Guitars are made of numerous different parts, many of which are made of wood. The choice of wood in the guitar body (the solid body and laminate in electric guitars and the sides, back and top of acoustic guitars), neck and fretboard all contribute to the overall playability, feel and, of course, tone of the instrument. Since alder is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it's worth investigating whether it's a good tonewood or not.
Is Alder a good guitar tonewood? Alder is a medium-weight wood with a tight, hard grain pattern. It offers a full-bodied, clear tone, balancing low, mid and high frequencies. Alder is a popular choice as a solid body or laminate top for electric guitar/bass but isn't used in acoustic guitars, guitar necks, or fretboards.
In this article, we'll discuss if and how alder tonewood is used in electric, acoustic, classical and bass guitar construction with a keen focus on its tone.
Note: in my research for this article, I used Sweetwater's extensive guitar database to find examples of guitars with alder in their construction. The links to the guitars in this article will send readers to Sweetwater's site for more information. Sweetwater is featured in My New Microphone's Top 10 Best Online Audio Gear/Equipment Retailers.
Table Of Contents
- Characteristics Of Alder Tonewood
- Is Alder A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Alder A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
- Is Alder A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
- Other Tonewoods
Characteristics Of Alder Tonewood
Alder tonewood comprised several species in the genus Alnus within the Betulaceae (birch) family.
European/black alder (Alnus glutinosa) is also known as common alder and is native to Europe, southwest Asia and northern Africa.
Red alder (Alnus rubra) is native to western North America.
Neither European nor red alder is listed in the CITES Appendices, and both are reported by the IUCN tree species of least concern.
European alder has a colour ranging from light tan to reddish-brown. Its grain is most often straight but can be irregular depending on the growth conditions of the tree. European alder has a fine, even texture.
Red alder is also light tan to reddish-brown in colour. Its grain is most often straight, and its texture is fine, though coarser than its European counterpart.
Both alder tonewoods are easy to work and finish well. They are relatively soft with a dense grain, so care must be taken not to overwork them.
Alder is relatively stiff for its density and is resistant to warping. It's easy to work and remains strong when cavities are cut into it.
As a tonewood, alder offers a full-bodied, clear tone, balancing low, mid and high frequencies. Though it's somewhat lacking in the treble, its upper-midrange really shines through. Overall, alder is very balanced through the fundamental frequencies and critical overtones of guitar and bass.
Here are a few notable specs of European/black and red alder:
- Type: European/Black Alder
- Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
- Colour: Light tan to reddish brown
- Grain: usually straight; can be irregular
- Texture: fine, even
- Density: 495 kg/m3 / 30.9 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,890 N / 650 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 8.99 GPa / 1,304,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
- Price: moderate
- Type: Red Alder
- Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
- Colour: light tan to reddish brown
- Grain: generally straight
- Texture: moderately fine, even
- Density: 450 kg/m3 / 28.1 lb/ft3
- Janka Hardness (Typical): 2,620 N / 590 lbf
- Elastic Modulus: 9.52 GPa / 1,381,000 psi
- Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): balanced
- Price: moderate
Here are links to the official website of the IUCN and Cites:
• IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
• CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)
Is Alder A Good Electric Guitar Tonewood?
Before we begin, I should mention that tonewoods don't have nearly as much of an effect on the overall sound of an electric guitar as they do on an acoustic guitar. The guitar pickups, strings, signal chain and amplifier all play a huge role in the overall tone of an electric guitar. It's not all about the wood, though it is a factor.
Alder is a superb choice for balanced tones in electric guitars and has been a mainstay of the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation since the 1950s. If Fender uses alder in its Stratocaster (the best-selling electric guitar of all time), it must be good!
Fender is featured in top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
That being said, alder is generally reserved for electric guitar solid bodies rather than necks and fretboards. Let's discuss why in the following paragraphs.
Is Alder A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?
