Ash Tele vs Alder - What's the REAL difference?

msalama

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Well my two 70's Custom Teles are both heavy ash and they're bright, sustainy and acoustically loud, whereas my two Deluxe Teles, a '74 and a '10 FSR Mexi reissue, are both alder and sound softer, and perhaps not as sustainy in comparison. But they all sound (and play) good regardless...

Ps. Want maximum sustain however? Grab the '73 Lester Deluxe in my avatar and you've got it ;)
 

tfarny

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I will say: I am completely convinced that true hollowbody guitars have a distinctive acoustic quality to the voice that you can clearly hear as long as there's not too much gain. And the same exact pickups will sound different in different guitars (or the same wood species or different woods). And I think it's clear that guitars with springy floating trems like strats and jazzmasters sound different than their hardtail counterparts. So guitars don't ONLY sound like their electronics and like the player. So the construction and materials of a guitar, overall, clearly DO affect what the string is doing to some degree, and that is picked up by the pickups. The "strong version" of "It's yer pickups, dummy" is clearly not true.

But can you really hear differences in body wood, consistently, from wood species to wood species on the same style guitar? I'm not talking about on a youtube vid, I'm talking in the room. I'm extremely doubtful.
 

thankyouguitar

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I think it's already been said, but I really like how ash grain looks. My avatar guitar is ash. My guitars painted with solid colors-- it doesn't matter to me what the wood is or even how many pieces of it the body is made of.....
 

TimTam

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I am of the opinion that the wood does matter but there are many variations in wood, even pieces of wood cut from the same tree. I recently bought a Tele body made of Alder. It was supposed to weigh 4.3 lbs. When I received it it felt much heavier but when I weighed it, it was exactly 4.3 lbs. Some pieces of wood are lighter than others but the bottom line is, how does it sound ? There's no guarantee that a light piece of wood is going to make a good sounding guitar. Luthiers with a lot of experience have learned to tap the wood and listen to the sound. I have a friend who is a wood broker and he feels that he can judge by tapping the wood whether it will make a good guitar or not.

The tapping thing makes no physics sense for solid-body guitars. A slab of solid wood has a completely different resonant frequency to a shaped neck or body. Resonant frequencies are proportional to stiffness and inversely proportional to mass. Both change though the stages of production, in ways that have been well studied. Also guitars have more than one resonant frequency (not a single 'tap' frequency), the most sonically important of which are in the neck not the body.
Paté, A., Le Carrou, J.-L., Teissier, F., & Fabre, B. (2015). Evolution of the modal behaviour of nominally identical electric guitars during the making process. Acta Acustica United with Acustica, 101(3), 567–580. https://doi.org/10.3813/AAA.918853
www.researchgate.net/publication/275062321_Evolution_of_the_Modal_Behaviour_of_Nominally_Identical_Electric_Guitars_During_the_Making_Process
Paté, A., Le Carrou, J.-L., & Fabre, B. (2014). Predicting the decay time of solid body electric guitar tones. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 135(5), 3045–3055. https://doi.org/10.1121/1.4871360
www.researchgate.net/publication/262226551_Predicting_the_decay_time_of_solid_body_electric_guitar_tones

So anyone who taps solid slabs of wood 'knowingly' is kidding themselves - or engaging in a clever marketing strategy. A notorious video where a FCS salesman taps necks and bodies as if he is determining some mystical best 'marriage' of neck and body is similar physics nonsense.

For acoustic guitars it's a different story. Some luthiers have found merit in tapping the thin wood sheets used for top plates. But tapping is being replaced by much more thorough and exact modern engineering measurements, by both modern luthiers and some suppliers of thin-plate woods to acoustic guitar makers (eg Pacific Rim Tonewoods).
 

Ascension

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There is no such tree as "swamp ash:" It's just a marketing name for lighter ash. See the Wood Databse for example

"The term “Swamp Ash” does not refer to any particular species of ash (Fraxinus genus), but is generally used by luthiers to describe lightweight wood yielded from ash trees which are usually found in wet or swampy areas."


