Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

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Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Spiritus » Sat Jun 30, 2018 3:02 pm

The Kiesel wood guide describes Swamp Ash as delivering "slightly less midrange with full low-end and nice singing highs." I'm curious as to what sort of advantages/disadvantages one might get in opting for a Swamp Ash body for a Bolt with say, S60A pickups. Does anyone know? If you know of a previous thread that addressed this, please refer me to it. I don't want to be redundant, but haven't been on the board in a while. Thanks.

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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Abdababda » Sun Jul 01, 2018 6:29 pm

I like alder. I have a swamp ash Tele and an alder Tele. I prefer the tone of the alder Tele. I also have an alder GH3 with lithium pickups. I think an alder Bolt with S60A pickups would sound great--much like a vintage Strat.

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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby texastoast » Sun Jul 01, 2018 6:52 pm

I do not pretend to say what causes what. But for what it is worth I have a swamp ash bolt with maple neck. Vintage trem. It has proven to be very bright with almost any pickups I have placed in it. Some to the point of ice pick in the ear. I have had ap-11 singles. s60 a singles. and a bunch of humbucker single single combinations. Currently I have a lithium humbucker with two s60 singles. The humbucker is mounted with the bass side away from the bridge on an angle. It fattens it up much better.

I wish I had an alder one to compare.

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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Rocky » Mon Jul 02, 2018 4:59 am

I have a 2001 swamp ash bolt with maple fretboard. I has AP11's in the front and middle pickups and a H22T (Holdsworth) in the bridge position. The guitar is light and acoustically very loud unplugged.

Plugged in it sounds very "strat like" but is much brighter than a similar configured Fender. I really like the AP11 pickups and would be hard pressed to replace them with anything but the guitar can sometimes be overwhelming with it's brightness.

If I were to get another Bolt, I would probably swing the other way and get a hog body one. The Bolt is really a great instrument and a fantastic bang for the buck.

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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby GuitFiddle » Mon Jul 02, 2018 5:24 am

Couple of things unrelated to tone (have my experiences and opinions about that too but I'll skip it for today).

1) Swamp ash weights are all over the map, at least with Kiesel. In theory it's a very lightweight wood, in reality it ranges from featherweight to boat anchor (when it starts reaching boat anchor territory I question the whole 'swamp' part). If you go with swamp ash and care about weight, pay the extra to have them select a piece that meets your requirements.

2) For some reason the most important aspect of Bolts is rarely discussed. If you're chasing more traditional Strat tones then ditch the factory 500k pots and move to 250k. That will make the single biggest difference, more than any difference between ash and alder. You can play with caps too, as 250k pots respond differently to different cap values even when on '10'.

My two cents.
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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby UnexplodedCow » Mon Jul 02, 2018 5:49 am

I have had Bolt-neck Carvins in Ash, Alder/Maple cap, and Black Limba. The Ash and Limba ones had lock nuts and Floyds. The Alder/Maple cap one (Contour 66) had a Wilkinson.

My thoughts on wood choice: the denser the wood, it would seem the better the sustain. My ash bolt+C is stupidly heavy (and made heavier lately with the addition of a tungsten block for the Floyd). It's approaching the 12 pound mark. Far more sustain and harmonic content (acoustically) than the other guitars, though it's not as loud.

The Contour66 sounded basically the same acoustically.

The Limba Bolt+C was the loudest acoustically and had the least sustain of the group (though it was still quite good).

As for being plugged in, I ignore the wood, and focus purely on the electronics. Each guitar is different, though I did yank the electronics from the ash Bolt+ and installed them in the C66T. The result: same, exact tone. I then sold the C66T and loaded the ash B+C with a black AP11 and L500R and XL pickups, using 1 meg pots, some special switching, and a certain tone control circuit that I liked. Totally sounded different than the C66T at that point.

I had an L500L in the Limba B+C with 500k pots (hand-picked within .002% of spec). The result: sounded like the heavily wound L500XL in the ash B+C, as long as the tone circuit was bypassed between the two.

For me, the elctronics are king of the hill as far as tone generation. Get the woods you like, tweak the electronics until the desired sound is achieved, and keep playing/practicing during the progres of finding "the tone." Now, I'm not saying that crap pickups will sound great (some really do, and some don't), but it's far cheaper to choose a pickup, or have someone tweak the electronics to find the exact response desired (very cheap if one can solder and do some math in regards to expected resonant frequencies and peaks).
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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Spiritus » Mon Jul 02, 2018 6:06 pm

Rocky wrote:... I really like the AP11 pickups and would be hard pressed to replace them with anything but the guitar can sometimes be overwhelming with it's brightness. If I were to get another Bolt, I would probably swing the other way and get a hog body one. ...

Yeah, brightness isn't something I want too much of. I've never liked screaming, ear drum piecing lead work, though at times I have had need for a sharp, cutting brightness. Where humbuckers are concerned, I tend to camp out with the pickup selector set to either neck pickup or both; seldom the bridge pickup alone. Mahogany can certainly help in keeping brightness toned down. Thanks for the input.

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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Spiritus » Mon Jul 02, 2018 6:13 pm

GuitFiddle wrote:... If you go with swamp ash and care about weight, pay the extra to have them select a piece that meets your requirements. ... If you're chasing more traditional Strat tones then ditch the factory 500k pots and move to 250k. ... You can play with caps too....

Good advice. Thanks.

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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Spiritus » Mon Jul 02, 2018 6:27 pm

UnexplodedCow wrote:... My thoughts on wood choice: the denser the wood, it would seem the better the sustain. My ash bolt+C is stupidly heavy ... approaching the 12 pound mark. ... For me, the elctronics are king of the hill as far as tone generation. Get the woods you like, tweak the electronics until the desired sound is achieved, and keep playing/practicing during the progres of finding "the tone." ...

Good input. Thanks. Yeah, one thing notable about the DC135T with swamp ash sides I had is that it wasn't what I would call "lightweight". Certainly, the maple of its neck wasn't a lightweight wood, but the sides is where the bulk of the weight came in. A super solid build of a guitar that wasn't ridiculously heavy, but not what I would consider lightweight. It nonetheless provided great sustain for tones from its AP11s and C22.

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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby UnexplodedCow » Tue Jul 03, 2018 5:19 am

I also have a swamp ash DC135T, which is particularly lightweight (lightest of all my DC guitars). It just happened that way, as I bought secondhand, as was the back-breaker Bolt. Definitely a good idea to pay a little and get exactly the wood desired.

As an aside, my V6 is 5 piece maple/mahogany neck with "thick grain" mahogany sides (more figuring/grain). It's 5.5 pounds, without chambering, so a nice piece of "hog" may also be a good idea, though I love the look of Ash.
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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Doctor Turn » Tue Jul 03, 2018 10:37 am

Despite any occasional temptation to go in the ash direction for vintage as well as aesthetic reasons, I would never under any circumstances buy a Fender style/derived guitar made of anything but alder when the other choice is ash. I just find it superior in every way--there's a woody thickness to the tone, especially w neck middle (big quack) and bridge middle (banjo quack) single-single positions that need that extra dose of fat. Alder is really the ideal wood for Strat and Tele style guitars. All the unbearably bright twangy teles that kept me off of that build style are made of ash.

I find it interesting: Fender is capable of easily producing every day Strats and Teles that sound very close to as good if not better than the vintage holy grail items they're derived from (this as opposed to the Gibson classics from 54-60.. I'm including 54-56 in there because I love the black beauty customs with the Staple/Alnico in the neck). Some are indeed terrible, but some can sound every bit as good as the 50's and early 60's Fenders.
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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby UnexplodedCow » Tue Jul 03, 2018 11:14 am

Doctor Turn wrote:All the unbearably bright twangy teles that kept me off of that build style are made of ash.


