What Is Ash?

Fraxinus, also known as ash, is a plant genus common across Europe, Asia, and North America. Two different types of ash are used in guitar making, northern ash and the more common southern ash, famously known as swamp ash. Swamp ash is not one particular species of ash tree but instead is a term for lighter-weighing wood taken from ash trees that grow in wetlands and swamps. Some species that contribute to swamp ash include Fraxinus nigra, Fraxinus caroliniana, and Fraxinus pennsylvanica.

Standard ash wood has a wide range of uses, such as timber frames, staircases, tool handles, and sports equipment, like hockey sticks and baseball bats. However, the less dense swamp ash almost exclusively appears in guitars.

How Is Ash Used in Guitars?

With its lightweight profile, superb resonance, and good strength, ash is a perfect choice for electric guitar and electric bass bodies. While ash is strong, it isn’t the most stable or stiff wood and could warp under tension, so it isn’t a common choice for guitar necks. Additionally, the hardness of swamp ash varies depending on the type of ash used, but no variety is hard enough for use on fretboards.

Despite being a renowned tonewood with outstanding tonal characteristics, ash is also not a common choice for acoustic instruments, although some options exist. Notably, Taylor Guitars has recently introduced a range of acoustics that utilise Shamel ash.

Who Are Ash Guitars Suited To?

Ash guitars produce a well-balanced and warm tone, with tight lows, bright highs, and good sustain. Before switching to the more readily available alder, Fender extensively used ash in the 50s for their Stratocasters and Telecasters, with famous players including Keith Richards, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, and, of course, Jimmy Page’s famous Dragon Telecaster. So, if you’re looking to emulate the sounds of these players, then ash is the wood for you.

Is Ash Sustainable?

Generally speaking, ash is widely available with no sustainability concerns. However, due to environmental issues, swamp ash has been hard to come by in recent years. The Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect species, has ravaged North American ash trees. Additionally, extensive flooding of the Mississippi Delta, one of the prime harvesting locations, has severely limited swamp ash wood production. As a result, manufacturers such as Fender and Cort have stopped using ash wood for all but a few select models and are introducing suitable alternatives, such as sassafras.

Are Ash Guitars Durable?

Ash guitars, by and large, are solid and durable enough to put up with most abuse and will be more resistant to dents than guitar bodies made from, for instance, basswood, mahogany, or alder. However, ash is sensitive to humidity and temperature fluctuations, meaning it could warp over time if not kept in the right conditions.

Are Ash Guitars Easy to Maintain?

As discussed, keeping your ash guitar at a stable temperature and humidity is essential, and it wouldn’t hurt to keep it in a guitar case when not in use. Other than that, do what you’d typically do to keep your axe in top condition. Use a good quality cleaner suitable for your guitar’s finish, dust regularly, and consider wax to help protect against scuffs and scratches.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Ash Tonewood?

As one of the classic guitar woods, ash has plenty of advantages to offer:

Well-balanced toneMore expensive than some alternatives
Good low-end responseSustainability issues due to environmental factors
Bright, twangy highsLess stable wood that is prone to warping in the wrong conditions
Good sustain and resonance
Attractive, pronounced grain
Strong and durable

Are Ash Guitars Good?

Whether you think a particular guitar wood is good depends mainly on your tastes and what sound you’re looking for. Still, ash has been a strong choice for electric guitars and basses for decades, and with good reason. It offers great tonality, excellent resonance, and good durability. All wrapped up in an attractive package.

Ash Alternatives

As swamp ash’s long-term availability is questionable, it’s vital to consider substitutes. As discussed, sassafras is a very capable understudy for ash, although it does offer a slightly different tone, with a more pronounced low-mid compared to ash’s high-mid characteristics. Sungkai is another up-and-coming wood that guitar makers are employing as an ash replacement. At the same time, alder has long been a popular substitute for ash, offering a similar upper-mid tone profile but with a bit more punch in its attack. If it’s extra warmth you’re after, then mahogany could be the choice for you or consider basswood if you’re looking for a mix-friendly boost to your mids.

Finding Your Perfect Ash Guitar

If ash sounds like the guitar wood for you, then it’s time to find your next guitar! Try our Finder tool, where you can enter your unique parameters and hunt down your perfect ash guitar.