Swamp Ash for a Body?

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Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by j mascis » Wed Jan 16, 2019 8:48 pm

Has anyone used swamp ash over alder for a body?

If so, what was your experience (in terms of the build and finishing process), and how did it sound compared to the more traditional alder?

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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by rexter » Wed Jan 16, 2019 11:43 pm

Swamp ash often is the choice for a lightweight body, but (at least here in the U.K. - probably different elsewhere) current stock is these days seeming pretty heavy unless you pay a big premium!

Finishing it compared to alder is more work as you need to fill the grain (very porous) - sometimes two runs of grain filler is necessary. I always find that it often needs more sealer and primer too to cover rogue grain!

Alder you can pretty much sand and put a few coats of sealer/primer on it and ha e a very workable flat surface.

Sound wise... hard to say. But personally I’ve had some great sounding swamp ash guitars and some ones that have felt quite flat. Obviously lots of things at play other than body wood. Other people may have more useful input about this, but I think sound comes largely down to setup, pickups and playing.

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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by Paul-T » Thu Jan 17, 2019 2:19 am

Swamp ash is quite a vague term but it is meant to be of lower density.

My JM Is ash, probably standard ash, and my old Tele is Swamp ash. I haven't done a direct comparison of my JM wiht an alder one, but the swamp ash tele is very resonant acoustically - and that's the sound for which swamp ash is known. In conversations with Ken Parker, he reckons lighter woods are more resonant at useful frequencies and this gives a better sound. But there will doubtless be lots of variation, and the effect of that wood will only be one part of a bigger whole.
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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by timtam » Thu Jan 17, 2019 3:18 am

When a solid body electric guitar resonates acoustically to your ears and vibrates in your hands, and others don't, it seems almost illogical to resist the conclusion that such resonance must affect their amplified performance in some way. That then tends to lead to confirmation bias ... emphasizing in one's mind those great sounding amplified guitars that resonated acoustically, and those lousy sounding ones that didn't .. and explaining away the exceptions in terms of other factors.

But delving into the physics seems to leave most people unconvinced (although there is more experimental work to be done). Studies have shown that neck resonance does appear to be of some importance, due to typical necks' relative flexibility, that leads to high conductance (loss of string vibration for some notes into the neck) and thus loss of sustain at 'dead' notes. But physical theory regarding the stiffer body and low conductance of typical bridges, and experimental studies, tends to lead one to conclusions regarding body resonance like Heiko Hoepfinger's, physicist and manufacturer of 6-strings and basses...
"But for a solidbody electric, the whole notion of increasing sustain with resonant tonewoods or letting a string send its vibrations into the body to resonate before returning to the string is pretty much nonsense."
https://www.premierguitar.com/articles/ ... -resonance

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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by Singlebladepickup » Thu Jan 17, 2019 4:15 am

I have a swamp Ash JM. It's very light compared to the avri Jah I used to have. It might be slightly less resonant than that guitar, but it is still pretty resonant and sounds great acoustically. I can't really weigh in on the tonewood or weight affect ing sound debates

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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by Paul-T » Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:28 am

Nothing is simple. But I would disagree with the notion that a guitar that sounds different acoustically, won't sound different amplified. To take that argument to its conclusion, a Stratocaster with a humbucker would sound the same as a Les Paul and it manifestly doesn't.

That argument also says that if a guitar is resonant, a freqency is subtracted. But if a guitar SOUNDS resonant, that's different, the 'positive' sound you can hear are frequencies being reinforced, not subtracted.

If we're discussing tonewoods and how much input they have, then I'd be pretty certain it's limited. But the wood, and the various resonant frequencies, do manifestly have an effect. That said, the most conclusive reason to like swamp ash is that it's better for your back, not your ears.
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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by rumfoord » Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:38 am

I have a Japanese Squier Strat made out of Sen (which is similar to Ash), and I love it.

But, yeah, as has been said, there are a lot of other things that matter more, so it's pretty hard to say what you will like personally. Besides the regular setup things, I'd expect the tightness of the bridge thimbles (or other idiosyncratic things) could affect the tone in a way that one might otherwise attribute to tone wood.

My take is that everything matters a little bit, but you have to decide if you can tell and (more importantly) if it's worth the cost to you. I agree with the broad strokes of that article, but I think he's being a little too definite with his conclusion:
All physical instruments will have some inevitable resonances and dampening, which is the main reason why there are so many instruments that sound different. [emphasis added] But for a solidbody electric, the whole notion of increasing sustain with resonant tonewoods or letting a string send its vibrations into the body to resonate before returning to the string is pretty much nonsense. [The article was talking here about expensive construction methods and aftermarket modifications.]

You’d think if one of the resonance-enhancing systems worked as promised, it would have generated at least some reaction from owners by now. It hasn’t, which gives us an idea of a body’s tonal influence on a solid electric instrument ... obviously not that much.
I think that first sentence is key. I like timtam's point about cofirmation bias too, but I think also something that happens is that people confuse "tiny difference" with "perceptible difference". Not everyone will be able to tell the difference, nor should they be expected to. (piece of wisdom that I should more often remember: If you can't make a shitty guitar sound good, then you need to practice more anyway.) But I think if you can tell the difference between a 335, a Les Paul, and an SG; then it's not crazy to expect a maple or aluminum bodied SG to sound different too.

I imagine people that take a firm stance that body wood doesn't matter are reacting to expensive parts and construction methods whose sellers are verging into snake oil mysticism to sell product. To that, I agree: Get outta here you mojo-heads!

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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by timtam » Thu Jan 17, 2019 6:14 am

Paul-T wrote:
Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:28 am
Nothing is simple. But I would disagree with the notion that a guitar that sounds different acoustically, won't sound different amplified.
A simple experiment to show that a solid body electric guitar can be made to resonate differently acoustically, that can heard and measured via microphone recording, yet have no effect on pickup output (amplitude-frequency spectrum) ...

See Manfred Zollner's strat-and-box frequency spectra in "The Physics of E-Guitars: Vibration – Voltage – Sound wave - Timbre" ...
https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/88a7/c ... 39c004.pdf

A strat is recorded via microphone acoustically and directly via its pickups, before and after its body and neck are in contact with a large resonator.

The amplitude-frequency spectra from the microphone recordings 'hear' the difference between the strat and the strat-touching-resonant-box, as would your ears. But what is picked up tone-wise by the pickups is unchanged, as the frequency-amplitude spectra from the direct pickup recordings show ...
Image

The bottom two graphs each show two curves - the spectra from the microphone recordings ('airborne sound') for the neck or body touching the resonant box or not touching it; the two touching/not-touching curves differ, consistent with the difference you would hear (ie more acoustic resonance when touching). The top two graphs are the frequency spectra from the pickup recordings for the touching/not-touching conditions - they are essentially the same (some so close you cannot see two curves), ie no real difference.

The conclusion from that experiment is thus that the resonance of the wood to which a strat is attached makes a considerable heard difference to its acoustic resonant tone, but no difference to the amplified tone from its pickups.

Conventional solid guitar bodies and necks do obviously resonate to some extent - you can feel and hear it. But the question is whether it is sufficient to make any real difference to amplified sound (knowing firstly that pickups are not microphonic under normal circumstances). A growing body of evidence suggests that the answer is likely 'no' for bodies and 'maybe' for the necks (which are less stiff / more flexible). Hence the quoted conclusion by physicist / builders like Hoepfinger in my earlier post regarding the 'nonsense' of body resonance transfer to the strings as an important effect. There are however experiments that show that neck resonance is greater than body resonance (both transferred from the strings, via the nut / fretted notes, bridge) and is sufficient to remove sustain to create particular 'dead' notes ....
http://acoustics.org/pressroom/httpdocs ... scher.html

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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by Paul-T » Thu Jan 17, 2019 6:38 am

that's an interesting experinent, Timtam, thanks for posting. It's useful - but it's measuring something slightly different. The question is whether a body and neck affect how the strings resonate and feed sound to the pickups. It wouldn't be logical to assume that adding a resonating box would do so to any great extent. But it is relevant, although it's a simplified model.

The second link you've shows that string sustain is longer on an electric because little of the energy is lost in , eg, body vibration. This is absolutely true. But this also demonstrates that the body must have an effect. And both experiments show it's possible that a guitar that 'sounds' lovely and resonant, might not sound lovely and resonant thru the pickups. But if there's a good sustain, etc, no dead spots acoustically, then that will likely affect the sound when amplified, too.