Many of those ash Teles also used 1M volume pots (also used by the Jaguar), which really brought out the resonant peak/frequency of the pickups, and made them very trebly/bright. Fender wasn't always consistent with their choice of volume pots, so the end result can be a false positive of woods. Mind you that I'm speaking purely of a plugged-in electric, played through an amp.

Should you find yourself in the great midwest, look me up, and I'll show you what a few small tweaks can do to a guitar's plugged-in sound. It'll blow your mind; mine surely was when I first heard the changes.
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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Spiritus » Tue Jul 03, 2018 7:15 pm

UnexplodedCow wrote:... As an aside, my V6 is ... 5.5 pounds, without chambering ...

5.5 pounds? Can a Kiesel solid body get any lighter than that?

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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby spudmunkey » Tue Jul 03, 2018 7:21 pm

Spiritus wrote:
UnexplodedCow wrote:... As an aside, my V6 is ... 5.5 pounds, without chambering ...

5.5 pounds? Can a Kiesel solid body get any lighter than that?



The Vader is neck-through, and at least in theory, neck woods are generally heavier than body woods...so if you had a bolt-on, you have less of the heavier neck wood in play. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Zeus or Osiris beat a Vader by a fraction of a lb. or two.

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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Spiritus » Tue Jul 03, 2018 7:24 pm

Doctor Turn wrote:... I just find [alder] superior [to ash] in every way--there's a woody thickness to the tone, especially w neck middle (big quack) and bridge middle (banjo quack) single-single positions that need that extra dose of fat. ...

Important considerations, serving as reasons for my initial question of this thread. I think ash is a really cool wood; but when Kiesel's description of swamp ash says "slightly less midrange" while I tend to camp out in midrange, well, I just wanted to make sure I wouldn't be missing out on anything in not opting for swamp ash ... and it sounds like I wouldn't. Thanks much for the feedback. I really appreciate it.

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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Doctor Turn » Thu Jul 05, 2018 8:54 am

UnexplodedCow wrote:
Doctor Turn wrote:All the unbearably bright twangy teles that kept me off of that build style are made of ash.


Many of those ash Teles also used 1M volume pots (also used by the Jaguar), which really brought out the resonant peak/frequency of the pickups, and made them very trebly/bright. Fender wasn't always consistent with their choice of volume pots, so the end result can be a false positive of woods. Mind you that I'm speaking purely of a plugged-in electric, played through an amp.

Should you find yourself in the great midwest, look me up, and I'll show you what a few small tweaks can do to a guitar's plugged-in sound. It'll blow your mind; mine surely was when I first heard the changes.


Lol. I'm talking "Holy Grail Telecasters" from the 50's. Those 1M pots didn't come into play until the late sixties, after the pre CBS years were over with.

As far as ash telecasters go, they run from the very beginning after pine was tossed for ash, and they all were made from ash until the late 50's and they started using alder as well for the painted/colored models. Generally the butterscotch/clear finish teles are all--all, unless it's a super special body on a limited edition that calls attention to this very fact--going to be ash.

As far as your 1meg connection, those if memory serves were used from roughly 70 to the 80's (weren't they on the Customs with the humbuckers? using 1 meg on single coils is suicide incarnate), and don't really play into my equation here.
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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby UnexplodedCow » Thu Jul 05, 2018 10:19 am

Doctor Turn wrote:Lol. I'm talking "Holy Grail Telecasters" from the 50's. Those 1M pots didn't come into play until the late sixties, after the pre CBS years were over with.

As far as ash telecasters go, they run from the very beginning after pine was tossed for ash, and they all were made from ash until the late 50's and they started using alder as well for the painted/colored models. Generally the butterscotch/clear finish teles are all--all, unless it's a super special body on a limited edition that calls attention to this very fact--going to be ash.

