Fender Jazzmasters and Telecasters are two of the longest standing guitar designs and have been made from a variety of woods since their inception in the 50s.
Two types of wood are most commonly used to build these guitars; Alder and Ash.
Choosing Alder or Ash for Jazzmaster and Telecaster guitars comes down to three main factors consisting of weight, tone , and guitar body thickness. Alder is generally a heavier wood with a brighter tone, while some cuts of ash can be heavier with a deeper resonance.
So without undertaking a woodworking class, let’s break down the differences in weight, sound, and durability of these woods to help you choose which is right for you.
Alder vs Ash Weight: Is Ash Lighter?
Generally speaking, Ashwood guitars are usually lighter than Alder guitars, but this is subject to a few variables.
Roughly calculated these are the weights of Alder and Ash:
- Alder: 420 – 700 kg/m3
- Ash: 450 – 550 kg/m3
As you can see there is a far bit of variation in how much Alder can weigh. This comes down to the way the manufacturer cuts and finishes the wood depending on whether they want to make a heavy or light guitar.
Whereas Ash has a more constant weight making it on average lighter.
If looking at Alder guitars make sure to go into the shop and hold the guitar before making your decision if you have a preference between light and heavy guitars.
Alder Vs Ash Jazzmasters
While weight is one factor to consider when picking a wood type for your Telecaster, I think most of us would agree that the impact wood has on your tone is the most important consideration.
Are Alder Jazzmasters Brighter Sounding?
Alder Jazzmasters usually have an emphasized mid – high tone resulting in a chirpier brighter tone.
In comparison, ash Jazzmasters sound more rounded bringing out a deeper tone from the guitar.
The Jazzmaster is a very versatile guitar, however! The variety of pick-up settings you’re able to adjust on it allows you to bring out different tones in more ways than your typical guitar.
With neck and bridge pick-up settings that can be individually adjusted you’re able to bring out those brighter or deeper tones regardless of what wood the instrument is made of out. The wood only serves as the baseline.
The weight of the wood used also has an impact on how bright the tone will be.
A lighter cut of Ash will give it a more prominent high end and make your guitar sound brighter; regardless of whether it’s a Jazzmaster or a Telecaster.
The same goes the opposite way. If a heavier cut of Alder is used to build your guitar the bass will become more resonant and give you that deeper rounder tone more associated with Ash.
Alder Vs Ash Telecasters
Ash was the first type of wood used to build Telecasters back in the early 50s which does give it some vintage clout however both Ash and Alder have been used to build Telecasters since 1956.
Is Alder a Better Wood for Telecasters?
The deciding factor of which wood is better for your Telecaster isn’t the wood itself but the way the guitar is constructed. Either solid or Thinline.
For a solid build Telecaster, Alder comes out on top. Alder wood is better suited to a single cut solid body than Ash.
If you’re buying a Thinline Telecaster; Ash is the better wood.
The reason for this is the internal structures of these woods and how they resonate when cut in different ways.
The difference between solid and Thinline is that Thinline Telecasters are thinner and have a hole cut on the front of the guitar to make the guitar semi-hollow.
Thinline Telecasters often feature a F shaped cutout on the front making them easy to identify.
The semi-hollow design also gives the guitar a warmer more resonant sound. The design is somewhere between a solid body electric, and an acoustic guitar.
Alder vs Swamp Ash – Is There A Difference?
While we could get into the ways these woods are visually different this information isn’t as relevant as other important factors, especially when most guitars have a painted finish.
The main difference between these woods involved their weight, the way they resonate and how sturdy they are!
Is Alder Stronger Than Ash?
Of the two Ash is generally the stronger wood. So if you plan on using your guitar as a battle axe keep this in mind!
On the Janka Hardness Scale, Alder comes in at 590 while Ash is over double that at 1320.
This might not mean much to you straight away it helps to understand the basics of the Janka Hardness Scale.
Basically, the Janka Hardness Scale measures how resistant to denting different kinds of wood are. The higher the rating the more durable the wood will be. So if you’re worried about your guitar getting knocked around a bit ) especially if you’re playing gigs) Ash is the more “heavy duty” of the options.
If you’re going to treasure your guitar and keep it out of harm’s way then you probably don’t need to stress about this though.
Both kinds of wood are sturdy and won’t fall apart without taking some serious damage.
Why Are Swamp Ash Telecaster Bodies So Popular?
A lot of Swamp Ash’s popularity with Telecasters has to do with the legacy of the guitar.
The classic guitar design was first built by Fender in 1951 using Swamp Ash. While it was only shortly after in 1956 that they started using both Ash and Alder the reputation for Telecasters originally being from Ash has remained.
This has created the idea that Swamp Ash Telecasters are closer to the classic or vintage idea of what makes a Telecaster what it is.
Swamp Ash telecasters are also rarer to find these days, with most modern Telecasters being made of Alder.