Alder is a superb choice for electric guitar bodies and is incorporated into the solidbodies and semi-hollowbodies of electric guitars from a variety of big-name manufacturers.
With a density of 450 kg/m3 (red alder) and 495 kg/m3 (European alder), this tonewood is light for a hardwood. Weight, of course, is a factor worth considering when designing an ergonomic electric guitar, which will often be played standing up with a strap over the guitarist's shoulder.
Though lightweight, this wood is stable and works incredibly well as a solidbody block or as a laminate top. The beautiful tone of alder makes it a great choice by itself or combined with other body tonewoods, delivering a balanced, jack-of-all-trades-type tone quality to the guitar. If you play a wide variety of styles, an alder-body electric guitar may be the choice for you.
Examples of electric guitars with alder bodies and/or tops:
- Fender American Professional II Stratocaster: solidbody with alder body
- Ibanez Tom Quayle Signature TQM1: solidbody with alder body
- Fender Player Plus Telecaster: solidbody with alder body
- D'Angelico Deluxe Bedford: semi-hollowbody with alder body
- Relish Mary One: semi-hollowbody with 5-ply alder/tamo ash veneer (aluminum core body)
- Relish Mary: semi-hollowbody with eucalyptus/alder top (aluminum core body)
Is Alder A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Alder is generally considered not strong enough to use as an electric guitar neck tonewood and isn't really seen in commercial guitars.
However, its easy workability combined with its relatively high stiffness and stability makes it a viable option for neck material. Just be sure to be careful when building and/or playing an alder neck since it's a fairly soft wood, prone to denting.
Is Alder A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Alder is generally considered not strong enough to use as an electric guitar fretboard tonewood.
Is Alder A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?
Though alder is a popular choice for electric guitars, it's rarely seen in acoustic guitars. We've discussed how it's not the greatest neck material and certainly isn't strong enough for fretboards, but why isn't alder commonplace in acoustic bodies?
Is Alder A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?
Alder is somewhat pliable, but its softness makes it a poor choice for acoustic guitar back and sides, which require higher flexural strength in order to be bent into proper shape.
Though the Escape Classical is listed as an example of an “acoustic” (classical nylon-string) guitar below, its actual body is largely a solid alder slab with a considerable hole cut through for the tuning system and bridge.
Examples of acoustic guitars with alder backs and sides:
- Traveler Guitar Escape Classical: classical with alder back and sides
Is Alder A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?
Alder is sometimes used as a laminate top for electric guitar but is rarely (if ever) used in acoustics.
Though alder is relatively stiff given its density, it's still not as stiff as the major acoustic top tonewoods (spruce, cedar, maple, sapele, mahogany).
Furthermore, acoustic tops need to be cut thin and must be able to project the sound of the instrument adequately. By these metrics, the softness of alder yields a relatively poor performance in build durability and sound.
Is Alder A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?
Alder is generally considered not strong enough to use as an acoustic guitar neck tonewood.
Is Alder A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?
Alder is generally considered not strong enough to use as an acoustic guitar fretboard tonewood.
Is Alder A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?
Sorry, bass players, but there's nothing much to add to what's already been written about alder in guitar builds.
Alder is a superb choice for balanced tone in electric guitar bodies but doesn't see much use elsewhere.
The light weight of alder may be attractive to bass luthiers since basses are typically larger than regular guitars. Alder bodies can keep the weight of the bass design low while still providing strong low-end sustain and a balanced profile in the overtones.
The relative lack of treble isn't as much a convert with basses, though the nice upper-midrange boost can really make a bass tone shine!
Examples of bass guitars with alder tonewoods:
- Fender American Professional II Precision Bass: solidbody electric guitar with alder body
- Lakland USA 44-60: solidbody electric guitar with alder body
- Fodera Yin Yang 4 Standard: solidbody electric guitar with alder body
- Spector Euro 4 LX: solidbody electric guitar with European alder/walnut laminate body
Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides alder. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:
- Panga Panga
- Pau Ferro