Home > audio clips, guitar, musical instruments > Alder vs Swamp Ash, Maple vs Rosewood and a Neck Swap – The Definitive Comparison with Audio Clips

Alder vs Swamp Ash, Maple vs Rosewood and a Neck Swap – The Definitive Comparison with Audio Clips

Alder - one piece maple neck | Swamp Ash - maple neck with Brazilian rosewood fingerboardA while back I wrote this post concerning the differences between alder and swamp ash when used in a strat-style guitar and what tones/genres of music those combinations suited best. I originally wrote that post to satisfy my own curiosity, but also to share with others and participate in discussion. Three years later it is still the most searched topic on this site and continues to bring in a steady stream of traffic. Apparently I’m not the only one curious about these things….

Since I wrote the original post, I realized that I was missing a big chunk of the puzzle: how the wood the neck and fingerboard were made from influence the tone of the instrument. I realized the only way to truly see this was by comparing the two most popular neck wood combinations for a strat-style guitar (maple neck with rosewood fingerboard and one piece maple neck & fingerboard) on the same guitar.

Adler - maple neck with Brazilian rosewood fingerboard | Swamp Ash  - one piece maple neckTo conduct this comparison I used two Suhr Classic guitars with identical electronics (V60LP pickups and the Silent Single Coil system). One was alder with a one piece maple neck and the other, swamp ash with a maple neck and Brazilian rosewood fingerboard. I recorded both clean and dirty passages utilizing every pickup combination on each guitar, then swapped the necks and repeated the process. note: swapping necks on a Suhr guitar will void your warranty if the factory doesn’t perform the work.

What follows below are the audio clips organized by pickup position so that you can  compare the sounds of the different wood combinations within the same context.

NECK POSITION – CLEAN TONES

Alder Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Alder Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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Swamp Ash Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Swam Ash Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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NECK POSITION – DIRTY TONES

Alder Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Alder Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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Swamp Ash Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Swam Ash Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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NECK + MIDDLE POSITION – CLEAN TONES

Alder Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Alder Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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Swamp Ash Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Swam Ash Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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NECK + MIDDLE POSITION – DIRTY TONES

Alder Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Alder Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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Swamp Ash Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Swam Ash Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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MIDDLE POSITION – CLEAN TONES

Alder Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Alder Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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Swamp Ash Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Swam Ash Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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MIDDLE POSITION – DIRTY TONES

Alder Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Alder Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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Swamp Ash Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Swam Ash Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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MIDDLE + BRIDGE POSITION – CLEAN TONES

Alder Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Alder Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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Swamp Ash Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Swam Ash Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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MIDDLE + BRIDGE POSITION – DIRTY TONES

Alder Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Alder Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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Swamp Ash Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Swam Ash Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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BRIDGE POSITION – CLEAN TONES

Alder Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Alder Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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Swamp Ash Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Swam Ash Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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BRIDGE POSITION – DIRTY TONES

Alder Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Alder Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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Swamp Ash Body – Once Piece Maple Neck

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Swam Ash Body – Maple Neck with Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard

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  1. jeff gerndt
    January 16th, 2013 at 07:46 | #1

    what a great comparison! Thanks for all your work. As always,it boils down to personal preference. I like the warm full sound of alder and rosewood.

  2. robert
    March 6th, 2013 at 17:19 | #2

    This is the best demo I’ve ever heard, seriously. Thanks for your time in doing this and posting it. I like the ash/maple combo the best overall, but the alder/Brazilian sounds great too. Ash/Braz seems to have too many overtones or something – sounds good clean, but is too much, IMO, overdriven. The alder/maple combo just sounds too fundamental and middy for my tastes. Thanks again for this!

  3. Russ
    March 31st, 2013 at 04:43 | #3

    Nicely done. Context: Ash vs Alder with Rosewood neck. I didn’t listen to maple necks. To me the ash typically emphasizes highs and lows – meaning I hear more in the very low and very high frequencies. It seems the Ash body is like a natural way to turn up the presence control (the frequencies above the treble control on a tube amp). I like this in all the pickups except the bridge where its just too darn piercing. The Fender American Deluxe Strat has a pickup configuration that controls for that a bit – but also reduces the usefulness of two of the ten bridge and neck pickup combinations. It is interesting the Eric Johnson, Jeff Beck etc. choose Alder with their Rosewood artist strats.

