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Swamp Ash

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Michael Gilligan29/10/2020 08:53:08
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Here’s an interesting item from today’s News feed : **LINK**

https://apple.news/A-bSICjIqRmayMp4MhJqUnA

... Since the 1950s, American guitar giant Fender Musical Instruments has used this kind of ash to create its iconic electric guitars. ...

.

I am not a player, but [having worked in vibration testing], I think I have a reasonable basic understanding of how it contributes to the special character of the sound.

Any ‘informed comment’ from Neil “the Mandrel” Wyatt, or other guitarists would be most welcome.

MichaelG.

Roderick Jenkins29/10/2020 09:41:29
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Link doesn't work for me 'cos I'm not an Apple guy.

However, I would need a lot of convincing that the properties of the wood or tuners or varnish makes any significant difference to the quality of the sound from a solid electric guitar considering all the post processing of the signal and the different sorts of pickups are used. Acoustic guitars are a different consideration of course.

Cheers,

Rod

Michael Gilligan29/10/2020 09:47:00
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Sorry, Rod ... it’s a piece from Scientific American

I will post a direct link, if I can find it

MichaelG.

JasonB29/10/2020 10:09:55
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I can't open it either but if it's old growth wood dredged up from the swamps or river beds then that can often be denser than fast grown plantation timber

 

EDIT, I was totally barking up the wrong tree, seems it's a lower density woodblush now that I have found the article

EDIT 2 And also too slow editing

 

Edited By JasonB on 29/10/2020 10:21:49

Michael Gilligan29/10/2020 10:18:56
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That wasn’t too difficult : **LINK**

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-hits-rock-and-roll-as-prized-guitar-wood-shortage-looms1/

MichaelG.

Roderick Jenkins29/10/2020 10:34:08
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There is another article about this here. Amongst other things it says "

"Because Leo [Fender] was much more pragmatic, he used to say, ‘If I have $100 to make something, I’d spend $99 making it work and $1 making it pretty’. He used materials that were widely available. He went to a lumberyard and woods like alder, ash and maple were easy to get.

“Our head wood guy told me ash didn’t even really have a market or use until American baseball bats and electric guitars, because of Fender."

Not really any magic associated with the wood there wink

Rod

Philip Rowe29/10/2020 12:09:46
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Posted by Roderick Jenkins on 29/10/2020 10:34:08:

“Our head wood guy told me ash didn’t even really have a market or use until American baseball bats and electric guitars, because of Fender.

Funny, I always thought coach built car bodies were built on an ash frame.

Phil

Bazyle29/10/2020 13:19:08
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Swamp ash would probably grow very quickly and be lightweight like UK poplar. On the other hand the ash prunings I'm currently burning are as solid as oak owing to growing very slowly in the very poor weather up here.

Gerard O'Toole29/10/2020 14:10:17
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Posted by Philip Rowe on 29/10/2020 12:09:46:
Posted by Roderick Jenkins on 29/10/2020 10:34:08:

“Our head wood guy told me ash didn’t even really have a market or use until American baseball bats and electric guitars, because of Fender.

Funny, I always thought coach built car bodies were built on an ash frame.

Phil

You are correct. I assume that the European Ash is different to the Green Ash referred to in the article. Its' elasticity meant it was very suitable for tool handles, bows, cues, support for weaved baskets etc. It was , and probably still is , used for car bodies and for early aircraft frames.

An important use of European ash is for Hurleys.

larry phelan 129/10/2020 16:05:25
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Well known over here as "The clash of the ash" !

Seem to recall ash was/is still used for boat building.cheeky

Michael Gilligan29/10/2020 19:40:10
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Posted by Roderick Jenkins on 29/10/2020 10:34:08:

[…]
Not really any magic associated with the wood there wink

.

No suggestion of magic from me, Rod ... just ‘science’

Here’s my take on it:

  1. The’Swamp Ash’ is [by microscopic examination] different to other woods.
  2. The simplistic model of a solid-body electric guitar has a string stretched over two knife-edges which are ‘mechanically earthed’ ... i.e. ‘rigid’
  3. This is probably acceptable for first-approximation analysis, but it falls far short of reality.
  4. Used as a Direct Injection source the difference might be trivial ... BUT
  5. In reality, the guitar is multi-stringed and, more importantly, it is better represented as a complex structure, suspended ‘free-free’
  6. In a stage performance; the acoustic energy from the speaker[s] will vibrate the body of the instrument and thereby modify the behaviour of the strings [the supports actually being mobile]
  7. The louder the performance, the more likely this aspect is to become non-trivial
  8. ... I can see no reason why the grade of wood should be insignificant.