A body and neck combined will form a system and the conclusion that the neck plays more of a part is logical. But, again, play a Stratocaster and a Les Paul thru an amp, with exactly the same pickups, and they sound different, in many ways. That must be mainly down to shape, and woods. Yet of course a lot of what we hear as difference is received wisdom and perception bias. [Edit: but also, string tension, bridge design, etc etc make a difference].

Just because there's loads of BS posted about tone woods etc on electrics, and just because we all likely suffer from confirmation bias... doesn't mean the body wood has no influence at all.
Last edited by Paul-T on Thu Jan 17, 2019 9:17 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by mbene085 » Thu Jan 17, 2019 7:05 am

One of the hardest things to quantify is not whether a body material changes the amplified tone per se, but rather whether is changes is in a perceptible way.

People mistake Les Pauls for Strats on recordings. People have a hard time picking out an AlNiCo V vs II pickup in blind tests, especially in an actual musical (band) context. I haven't seen any tests where people reliably pick out maple vs rosewood fretboards based on recordings.

Does ash sound different acoustically and unplugged? Sometimes. Woods are variable. Does that affect the amplified tone in a meaningful way? My opinion is that no, it does not.

But amplified tone isn't the only thing that matters in a guitar. A guitar that is snappy and responsive acoustically feels different in my hands and against my body, and that changes the way that I play it and interact with it. I find that my attack with my picking hand especially changes with a more acoustically vibrant guitar, whereas I dig in harder on duller-sounding/feeling instruments to try to get the same kind of note definition. The grain of ash looks phenomenal under translucent finishes, and a pretty guitar makes me happy in ways that are valid but totally unrelated to music.

I don't think anyone will ever listen to two tracks and say "Yes, definitely that alder Staytrem-equipped JM 's Lollar vintage-wound neck pickup suited the first track so much more than the ash Mastery-equipped JM with the Fralin 5% overwind pickup on track two," but that doesn't render those differences meaningless if the two guitars feel/respond differently to you as a play.

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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by Paul-T » Thu Jan 17, 2019 7:13 am

there's good research on Cremona violins vs new ones that showed the new ones sounded better. The methodology is complex, but the players couldn't see what they were playing etc etc etc.

But players will still want a Stradivarius because the idea inspires them. As we know, the placebo effect works.
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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by Debaser » Thu Jan 17, 2019 8:26 am

I dislike finishing ash. Grain filling is a chore, but that impression was from the first time dealing with it. Not so big a deal now, but know that you'll need more than one application for a glass-smooth finish. Lighter ash=more pores. I like alder because I can often skip that step.

I'm in the camp that says tonewood used on solid-body electric guitars is too insignificant a factor to matter to the end results. I also am not more 'inspired' when I play on swamp ash bodies over basswood. I like the grain though, and the blonde styles these woods have traditionally been used for. I consider this stuff cosmetic, though the acoustic sound of an alder-bodied fender is pretty nice, I'll admit.
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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by JVG » Thu Jan 17, 2019 12:30 pm

I used to be sceptical of the idea that body wood affects guitar tone in a significant way, but extensive fiddling around with guitars in recent years has convinced me otherwise. For example, on more than one occasion I've taken the neck, hardware, and electronics from one strat and put them on a different body, and wound up with a noticeably different sound.

I agree with the theory of confirmation bias, but in these cases I don't believe it was a factor, because I wasn't expecting a particular result, or a difference at all (I was making the changes due to aesthetic reasons).

That said, I don't subscribe to the idea that one type of wood always sounds a certain way. There is frequently just as much variation between two pieces of ash as their is between a piece of ash and a piece of alder. So you can't assume that swapping an alder body for an ash body will yield a brighter/snappier/richer/whatever sound. It might, or it might not!

Anyway, ash is a beautiful looking wood (well, often) although can take a bit of work to get a smooth finish, as others have noted.

Cheers!
J.

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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by j mascis » Thu Jan 17, 2019 1:44 pm

Thanks, all.
Yeah I'm doing a Costello/trans type dye finish so I was considering ash -- just thought it might look more dramatic. I've never done pore filling. I'll have to read up on that. I don't like bright guitars (usually swamp my JM pickups for something more mellow). I've never been sure how much the body wood is factoring into that...seems the pickup is at least 90% of the sound.

