What Is the Difference Between Ash Wood & Alder on a Fender Guitar Body?

by Charis Grey
Whether ash or alder, Fender guitars are the stuff rock 'n' roll dreams are made of.

Whether ash or alder, Fender guitars are the stuff rock 'n' roll dreams are made of.

James Woodson/Photodisc/Getty Images

The type of wood used in the construction of your Fender guitar body influences not just its appearance, but its performance. Beginning in the 1950s, Fender guitars such as the Stratocaster and Telecaster models changed music forever by making solid-body guitars the instrument of choice for rock 'n' roll musicians. Fender's first electric solid-body guitars were made with swamp ash wood. In mid-1956 that changed, and since that time most Fender guitar bodies have been made from alder, which is less expensive.

The Weight

It's important that your instrument feels right in your hands, and the weight of the wood has a lot to do with that. Ash wood can vary in density and weight depending on the environment in which it grows. Swamp ash, the type of wood used in early Fender guitars, grows in the swamps of Mississippi and Alabama -- conditions that result in a wood whose weight and density vary, but remain relatively light compared to other woods. "Kg/mt3" is a term used to describe wood density. It refers to the ratio of the mass to the volume of a substance. Ash wood ranges from between 580kg/mt3 to 660kg/mt3, while alder wood ranges around 530kg/mt3.

Different Tones

The density of a particular type of wood affects the tone of an instrument as much as it does the weight. Alder wood produces a guitar with a well-balanced, neutral tone that is slightly more accented in the upper mid-range. Ash wood guitar bodies produce rich, warm, well-articulated low frequencies. Fender's own site describes the tone of alder as "full and rich, with fat low-end, nice cutting mids, and good overall warmth and sustain," while ash is described as having "a 'snappier' tone with a bright edge, but with a warm bass and long sustain."

The Look

After mid-1956, Fender began using alder rather than ash wood for its guitar bodies, with one exception: guitars with a blond finish continue to be made of ash. Ash wood has a very clear color with yellow or pink tones depending on the variety. The color of ash wood works well with the translucent white color used to create the "blond" finish, and the open grain of ash wood makes it difficult to finish with opaque colors. Alder wood is light brown and has an unremarkable grain that lends itself better to opaque, rather than translucent, finishes.

Count the Cost

In a perfect world we'd all have the guitar of our dreams, but in real life, the price of an instrument is a huge factor in our purchasing decisions. The type of wood used in guitar body construction has a big influence on the final price of the instrument. Swamp ash is rarer than alder, and as a result is more expensive.

About the Author

For 15 years, Charis Grey's award-winning work has appeared in film, television, newspapers, magazines and on the Internet. She has worked as a story editor on the CBS drama "Flashpoint" and her work appears bimonthly in "The Driver Magazine." She has a Bachelor of Science in biology and a doctorate in chiropractic medicine from Palmer College.

Photo Credits

  • James Woodson/Photodisc/Getty Images