Ash has been a standard choice for solid-body electric guitars since Fender began using the wood to make guitars in the 1950s. There are two main types of ash that is used for guitars: swamp ash and white or hard ash. The two woods provide similar tones, though, there are some differences between the two, most notably is the weight.
Wood from swamp ash trees is very heavy while the wood is still green. This is because of the extremely porous nature of the wood and the fact that most of the swamp ash tree grows in water. Swamp ash commonly grows throughout the southern United States from Florida to Louisiana. As the water-logged swamp ash wood dries, it becomes much lighter. Many earlier Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters were made of Swamp Ash.
Northern hard ash, or white ash, is commonly found throughout the northern United States and Canada. As its name suggests, hard ash is a very hard wood. It also has open pores, though, the density of the wood causes it to be heavy. Hard ash is typically used on more expensive solid-body electric guitars, though, it can also be used as laminate tops for acoustic guitars.
Although they are of the same species of tree, there are several differences between swamp ash and hard ash. The most obvious difference between the two types of wood is the weight. Swamp ash guitars are much lighter than hard ash guitars, which can weigh more than five pounds for the body alone. Hard ash sustains its tone longer than swamp ash, due largely to the density of the wood. Swamp ash tends to have more of a popping sound.
Both swamp ash and hard ash guitars are capable of warm and bright tones. Both produce a rich range of sounds from highs, mids and lows. The smooth and creamy nature of the wood makes it best suited for clear or translucent finishes. As both types have very open pores, it can require more stain or finish to coat it than a wood with tighter grains, such as basswood. Wood near the base of either swamp ash or hard ash trees tend to be higher quality and creates better sounds than that of wood found higher up the tree.
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