Alder and ash are two woods used on many different electric guitars, however they are most synonymous with the Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster. But what is the difference between them?
In this article I’ll compare the look and tone of alder and ash body guitars and take a look at other important aspects such as the durability and weight of the woods too.
In a rush? Here’s the quick answer…
Ash guitars sound more open and bright compared to alder guitars which sound fuller and punchier. In terms of appearance, ash has a more prominent and inconsistent grain compared to alder. On average, ash body guitars are slightly heavier than alder body guitars.
|Scooped mid-range||More balanced EQ profile|
|Bright and open sounding||Full and punchy tone|
|Prominent and inconsistent grain||Consistent and light grain|
|Average density is 500 kg/m3||Average density is 450 kg/m3|
|Typically more hardwearing||Less durable|
In Fender’s early years up until around 1956, ash was the wood used to make the bodies of pretty much every electric guitar used by the brand.
There are a few different types of ash available, however the most common type used in electric guitars is swamp ash. However, some Fender guitars will use American ash which is found all across North America. American ash is more dense in comparison to swamp ash which is more porous and lighter in color.
Typically, ash guitars are made from 3-pieces, but it’s not unheard of to get two and even single piece ash bodies.
Unfortunately, in 2020 Fender announced that it would no longer be using ash in its production guitars anymore as it has become increasingly difficult to source due to climate change. It is still possible to get an ash body Fender guitar if you look at Custom Shop and older versions though.
- Treble emphasis creates a bright tone
- Scooped mid-range
Alder is the most popular wood used to make Fender electric guitar bodies. Fender first started using alder in 1956 as it became more readily available and inexpensive to source, without sacrificing tonal characteristics.
Again, there are different types of alder available but Fender primarily uses red alder which is found in America compared to black alder which is found in Europe. Most alder bodies are constructed from 2-3 pieces of wood.
- Fairly balanced EQ profile
- Sounds punchy and full
Now we’ve been through an overview of both woods, let’s compare them in the following categories:
- Density and weight
Alder body electric guitars have a more neutral EQ balance compared to ash body electric guitars which have a more scooped mid-range.
- Ash has more bass response compared to alder
- Alder has more mid-range response compared to ash
- Ash has more treble response compared to alder
Okay so what does this actually sound like?
Ash sounds brighter and more open compared to alder which has less chime but sounds fuller. The strong upper-mid range response that alder has gives it a punchier tone whereas ash has more sustain due as it has more bass response.
Check out this YouTube video comparing two Stratocasters which are identical except for one having an alder body, and the other having an ash body.
Also check out this video comparing alder and ash Telecaster models.
Alder and ash are both light woods and can be difficult to tell apart, however there are some notable differences between them.
- Ash has a more inconsistent grain compared to alder which has a very consistent grain
- Ash has a much more prominent grain and interesting looking grain compared to alder
It’s less common to see an ash guitar body which isn’t finished with a solid color, the reason being that the wood isn’t that interesting to look at. Ash on the other hand, with it’s prominent grain looks great with more transparent finishes.
Ignore the colors in the images below as both these guitars have been finished, but you can tell the difference regarding the grain.
Density and Weight
On average swamp ash is more dense and heavier compared to alder, but there is not that much difference between them.
- Swamp Ash = 500 kg/m3
- Alder = 450 kg/m3
It’s also worth noting that ash is a less consistent wood compared to alder, so it’s entirely possible to get one ash body which is considerably less dense and consequently lighter than another.
The weight of the guitar also depends on the techniques used in production so it’s not accurate to say that all ash guitars are heavier than alder ones.
Again, the characteristics of swamp ash can vary from one piece of wood to another, but in general ash is a harder wood compared to alder and consequently more durable. Alder guitars are typically more likely to get damaged by impact, and from humidity and temperature fluctuations.
Check out my comparison between rosewood and maple fretboards.