp" Ash. The story goes that because of the wet growing conditions these ash trees live in, they develop a lighter softer wood that's different from their genetic twin "Northern" or "White" ash bretheren grow in drier environments.
     
  9. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    Larry refers to it as "Southern Ash" he may be watching this thread...... :D .....t
     
  10. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    If you look up botanical classifications, you'll find there are at least three different species that are called swamp ash, as well as being called white ash, green ash, gray ash, and a dozen other different names.

    The quote I remember, and that I (hopefully correctly!) attribute to Ken Smith, is that in the commercial marketplace, lighter density boards get called "swamp ash" regardless of what species they are, or where they grew.
     
  11. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Close, but no cigar...

    I think I said (because it's the only way I know of it) that Swamp Ash comes from the southerm species know as 'Black Ash' that grows in the southern States like TN and LA, Etc...

    Not all of this Ash can be classified as Swamp Ash as it must be light weight as well. I guess originally it came from the softer sections grown in the Swamps but it's hard to believe it ALL comes from there at the rate it is being used. I was told that it must weigh 2.8-3.2 lbs/ft maximum to be called Swamp ash. If it isn't that light then they mix in in bundles weighing as little as 2lbs/ft to average out a 500-1000bt ft load.

    Not all boards can be light enough but they still get used and passed off as Southern Ash or whatever......

    Light Pieces of other Varieties of Ash are just 'light weight' Ash as the 'Swamp' thing must be form the south... I think...
     
  12. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Thanks for the correction, Ken.
     
  13. Just last night I was working on an ash body I purchased from Larry. It weights a TON and is VERY VERY hard. It was very difficult to cut even with new coarse cutting blades. I believe this is northern ash because of it's color, weight, hardness and smell (it smells a little different to me than swamp ash, almost like ipe when both are dry). Also, (it can be me!) somehow it feels less open grained than other pieces of ash I've tried before.

    I hope larry jumps in any time.
     
  14. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    To each his taste, esp. regarding aesthetics. However, the "traditional" instrument has more drawbacks than balance, e.g. that the neck comes too close to the body, which is the reason behind most of the shoulder and elbow problems bassists face.
    You should ask for trying out a Soul. A 34" should be possible to arrange for trial and a 35" is certainly possible to make - Heiko is a master.

    "Exactly" is a big word. I'd say "very similar", but one must remember that different spieces of maple or birch, respectively, do have very different properties.

    With "big cavities" I mean one per body half.
    You state that you want walls between several smaller chambers to avoid acoustical impact. Don't bother. There's barely any difference in amplified tone. It's just extra work, and extra trouble to make the glue attach well to all the walls. Just keep it simple: a 20-30mm wall, thin horns solid, possibly a wall to separate electronics cavity. Then a solid centerstock, and two 6mm sheets as front and back.
    No tangible impact on amplified tone, but a lot more when playing unplugged - good for late night practice with kids in the house.

    Just to elaborate my thoughts. Perhaps you can find a tip or two in there... :rollno:

    :D
    Good luck, BTW.
     
  15. mrelwood

    mrelwood

    Dec 15, 2004
    Finland
    Too close to the body? I'm making my custom model so I could put it where ever I please. You mean I should extend it a bit more out from the body? In a 35" bass I think it would be a problem if my left hand had to be very far when playing at the first frets. But the tonal drawbacks are getting clearer to me now that I've been reading about it. Too bad I already have the bridge and the tuners (new Gotoh Res-O-Lite, lighter than Hipshot Ultra-Lite) are on their way.

    No doubt. To get a bass to Finland from Germany for a trial might not be that fun for the manufacturer. Besides, if I understand correctly, the Soul costs around 2500€. Cut that in half and I'd be interested.

    This was extremely helpful. I was perhaps a bit shy with the cavities for tonal reasons. No reason I understand.

    How about thick horns hollow? :p Here's what I was thinking. I will make the cavities large. StingRay5 outline still shows here and there just to give idea of the size:
    [​IMG]
    Thanks! I DO need that!

    -Aki.
     
  16. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Sorry for th eunclarity - I meant "away from YOUR body"... that is, get the neck more forward than usually happens, when strapped on.

    Regarding chambers: forget the arm and belly chamfers. They are a lot of work, and adds zero to the ergonomics. Then increase the volume of the chambers, as from my last post, and loose the ribs. Then you have MY version of your body style. But of course, you are making YOUR version... :meh:

    Go ahead, it's gonna be great!
     
  17. mrelwood

    mrelwood

    Dec 15, 2004
    Finland
    Okay, now I understand! :p I think the body will be just a bit on the thicker side, so that should help.

    By "arm and belly chamfers" do you mean the arm and belly contours? The dotted line in the drawing marks the contours, not chambers. I was planning on leaving that area chamberless, too hard for me to measure how much wood to leave for the contour.

    Several of my decisions are not based on any knowledge, just "it could be good that way". That's why it is rather easy to listen other peoples' opinions. I think Your version of the body style seems like a better idea! :)
     
  18. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Yep, those dotted line marks are what I meant. I have found that they dont do anything good. Either you keep your instrument so low, that they will never be touched, or you keep it so high, that they get above the position where they make a difference. The span where they do matter is just about +/- one single centimetre.... :eyebrow: