Is Ash A Good Guitar Tonewood? Electric, Acoustic & Bass


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 ash is used in the construction of guitars and basses, it’s worth investigating whether it’s a good tonewood or not.

Is Ash a good guitar tonewood? Swamp Ash and Hard Ash are popular choices for electric guitar/bass bodies (solid and laminate) but aren’t used in acoustic guitars or guitar necks and fretboards. Ash is bright with open grain and great sustain. Hard Ash is slightly denser, heavier and brighter than Swamp Ash.

In this article, we’ll discuss if and how ash 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 ash 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 Ash Tonewood

Ash comprises many different tonewoods from the genus Fraxinus. Among the most used ash tonewoods are black, European, green and white ash along with swamp ash, which relates to growing conditions more than a specific species within the genus Fraxinus. Let’s discuss each of these ash tonewoods in a bit more detail.

Black ash (Fraxinus nigra) is native to northeastern North America (Canada and the United States). Its heartwood has a light-to-medium brown colour, medium-to-coarse texture, large pores, and a straight grain (though some cuts may offer figured grain patterns).

European ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is also known as common ash and is native to most of Europe and southwestern Asia. Its heartwood has a light-to-medium brown colour with dark streaks. European ash has a medium-to-coarse texture, large pores, and a straight grain (though some cuts may offer figured grain patterns).

Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) is also known as red ash and is native to eastern and central North American (Canada and the United States). Its heartwood has a light-to-medium brown colour. Green ash has a medium-to-coarse texture, large pores, and a straight grain (though some cuts may offer figured grain patterns).

White ash (Fraxinus americana) is also known as American ash and is native to eastern and central North American (Canada and the United States). Its heartwood has a light-to-medium brown colour. Green ash has a medium-to-coarse texture, large pores, and a straight grain (though some cuts may offer figured grain patterns).

Swamp ash doesn’t apply to any particular species with the genus Fraxinus but rather those particular trees that grow in swamps and other wetlands, particularly in the United States. Black, European, green and white can all grow in these swamps, though it’s typically black, green and white ash that get the title. When growing in a swamp, an ash tree will develop wood that is relatively low in density, resulting in a warmer tone and a tonewood better-suited for guitar bodies and less functional in guitar necks and fretboards.

None of the above ash tonewoods are listed in the CITES Appendices. However, black, green and white ash are all listed on the IUCN Red List due to a projected population reduction of over 80% over the next three generations.

Ash hardwood is relatively easy to work, though it may require filling its grain due to its large pores. It glues, stains and finishes incredibly well.

Black and Green ash are relatively soft, while European and white ash can be considered hard. The harder the ash, the stiffer and stronger it will be. The harder species tend to be preferred for their brighter tone and greater resistance to splitting.

Unfortunately, ash populations are being decimated by the invasive Emerald Ash Borer. Fender, among other companies, is phasing out the wood from most of its guitars in lieu of more sustainable woods.

As a tonewood, ash produces a bright tone with great sustain. Swamp ash has the tendency to scoop mids and, therefore, add increased top-end relative to “non-swamp” varieties, all without affecting the superb sustain. The various types of ash tend to offer a strong upper-midrange and a crisp bass while maintaining their bright character.

When ash is used in the construction of a guitar, it is typically distinguished as being swamp ash or “regular” ash. The two types are also differentiated by the terms southern ash (swamp ash) and hard/northern ash (sometimes referring to green ash but not technically referring to any particular species).

It’s surprisingly rare that a manufacturer will share specifically which species of ash is used, though sometimes with information is given. Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) seems to be the most common, at least with American-made guitars, though all the ashes mentioned above are considered good tonewoods.

However, with that being said, we’ll consider the specifications of several ash species below.

Here are a few notable specs of the various types of ash tonewoods discussed above:

  • Type: Black ash
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light to medium brown
  • Grain: typically straight and regular (less common: moderately curly or figured)
  • Texture: medium to coarse
  • Pores: ring-porous
  • Density: 545 kg/m3 / 34.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 3,780 N / 850 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 11.00 GPa / 1,595,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): slightly bright
  • Price: low
  • Type: European ash
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light to medium brown
  • Grain: typically straight and regular (less common: moderately curly or figured)
  • Texture: medium to coarse
  • Pores: ring-porous
  • Density: 680 kg/m3 / 42.5 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 6,580 N / 1,480 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 12.31 GPa / 1,785,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): slightly bright
  • Price: low
  • Type: Green ash
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light to medium brown
  • Grain: typically straight and regular (less common: moderately curly or figured)
  • Texture: medium to coarse
  • Pores: ring-porous
  • Density: 640 kg/m3 / 40.0 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 5,340 N / 1,200 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 11.40 GPa / 1,653,000 psi
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): slightly bright
  • Price: low
  • Type: White ash
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light to medium brown
  • Grain: typically straight and regular (less common: moderately curly or figured)
  • Texture: medium to coarse
  • Pores: ring-porous
  • Density: 680 kg/m3 / 42.5 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): 6,580 N / 1,480 lbf
  • Elastic Modulus: 12.31 GPa / 1,785,000
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): slightly bright
  • Price: low
  • Type: Swamp ash
  • Hardwood/Softwood: Hardwood
  • Colour: light to medium brown
  • Grain: typically straight and regular (less common: moderately curly or figured)
  • Texture: medium to coarse
  • Pores: ring-porous
  • Density: 481-538 kg/m3 / 30.0-33.6 lb/ft3
  • Janka Hardness (Typical): Variable
  • Elastic Modulus: Variable
  • Tone (Warm/Bright Scale): slightly bright
  • Price: low

