Since Leo Fender first used them in the 1950’s, Alder and Ash have become the most popular tonewoods for construction of solid-body bolt-on guitars. These two woods share many similarities, but also have some important differences. Knowing the properties of each will help you craft the sonic and visual personality of your guitar body. Let’s check ’em out.
Alder and Ash are fairly easy to differentiate by sight. Alder is almost always a light tan color, and has a very subtle grain figure. In contrast, Ash is a light cream color, with much darker and more pronounced grain figuring. Because Alder’s appearance is more plain, it is the better candidate for solid color finishes. It also looks great with sunbursts. On the other hand, the prominent grain figures of Ash lend themselves better to translucent colors, which allow the grain to show through and enhance the beauty of the guitar. Ash is often finished in bursts as well.
Taken on average, Alder is the lighter weight of the two woods, with Strat® bodies usually weighing in at around 4 pounds. Ash comes in two varieties: Northern Hard Ash and Swamp Ash. Northern Hard Ash is the heavier of the two. Solid Strat® bodies of Northern Hard Ash usually weigh 5 pounds or more. Swamp Ash is typically lighter, with Strat® bodies under 5 pounds. Of course weight can vary for all these woods, depending on many factors.
Alder’s enduring popularity as a tone-wood is mostly due to the fact that its sound is so well balanced across the entire sonic spectrum. Like Alder, the tone of Ash is musical and well-balanced, with perhaps just a little more “pop”.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer interested in finishing your own guitar body, there are some very important differences between Alder and Ash. On Alder, the grain is closed, making it a good candidate for amateurs and budding luthiers. Ash, on the other hand, has an open grain that absorbs a lot of finish. This makes achieving a nice-looking finish a much more difficult project for the average Joe.
Alder is our most popular body wood. Swamp Ash is our second most popular wood.