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Re: Swamp Ash for a Body?

Post by timtam » Thu Jan 17, 2019 7:01 pm

Paul-T wrote:
Thu Jan 17, 2019 6:38 am
that's an interesting experinent, Timtam, thanks for posting. It's useful - but it's measuring something slightly different. The question is whether a body and neck affect how the strings resonate and feed sound to the pickups. It wouldn't be logical to assume that adding a resonating box would do so to any great extent. But it is relevant, although it's a simplified model.
Agreed it's a simplified model. But it usually surprises the heck out of people who subscribe to the "acoustic resonance is important" argument, because the two conditions sound so different acoustically, yet the amplified sound is unchanged. The strat resonates so much more acoustically when in contact with the resonator that they can't conceive that the resonance of the attached body is not sufficient to markedly alter string vibration, and thus the recorded frequency spectrum from the pickups.

But a useful addition to the experiment would be an accelerometer (vibration transducer) on the strat body/neck to confirm objectively that the strat itself it is now vibrating as much or more as is measured from an isolated but highly naturally resonant strat.
Paul-T wrote:
Thu Jan 17, 2019 6:38 am
The second link you've shows that string sustain is longer on an electric because little of the energy is lost in , eg, body vibration. This is absolutely true. But this also demonstrates that the body must have an effect. And both experiments show it's possible that a guitar that 'sounds' lovely and resonant, might not sound lovely and resonant thru the pickups. But if there's a good sustain, etc, no dead spots acoustically, then that will likely affect the sound when amplified, too.
Yes the physics of electric solid guitars dictates very low bridge 'admittance', ie low conductance of vibration from the strings via a stiff bridge to a stiff body. You can either have an acoustic guitar - with large vibration conductance from the strings via a flexible bridge / top and then to the air (as heard sound waves), but with relatively poor sustain - or an electric solid body with very limited resonance / vibration transfer but good sustain. But you can't have both. So some of the stuff one reads regarding a supposed positive connection between body resonance and string vibration sustain of solid body electric guitars basically contradicts physics.

Sustain is probably somewhat overrated IMHO .. but it is important when there is none for some notes. So the dead spot phenomenon in necks does show that a body/neck that feels/sounds (acoustically) resonant can never be assumed to have a positive effect. The physics of frequency cancellation / no influence / enhancement can't be readily predicted. That 'lovely' resonance that one may feel in a neck may be simply deadening certain notes. So there is a school of thought that the ideal role of an electric guitar's body and neck is simply to "get out of the way" ... to be as inert / non-resonant as possible and thus remove the possibility of any influence (positive or negative) on string vibration. By that argument a guitar that feels and sounds acoustically dead in your hands / ears would actually be the safest bet. This is basically what the inventors of the electric solid body guitar had in mind - a mostly inert structure that could be amplified to play loud enough to be heard with other instruments, but would not resonate so as to create feedback.
Paul-T wrote:
Thu Jan 17, 2019 6:38 am
play a Stratocaster and a Les Paul thru an amp, with exactly the same pickups, and they sound different, in many ways. That must be mainly down to shape, and woods. Yet of course a lot of what we hear as difference is received wisdom and perception bias. [Edit: but also, string tension, bridge design, etc etc make a difference].
Comparisons that isolate just one factor are unfortunately very difficult. But there are actually very few fully blinded tests of this comparison with the same pickups out there, or of 'identical' guitars with only body woods differing. So we need to see more. In the meantime, looking for the relevant physics theory, and clever simple (but not simplistic) experiments, help point us in the right direction. If you do experiments often enough (scientific fact is established only by multiple consistent results, not single studies), under different conditions, then some consistency of results is likely to emerge. That's how people have now come to accept that newer master-built violins are generally preferred to Stradivariuses in blind tests. The sceptics who had always argued that of 'of course Stradivariuses are better' nit-picked the early studies as not sufficiently 'representative'. So new studies were done under different conditions, but the results in favour of the newer violins were basically the same.
http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/ ... ound-check

Anyone contending a difference between solid body electric woods now needs to come armed with some good science. Unfortunately there is a commercial advantage for manufacturers in continuing not to do so, but to stick with their marketing mythology. ;)

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