  4. Dr. Hard Truth
    June 10th, 2013 at 10:49 | #4

    God Bless Pete for attempting this experiment.

    Important for folks to note that you can hear subtle differences.

    However, the guitars were not strummed and fretted by a machine, nor do they share the same exact, swapped-out pickups, or circuit for each, and every recording sample. Bummer.

    Thus, we MUST ask ourselves: Are the infinitesimally subtle variations we hear contributed to solely by the wood constituents of each guitar? Or, might the pressure differences in strumming, and in fretting between recordings add the tonal variations? Perhaps the varying pickup outputs may be a factor? Could the fairly large (up to 15%)manufacturing tolerances allowed between two “identical” potentiometers, produced consecutively on the assembly line, be adding/subtracting some high-end, or low-end, thus accounting for a bit extra “bite”, or some more/less “woof”? Hmm.

    That is how an experiment must be performed if we are to determine it’s results scientific, therefore “most probably factual”. It is a ton of work to perform such a test. To take the entire circuit, and pickups out of one guitar, and move them to another prior to each recording. However it is THE ONLY way to truly determine that the build materials are the cause of the variations.

    Most major manufacturers HAVE performed these tests, under stringent scientific guidelines. I know this from my friend “Mr. X” whom worked at one of “The Big 3″ for many decades designing guitars, and pickups. Sadly, they do not publicize their results. The hard truth is that their results do not support the case for the existence of “electric tonewood”. This is why these tests are not public. They are only mentioned in Internal Memos.

    However, many dollars have already been sunk into the marketing machine attempting to convince players that Swamp Ash (for which Fender got a nice buy-in this month from a Brazilian seller)is “more resonant” than Pine. The only way a company can move all those maple-neck guitars they are overstocked with, is if they market them to country players who need “high-end clarity” for extended chording. Otherwise, the only difference between Maple and Rosewood, is the color. A much harder market segment to determine.

    Lastly, some folks are ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED, BEYOND ANY SHADOW OF A DOUBT, that electric “tonewoods” are a factor in their audio composite.
    For those hardcore guys, and gals, one must invoke “The Placebo Factor”. The human brain is such an inherently powerful instrument, that the mere “power of suggestion” via a sugar-pill literally cures 25-30% of the control group IN EVERY pharmacological study. It is common knowledge, and an easily researchable factoid.

    It is not limited to drugs, however. The power of suggestion can work for almost any decision a human can make. Including what we hear. So ask yourself if you really hear a difference one way, or another. Or, might you just THINK you hear it, because you were told you would?

    Food for thought. Thanks again Pete, for trying to get to the bottom of such a huge pile of crapola.

  5. Dr. Hard Truth
    June 10th, 2013 at 11:09 | #5

    @Sehriyar
    Which Maple are you referring to? Quilted, Bird’s Eye, or Flame? They are all different. Quilted is very soft, while Bird’s Eye is quite hard. Flame could go either way. How can they all be lumped together if they are so very different? What gives them predictable acoustic signatures if not the density, and grain?

    There is no singular MAPLE. So how is it you hear “Maple” as just being unquestionably “brighter”? Very confusing. Maybe you could talk to a luthier, and get some clarity? Doc

  6. July 27th, 2013 at 12:22 | #6

    Thanks for the test. It has always been my obsession to figure out all the possible subtileties in sound by varying the parts of an instrument! Your test has been very useful and surprising.
    I found that on the clean tones that the alder/maple combination brings out a dryer and more compact sound together with warmer bass and rounder trebles. Rosewood sounded good, but less bassy and a little sloppier, and to my surprise the ash body was too ringing, with a little too long sustain on the disturbing parts of the sound.
    So, in my personal opinion it would be better to play the alder body with the maple neck as it is easier to control the sound, as it sustains just the right amount making the player relax about the left hand. Also because of the warmth it is easier to pick the right tone with the right hand.

  7. james
    August 2nd, 2013 at 23:34 | #7

    Flawed test. Pickups are not identical on both guitars. if you switched the entire wiring harness/pickguard from one body to the other that would be better. But still, rewiring, soldering, etc could create a loss of high end… The tonal differences are consistent FOR EACH BODY/SET OF PUPS, so all that was proven was the pickups sound different on each guitar. That’s all.