This is a constant topic of discussion. I'm in the camp that says the wood the guitar is made of matters a little, but it can't really be generalized by species (E.g "Swamp ash has more midrange: maple is brighter, etc") because there are too many other variables and wood itself is a highly variable material, even down to billets of wood taken from the same tree.
Dead WRONG! Problem is few have seen or even know what real Swamp Ash is. Hard northern ash has a completely different tone and also is MUCH heavier and denser. Again most have absolutely no experience with real swamp ash as it is quite rare.
Real swamp ash is a very light wood with a open grain and a warm resonate tone while hard ash is very dense and is much like rock maple in both weight and tone. Most of what is sold by guitar builders is NOT real swamp ash and it makes a hug difference.
This is what real swamp ash is.
What is Swamp Ash? Technically, Swamp Ash is not a species of wood but a term for Ash that has grown along rivers, streams, creeks, bogs, and… swamps! Its roots are underneath the water table so the wood is super light. It is lighter weight than the Ash lumber produced by trees growing around less moisture.
It's super light in weight and has a very warm and open tone that is noticeable. I'm fortunate to own 3 mid 1990's Washburn USA guitars with true swamp ash bodies built while Grover Jackson was running Washburns USA shop in Chicago.
Alder is much more consistent in weight and tone than ash is. Real swamp ash is both extremely rare and very expensive. If you can find it it has real advantages in both weight and tone but be aware it will cost you.
 

Skydog1010

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There is no such tree as "swamp ash:" It's just a marketing name for lighter ash. See the Wood Databse for example

"The term “Swamp Ash” does not refer to any particular species of ash (Fraxinus genus), but is generally used by luthiers to describe lightweight wood yielded from ash trees which are usually found in wet or swampy areas."


This is a constant topic of discussion. I'm in the camp that says the wood the guitar is made of matters a little, but it can't really be generalized by species (E.g "Swamp ash has more midrange: maple is brighter, etc") because there are too many other variables and wood itself is a highly variable material, even down to billets of wood taken from the same tree.
Northern Canadian Ash reminds me of marble or dense granite,. Southern swamp land Ash reminds me of...well swamp ash, much less dense and lighter and sweeter sounding than alder, but I have bad ears.

As far as the biology goes, you are spot on, no such thing as swamp ash, it's the climate the little Ash grew up to be a big ash in.

Does this ash JazzMaster make me look fat?
 

Peegoo

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GIF-Trek-Anybody.gif
 

Ascension

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Unless I missed it, I'm surprised that nobody has commented that ash is a harder wood, less prone to dents, than alder.
Yes hard northern ash is what you say. True open grain Swamp Ash from the bottom of an ash tree grown in a swamp however is much much different. It's very resonant and light in weight with an amazing grain pattern but is also quite soft and will dent easily. Almost all that is sold as swamp ash today isn't so most have no experience with it. It's becoming quite rare and is very expensive when you do find it.
True swamp ash is very special and a guitar built with it is just alive. You ever pick up a guitar that is just special? Just responds and sustains in a way that others don't? I own 3 mid 90's Washburn USA Chicago Custom guitars built while Grover Jackson was running that shop out of true Swamp Ash. All three and truly special guitars super light in weight and have a very resonate tone that is unique to them. Because Ash has been over harvested and true swamp ash is only found in the lower parts of ash trees in very moist environments its almost impossible to find. If you ever do experience playing a true Swamp ash body guitar you won't soon forget it.
There was a Blue Suhr Double Humbucker teli hardtail at a local shop here that was true Swamp ash I wish I could have snagged last year. At well over 3K just didn't have the loose $. Would be very surprised if that guitar weighed over 6.5 LBS and still haunts me as one that got away.
 
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Ascension

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I built a Home Brew Tele Body a few years ago.
I took my Tuning fork to the Wood Supplier.
I tried it on Everything they had in the Racks.
Surprisingly, there was some 2 x 8 Poplar that was less than half the price of everything else.
IT resonated better than all the others.
Sure sounds good to me. Especially when plugged in to an Amp.

Would it have sounded better if I had used the more expensive Wood? I have no idea.

Cheers
I have a 1991 Carvin X220C with a Poplar body that only weighs 6 LBS flat. Incredible sounding and playing guitar that I will never sell. Like you say here it's just alive and resonate. Poplar is not the most attractive wood with a transparent finish and dents easily but it's very light weight and sure sounds good.
 

John_B

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Long story short: Ash DOES sound better than alder.
Long story long: I proved it to myself with an expensive/ time consuming experiment (6 months). I was determined to prove that alder was just as good! My ash Fender Tele ALWAYS sounded better than my alder Fender Tele. I tested both guitars with the same bridge pickups (SD Broadcaster, Bootstrap Extra Crispy and Frail Stock Hot Telecaster). The ash won 3 out of 3. I tested each pickup with different compensated saddles (brass, aluminum and steel). The ash won out again, 3 out of 3. The alder with the steel saddles came very close to the ash I will admit.