Sources: wikipedia.org and wood-database.com

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 Ash 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, the signal chain and the 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.

Ash is an excellent choice for balanced tones in electric guitars thanks to its strong upper-midrange, clear bass, and characteristic scooped mids. After mahogany and alder, ash (along with poplar and basswood) is one of the most popular tonewoods for electric guitar bodies on the market.

Is Ash A Good Electric Guitar Body Tonewood?

Hard ash and swamp ash are chosen for electric guitar bodies, thanks to their superb tone and easy workability. Ash makes a great solidbody slab or top material and can also be used in hollowbody designs. Plenty of big-name manufacturers use ash in their electric guitar bodies.

Swamp ash tends to give a warmer tone to the guitar body, while hard ash is often preferred for a more aggressive-sounding instrument.

Ash (especially hard ash) is relatively dense and hard compared to the other common electric guitar body woods. Though it may feel a bit heavy, ash guitars are still typically within a comfortable weight. The balanced, slightly bright tone of alder is often enhanced with another tonewood in the body, whether it’s a different wood in the top, back/sides or slab.

Examples of electric guitars with ash bodies and/or tops:

Is Ash A Good Electric Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Although hard ash is dense and hard enough to be considered for electric guitar necks, it’s liable to twist under the stresses of strings and truss rods, so it’s rarely even used. Laminating it is likely the best bet if choosing ash as a neck wood.

Is Ash A Good Electric Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Ash is generally considered not dense or strong enough to use as an electric guitar fretboard tonewood.


Is Ash A Good Acoustic Guitar Tonewood?

Though ash is a popular choice for electric guitars, it’s rarely seen in acoustics and classicals. We’ve discussed how it’s not the greatest neck material and certainly isn’t strong enough for fretboards, but why isn’t ash commonplace in acoustic bodies?

Is Ash A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Back/Side Tonewood?

Though ash bends well with steam, sounds great, and is well-known as a tonewood, it’s rarely used in acoustic backs and sides. Its porous nature means it will require filling, and it’s perhaps not as resonant as the more commonly-used back/sides materials (mahogany, rosewood, sapele, maple).

That’s not to say that ash cannot be used to great effect. Some big-name manufacturers have produced superb acoustic guitars with ash back and sides. Rather, it is to say that ash is rarely used, a trend that is unlikely to reverse due to the current state of ash trees.

Examples of acoustic guitars with ash backs and sides:

Taylor GT Urban Ash: acoustic with solid urban ash back and sides

Is Ash A Good Acoustic Guitar Body Top Tonewood?

Ash can sound superb as a body top if it’s filled or laminated properly. However, there are more effective and, arguably, better-sounding top woods on the market. Combine this with the declining population of ash trees, and it makes sense that ash is rarely seen or even discussed in regard to acoustic tops.

Examples of acoustic guitars with ash tops:

Luna Gypsy: acoustic with quilted ash laminate top

Is Ash A Good Acoustic Guitar Neck Tonewood?

Ash is generally considered too porous and not strong enough to use as an acoustic guitar neck tonewood.

Is Ash A Good Acoustic Guitar Fretboard Tonewood?

Ash is generally considered not dense or strong enough to use as an acoustic guitar fretboard tonewood.


Is Ash A Good Bass Guitar Tonewood?

From what we’ve learned about ash’s role in guitars, we can understand that it’s a great option for electric basses but not so much for acoustic basses.

The tone of ash in a bass guitar scoops the mids and provides a bright top-end with a resonant, deep low-end. This naturally works well for bass guitars, helping them to sound defined in the context of denser mixes.

Once again, hard ash is generally preferred for a more aggressive yet balanced tone, while swamp ash is more resonant and smooth.

The weight/density of ash typically isn’t a problem for bass guitars, even though it’s slightly heavier than most common bass guitar body materials.

Examples of bass guitars with ash tonewood:


Other Tonewoods

Of course, there are plenty of other tonewoods besides ash. Here is a list of other tonewoods with links to check out more in-depth articles on each:


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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