Alder vs. Swamp Ash – what is better on a Strat style guitar? The tale of two Suhr Classics.
Being totally obsessed with how to make certain sounds (i.e. tone and timbre), for as long as I’ve been playing guitar I’ve been curious about which woods lend themselves to which sounds and tones. A common question that comes up is which is more preferable, alder or swamp ash?
The answer to this depends on what style of music you play and what kind of feel you’re going for. When compared with the exact same electronics (Suhr V60LP single coil pickups and the Suhr Silent Single Coil system) there’s plenty of difference in the tone of the two. The alder is all mids whereas the swamp ash is all low’s and highs. Alder cuts through the mix best whereas nothing has spank and twang like swamp ash. I would say that alder is a little more common for rock and blues (especially), and that swamp ash is more common in country and funk. To that point, if you want an even, round, warm and fat sound, alder is the choice. If you want something with more characteristic bite, growl and sizzle, then swamp ash is a great way to go. I LOVE the sound of the bridge pickup on my Suhr Swamp Ash Classic when using low to medium gain sounds on my Suhr Badger to go for a Robben Ford “Chevrolet” kind of thing. Nasty!
To help further this discussion I have recorded a short clip of each guitar, playing the same riff through each pickups configuration. All things are equal (amp settings, mic placement, etc). Hopefully this will help give a better idea about some of these wood combinations and their resultant effect on tone.
SUHR ALDER CLASSIC – ONE PIECE MAPLE NECK – V60LP PICKUPS
SUHR SWAMP ASH CLASSIC – MAPLE NECK – BRAZILIAN ROSEWOOD FINGERBOARD – V60LP PICKUPS
Listening to your clips, I noticed that the alder Suhr with maple fretboard was a little brighter; probably due mainly to the fretboard material.
I love how were all hear things differently! What you perceive as brighter I perceive has having more mid range. I see that as cutting through the mix better because of the alder/maple combo. Interestingly enough, the same alder Suhr with a maple neck and Brazilian rosewood fingerboard sounds considerably brighter AND deeper. To that point, I have since swapped the necks on these two guitars and greatly prefer this combination on both guitars.
I prefer the alder. The swamp ash sounds thin and brittle.
Im rutger from holland, and did also a lot of experimences with different kind of woods. I used to have the jeff beck customshop Alder strat. It had a rolingnut and fender noiseless pickups. Well, with distortion this was a really bad sounding guitar. I replaced the nut by bone, and the sound was good. I changed for kinman pickup’s and the sound was better, but still, i couldnt get the feeling like I had with my other guitars. So I sold it and bought a Van de Haar Stratocaster (Dutch built). This one is made of Swamp Ash and has maple neck. A total different sound, much closer to my telecaster, more twang and warmth. Together with kinman avn56, the best sounding Strat I played. The sound was much sharp and cutting through the mix, and live sometimes to hard to mix with other instrument’s. I have to say, Alder is an easyer sound.
Now I also have a mahogany /rosewood strat. In my opinium the most attractive sounding strat I have, but of course, less stratocaster then Alder or Ash. It has a strong, biting sound, less twang, but extreme long sustain and beautifull defined high. I made a switch with parallel posibilities and there it is, a strat with real gibson sounds too. The other strats ware to warm/fuzzy for this function. Mahoganny is perfect for serial switchings.
One last thing,
a strat is a strat, and you have to like it or not. Actually the whole systems sucks of the guitar. I always lock the tremolo with all springs. The difference is incredible. Allthough the sound is more strat, with open tremolo, it looses a lot of defined high and sub low. For me I like to here all whats in a guitar, so I lock it with all springs. Im still curious to the effect of screwing pickup’s to the body (like tele).
yo, greetings (time to work again)
Thanks for doing this! Currently agonizing over what combo to go for for a self-build and this helps enormously. Thanks!
which kinman pickups did you get brother? I am putting a strat together and am getting kinmans. Would appreciate your input. I am Matt Hanley From Australia …firstname.lastname@example.org
You said you now prefer which combination of neck and body wood on the Suhrs? Alder boday and maple/brazilian neck or alder body and all maple neck? I’m building a Suhr so this is very helpful.
I feel that certain wood combinations lend themselves to certain genres/styles of music as well as personal taste. If you describe the type of music you play and the players/tones you like as a benchmark, I can try to steer you in the right direction.
swamp-ash makes a more trebly sound in a strat ala Mark Knoppfler, if you want your guitar to sound more like a Telecaster then swamp-ash probably is for you, I go for alder my self, but it all depends on which music you want to play, for good old rock n roll I would say alder is the way to go,
I saw the pic of 2 guitars of the same make and model, let me tell you something you probably didn’t think about, when a strat copy or even real Fenders have a plain maple neck they usually install brighter pickups in them, because at the time when they came with maple neck, the pickups had a very bright sound too, so they put those in because it’s historically correct, so it’s not only the neck and body woods making that brighter tone, the rosewood fretboards came after 1960 and sounds a little bit darker, but so did the pickups, so you can’t just compare 2 identical guitars like that when one have a maple neck and the other a rosewood neck. I can bet 100 bux that the pickups are not the same.
I am looking for the Mark Knopfler sound, but I can’t afford the Mark Knopfler signature strat.
Maybe there is a cheaper alternative?
Somebody offered me a standard Fender squire strat with rosewood fingerboard for a 160 euro’s. The body is made of agatish and the pick ups are alnico V. Is it possible with these part making the sound of Mark Knopfler? I want to hear this rinkling sound like the old Fender 62 ones with brazilian rosewood fingerboards (I think)
Rudy from the Netherlands
This would have been a good and true comparison if both guitars had the same maple fingerboards. The difference between a maple fingerboard and a rosewood fingerboard is alot
Not sure if you’ve seen this, but I actually did a more in-depth comparison where I swapped the necks on the two guitars. You can read about it and hear the clips for yourself via http://www.petelacis.com/2010/07/08/alder-vs-swamp-ash-maple-vs-rosewood-and-a-neck-swap-the-definitive-comparison-with-audio-clips/
[…] while back I wrote this post concerning the differences between alder and swamp ash when used in a strat-style guitar and what […]
Thanks for taking the time to write up the differences between woods and providing clips. To really nail the difference, I think it’s important that the necks be of the same wood. Ash/rosewood neck vs alder/maple neck almost cancels out difference…to these old ears!
I prefer the alder sound, as I also have it on my Fender P Bass Guitar. Just a filler, somewhat more “nasty” sound, in my very humble opinion, of course.
The maple neck adds a bunch of punch and brightness over rosewood. My son’s Deluxe Strat has a swamp ash body with a maple neck. It evens out the “thinness” of the ash (compared to alder), and really has a nice pop to it.
So, in my humble opinion, I would go with alder if you need to cut through the mix, especially biting mids and highs for lead guitar. For a good rhythm guitar and a nice finish, go with ash. Regardless, go with a maple neck and fretboard.
Just my very humble opinions.
I’m planning to have a custom Strat made at a local shop. My first consideration is that I want to emulate the Mark Knopfler sound as closely as possible.
As for the appearance of the guitar, I really prefer the light grain of Alder, as opposed to the heavier grain of Swamp Ash. The owner of the shop says that if I want to emulate the Knopfler tone, that Swamp Ash is the only way to go.
Do you have any thoughts on this subject? I’d sure appreciate anything you might be willing to share with me.
Thanks very much for your time, Pete.