I was disappointed but had to admit that ash is better sounding. I then sold the alder tele, added some $ and bought another used ash Telecaster. I did this because ash is rare and expensive now. In the future I am sure i will not be able to afford it. *I also acquired a solid wood acoustic dreadnaught with East Indian rosewood back and sides for the same exact reason.

The opinion here overall is that alder is just as good. Fine. I hope you find your perfect tone.
 

TimTam

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I will say: I am completely convinced that true hollowbody guitars have a distinctive acoustic quality to the voice that you can clearly hear as long as there's not too much gain. And the same exact pickups will sound different in different guitars (or the same wood species or different woods). And I think it's clear that guitars with springy floating trems like strats and jazzmasters sound different than their hardtail counterparts. So guitars don't ONLY sound like their electronics and like the player. So the construction and materials of a guitar, overall, clearly DO affect what the string is doing to some degree, and that is picked up by the pickups. The "strong version" of "It's yer pickups, dummy" is clearly not true.

But can you really hear differences in body wood, consistently, from wood species to wood species on the same style guitar? I'm not talking about on a youtube vid, I'm talking in the room. I'm extremely doubtful.

Once you bring semi-hollows and fully-hollows into the discussion, you're onto the continuum between solid-bodies and fully acoustic guitars. On that continuum, the bridge becomes more 'mobile' as the body becomes less rigid, increasing bridge admittance (conductance) at particular frequencies (left panel below, from bottom to top). Those correlate with string vibration losses at those frequencies (right panel below, from bottom to top).
g36fV1w.jpeg

From: Zollner. Ch7 in 'Physics of the Electric Guitar.
www.gitec-forum-eng.de/2019/08/12/massive-upgrade-chapter-7-of-physics-of-the-electric-guitar-is-on-line/

But that doesn't tell us much about the significance or otherwise of solid body wood. And good evidence for any sonic influence of solid body wood is lacking.

As you say, there is may still be a 'strong' version of an anti-tonewood argument held by some that "it's all in the pickups". But I don't really know anyone who believes that. Measurements of many, many real guitars has shown many things that can influence the sonic output of solid-body electric guitars (many examples in Zollner's 'Physics of the Electric Guitar', particularly ch7, linked above). So when two ostensibly similar solid-body guitars sound different, it really makes no sense to conclude "it must be the body wood", or conversely "it's all in the pickups" ... just because they're the most obvious things you can see. ;) Those many potential sonic influences also mean that it is very difficult to make two guitars 'identical' except for one factor whose effect you are trying to isolate.

The role of the floating strat trem in string vibration losses in the 500Hz-1kHz range has also been well demonstrated by Zollner. The jazzmaster/jag trem has not been studied in the same way.
qgMK0d6.jpeg

www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5hnjFgbxFs&t=2929s
(in German, but you can get the gist from youtube's closed captions auto-translated to English).
 

maxvintage

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Dead WRONG! Problem is few have seen or even know what real Swamp Ash is. Hard northern ash has a completely different tone and also is MUCH heavier and denser. Again most have absolutely no experience with real swamp ash as it is quite rare.
Real swamp ash is a very light wood with a open grain and a warm resonate tone while hard ash is very dense and is much like rock maple in both weight and tone. Most of what is sold by guitar builders is NOT real swamp ash and it makes a hug difference.
This is what real swamp ash is.
What is Swamp Ash? Technically, Swamp Ash is not a species of wood but a term for Ash that has grown along rivers, streams, creeks, bogs, and… swamps! Its roots are underneath the water table so the wood is super light. It is lighter weight than the Ash lumber produced by trees growing around less moisture.
It's super light in weight and has a very warm and open tone that is noticeable. I'm fortunate to own 3 mid 1990's Washburn USA guitars with true swamp ash bodies built while Grover Jackson was running Washburns USA shop in Chicago.
Alder is much more consistent in weight and tone than ash is. Real swamp ash is both extremely rare and very expensive. If you can find it it has real advantages in both weight and tone but be aware it will cost you.
LOL sure. Sales hype
 

11 Gauge

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I've got a 50's MIM Tele with an ash body, and a Deluxe Nashville Tele with an alder body, that I put the same 50's neck on (genuine Fender part available on its own).