  8. Eric
    October 5th, 2013 at 21:03 | #8

    Thanks Pete for going to all the trouble.
    I think the sound samples are all very consistent and really let you hear the differences wood can make.
    For me it’s Alder/Rosewood hands down every time.

    Cheers,

    Eric

  9. Tom
    November 5th, 2013 at 20:26 | #9

    Woods do make a difference. Not only in the frequencies emphasized, but also in the envelope. For example, how fast the notes pop off the fretboard, how does the guitar react when you dig in, character of the overtones, things like that. I’ve always noticed that the ebony fingerboard on the LP Customs produces a different envelope than the rosewood on the LP standard. Play each through a clean amp. The difference is there. You’ll also notice a difference between Brazilian Rosewood and Indian rosewood when lots of gain is used. Brazilian is tighter. Pauferro responds more like Brazilian than Indian. Ever wonder why Fender chose pauferro over rosewood for the SRV Strat. Canary has really strong piano bass. Then of course there are differences in individual samples.
    Big necks also flatter the tone. Notes seem to have more ‘girth’ when the neck is nice and fat. That’s also an envelope effect. Skinny necks tend to sound weaker when playing clean. I think it has to do with how the vibrations are transferred.
    So the question is whether you hear it and whether you can you feel it when you play. These differences are most evident when you play in a toneful manner. Crank up megagain on a Line 6 and employ a hamfisted technique, you’re not gonna notice a difference. As for the woods used in the test, swamp ash and rosewood = scooped mids. Maple and alder have fatter / more natural mids. These differences tend toward differences in certain tube types, 6L6, 6V6, EL34, EL84, etc. Of course it’s also totally possible that I’ve been imagining all these things :-)

  10. November 7th, 2013 at 10:28 | #10

    wow. this is great! and i don’t say that much.

    what this tells me is wood is a minor contributor. i mean, i can get bigger variations by using different picks, playing in a different place on the string, changing pickup height, changing pickups, etc

    i was going to do my own experiment to see how wood resonance contributes to tone. maybe i won’t now.

    i know this isn’t a “perfect” experiment. variation in playing is probably the biggest variant but it’s close enough for me to make a decision.

  11. Marcel
    November 19th, 2013 at 02:56 | #11

    The problem with this here is that you can see which sound sample is which guitar.
    So because of personal preferences the people will definetely hear what they want to hear. See such comments like “I didn’t listen to maple necks.” Lol-Why? Does rosewood sound better? Definetely not.

    So what I did for a plain objective result is this:

    I downloaded your sound samples and wrote a software that does basically randomize this sound samples (divided in the 10 categories (clean/dirty)).

    I ran this program like 20 times on different days and noted the results.
    This may be one of the most interesting tests because it is perfectly objective.

    The final result shows exactly what I thought it might. Although I always had I sample I liked the most, eventually this was every time a different sample.
    So the final result was that all 4 combinations got nearly exact the same points (maple slightly more than the rosewood ones).

    Why is that? Electric guitar sound (on the contrary to acoustic guitar sound) is affected by the guitar’s wood very little to almost zero. You will find guitars that have extremely small bodies and no headstock but they blow you away with their bass etc. So forget about buying the “right wood” for you guitar. It doesn’t make any difference.

    My suggested combination: Alder/Maple.
    Why? Alder ist usually lighter that Ash (more comfortable to wear).
    And maple is a bit more resistant to dirt and damages than rosewood.

    If you want to test this yourself using my software I can give it to you.

  12. Dave Gill
    November 22nd, 2013 at 08:16 | #12

    Thank for the test!

    Confirms what I have been hearing. Swamp Ash sucks…. at least for me… for a strat. You lose all of the definition that makes a strat sound like a strat.

    I can get any number of guitars to sound like the swamp ash + rosewood combo…. but the alder / maple combo is one of a kind.

  13. Tom
    June 28th, 2014 at 08:10 | #13

    @Russ The Eric Johnson Strat is Alder Body with Maple neck.

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