MichaelG.

Roderick Jenkins29/10/2020 20:01:37
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I can't argue with that so I'll tweak one of a choice of twenty knobs on my pedal board to compensate smiley

Rod

John Olsen29/10/2020 20:14:20
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What is actually important is whether or not the buyer is prepared to pay more. The difference, if any, is likely to be small, and it would require double blind tests to establish if there really is a difference. Such tests are difficult to apply with musical instruments, since it is hard to prevent the player from knowing what it is he or she is playing.

But then sometimes I wonder about things like "does a Stradivarius still sound the same as it did when new?". How would you know? If it sounds different, is it better or worse? If the player and audience truly believes that it is a Stradivarius, would that make a difference to the perceived quality of the sound?

The answer to the last one is that it almost certainly would make a difference, if not to the actual quality.

John

Michael Gilligan29/10/2020 20:17:48
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Posted by Roderick Jenkins on 29/10/2020 20:01:37:

I can't argue with that so I'll tweak one of a choice of twenty knobs on my pedal board to compensate smiley

Rod

laugh

bricky29/10/2020 20:32:59
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Strads have all been altered over the years and I think all have new necks to withstand the steel strings instead of the baroque gut strings.The wood of the early 16th-17th century came from a period of a mini ice age causing the wood to grow slowly and cannot be found today.So the quality of wood dose make a difference.The quality of the player makes any instrument sound better.

Frank

Frank Gorse29/10/2020 20:39:02
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Times like this I’m glad I have Van Gogh’s ear for music.

Neil Wyatt29/10/2020 22:16:34
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Open this story in Apple News.

For the best reading experience, open this story on a device with Apple News. It may also be available on the publisher’s website.

Learn more about Apple News

Roderick Jenkins29/10/2020 22:36:59
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I have no doubt that the type and quality of wood is important for the sound of acoustic instruments. But one argument for the popularity of Stadivari's instruments is that they adapted better to the changes made to them to allow for the use of higher tension strings. Strads have a lower arching than fiddles made by his contemporaries such as Amati and Stainer.

Rod

Neil Wyatt29/10/2020 22:45:48
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There is huge debate about how much different woods affect the sound of electric (and acoustic) instruments.

People consistently rate different woods and methods of construction (e.g. bolt on neck vs. through neck) differently in blind tests. Body timber seems to be less important than the neck timber and even the fingerboard material.

Interestingly a recent test compared the heavy, rock solid through-neck Les Paul with the relatively flexible bolt-on neck start with its tremelo bridge. Traditionally the LP is said to have more sustain. In the test the fender's bright attack made it sound like it faded faster. Normalised to a second or two after the in initial attack, the fender actually had more sustain.

As for swamp ash... the Fender Jazz bass I was playing five minutes before reading this has an alder body...

The biggest problem is that there are so many different variables, the most interesting comparison used a 'core' with the same neck and pickups fitted into various bodies including MDF and plywood. It found little difference although ordinary plywood sounded noticeably good... many expensive guitars/basses have 'laminated' bodies and in principle cheap plywood or blockboard bodies should not necessarily be inferior.

If you look at the most expensive guitars it's immediately apparent the rarer, more heavily figured and strikingly coloured the wood, the 'better' they sound (allegedly).

What I will say is I have {redacted] basses and they all feel and sound different, even ones that are notionally similar, and part of the joy of having them all is that these differences mean you play each one differently.

Just for fun to show expense isn't necessarily important, my 'lockdown project' bass was made from a £77 kit bought from a German retailer, all I've done to improve it is put quality Fender flatwound strings on it. It's played through a (quality) practice amp (Orange Crush 25) and recorded on my phone with no effects. The body wood (the current batch are 'rengas' is rather light and not as hard as ash, but Ok, the neck is Maple with an amaranth fretboard that looks remarkably like ebony in a side by side comparison.

Michael Gilligan29/10/2020 23:28:47
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Thanks for the demo, Neil ... but I must emphasise the significance of [7] on my list.

MichaelG.

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