Both Teles have the same Gotoh 6 saddle bridges and DiMarzio Area T pickups.

To my ear, they both sound identical. That's what I was shooting for, so that one can be the backup for the other. I can basically use them completely interchangeably.

I've also got a couple of Teles with poplar bodies, and as long as the pickups and necks are similar, they also IMO pretty much sound the same.

I've also built a couple of parts Teles with paulownia bodies, and again as long as the necks and pickups are similar, I can't hear much of a difference with those, either. The big advantage of paulownia is that it's super lightweight, so you end up with a guitar that you don't really notice is strapped to your shoulder/back. One downside to paulownia is that it makes neck dive a possibility. I'm thinking about putting some counterweight on the back end of my strap to fix it...

Anyway, I kind of wish I could say that I've favored the tone of any of my Teles due to what I thought was specifically from the body, but I honestly can't.
 

stephent2

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Geez, another thread in which I should not post.

I appreciate those who maintain there's no difference in sound, they are reporting what they hear. But there are factors I seldom see mentioned when evaluating body woods on finished guitars that to my ear make a difference in the equation (not to mention everyone's hearing abilities are unique).

The style of tuners, vintage or modern sealed, the type of bridge plate and saddles (Gotoh, Wilkinson, Fender, Glendale, etc.) all are factors in a small way. As are the style of pickups and their magnetic field. I'd maintain when you have a thick bridge plate, sealed tuners, high output pickups, thick finish the body woods make little difference. Could be made of colored pencils and plastic resin or pallet wood. Where a on vintage style build w/ a quality bridge plate and saddles, vintage style tuners, vintage output single coil pickups, etc. the body wood and finish will be an increased factor in the guitar's sound and response.

There. I've said it.
 

11 Gauge

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Geez, another thread in which I should not post.

I appreciate those who maintain there's no difference in sound, they are reporting what they hear. But there are factors I seldom see mentioned when evaluating body woods on finished guitars that to my ear make a difference in the equation (not to mention everyone's hearing abilities are unique).

The style of tuners, vintage or modern sealed, the type of bridge plate and saddles (Gotoh, Wilkinson, Fender, Glendale, etc.) all are factors in a small way. As are the style of pickups and their magnetic field. I'd maintain when you have a thick bridge plate, sealed tuners, high output pickups, thick finish the body woods make little difference. Could be made of colored pencils and plastic resin or pallet wood. Where a on vintage style build w/ a quality bridge plate and saddles, vintage style tuners, vintage output single coil pickups, etc. the body wood and finish will be an increased factor in the guitar's sound and response.

There. I've said it.
I've built parts guitars with bodies with either thin finishes, just stain and a few coats of Tru Oil, or even no finish at all. Or the finish was partly or mostly removed...

On many of those parts guitars, I favored vintage-style tuners and the old ashtray-style plate with brass saddles. I also have typically never bonded with what would be considered hot pickups for Tele, and I especially favor something 'not hot' for the neck pickup especially, because I like really open and clear tones from the neck pickup.

Anyway, I also wanted to favor any one of these for what I thought might be a 'tonewood contribution', but it never happened. In particular, I have a Frankenstein'ed build with a mahogany body in the shape of a double-cut LP Junior, that takes a bolt on neck. I have a wraparound bridge on it, with the body stained with maybe two coats of a pecan color, and then 4-6 coats of Tru Oil steel wooled to a satin finish. It doesn't matter what pickup I put in it - it just has this kind of not bad but not great sound to it. It sure looks pretty, though!

I'll also add that if I had to really pick from any of my Teles, it's probably actually the one with the factory blem GFS XGP body (that I got for $40 or less) that I tend to favor over the others*. It's made of poplar (according to GFS) and has a poly finish on it. The funny thing I notice about many of these import bodies that I own is that the finish doesn't actually seem to be that thick, because I can usually see what look like either grain lines or milling lines in the bodies, which sometimes even shows the multiple pieces of wood used in the body.

*I think what I tend to favor about that particular Tele is due to the neck, because I've loved it on the other 2-3 Teles I've had it bolted onto. Those Teles had basswood, paulownia, or alder bodies.
 

netgear69

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Ash looks better on 50's type blackguard where the grain is visible but if you was to build it yourself Alder is less time consuming
 




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