As far as your 1meg connection, those if memory serves were used from roughly 70 to the 80's (weren't they on the Customs with the humbuckers? using 1 meg on single coils is suicide incarnate), and don't really play into my equation here.


The 1M pots weren't only on the humbucker models, though, yes, they came later. Jaguars used 1M from the start, along with a high-pass filter, making them insanely bright (sometimes unusable). Jazzmasters had the same pots, but the pickup design is different, so it doesn't get the piercing treble of a Jag. The circuit also lacked the "strangle" switch, but was otherwise the same as the "lead" circuit on the Jag.

Ash was sometimes used in the solid colors, too. An in-law has one of these, I believe from the 70s, that weighs more than it should for alder, and was confirmed by checking the neck pocket grain. It sounds great, though, as he had the circuitry redone (it was too trebly for him), replacing the pots and pickups. I believe it had a 1M volume pot. Now it has 250k with some Fralins. It's not my style of guitar, but it has a nice, clear sound.

I think it's possible that the ash-bodied Teles you tried had 1M pots. Anyway, as for being on topic, OP, get what wood you like...I stand by my opinion that it doesn't really matter much, if at all. The great thing about opinions is that they're only partly factual (at best), and only worth as much as the receiver of them decides (using their opinion). We're probably all wrong :P
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Re: Bolt - Swamp Ash vs Alder

Postby Doctor Turn » Thu Jul 05, 2018 11:50 am

UnexplodedCow wrote:[
I think it's possible that the ash-bodied Teles you tried had 1M pots.

:lol: And while anything is technically possible--it's possible the building I'm in could suffer a freak failure and collapse right now-- I can assure you I've played no more than two maybe three from that period.

As for what you think is painted ash... of course, I can't account for every piece that goes out the factory door (or a used guitar that got painted aftermarket, or special editions that call attention to the atypical wood choice), but here's Fender:
https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-ta ... s-the-diff
Fender used ash for electric guitar and bass bodies more or less exclusively from 1950 to mid-1956, and to the present continues to use ash on a relatively small number of instruments. Guitars and basses with blonde finishes typically have ash bodies because the wood “takes” that particular finish especially well.

There are several kinds of ash trees; for this purpose, we’re talking the American ash. It’s a native North American hardwood which can be found all over the eastern half of the continent — from Nova Scotia in the north to Florida in the south, and as far west as Minnesota down to east Texas. Strong, dense, straight-grained and light in color, American ash is commonly used in everyday applications, including flooring, furniture and baseball bats. There are two types used to make guitar bodies—northern ash, and southern or “swamp” ash. The latter is more commonly used, and was chosen by Leo Fender for his first Esquire, Broadcaster and Telecaster guitars.

Found mainly in the wetter environs of the U.S. South, swamp ash is lighter than the northern variety, with large open pores. That makes it remarkably resonant and sweet sounding, with clearly chiming highs, defined midrange and strong low end. Two or three pieces are glued together to make an instrument body, although there have been single-piece bodies. The wood produces more treble and good sustain, with less warmth than other guitar woods.

Ash can be difficult to work with, though; the pores must be filled before finishes are applied, and two swamp ash guitar bodies are more likely to differ from one another tonally than two bodies made of alder, which has a tighter, more consistent grain.

All in all, swamp ash imparts articulation and presence with a great balance between brightness and warmth, and it looks great. So you can see — and hear — why many ash-body Fender guitars of the ’50s are so highly prized.


and on alder:

Fender adopted alder for electric instrument bodies in mid-1956, probably for no other reason than it was there; it was readily available and more affordable than ash. Ever since, it remains the body wood for the majority of Fender electric instruments. It was and still is a very good choice.

Alder belongs to the birch family and grows around the world throughout the north temperate zone, a large area which extends from the Tropic of Cancer to the Arctic Circle. The wealth of regional varieties falls under two main types — black alder or European alder, which is native to most of Europe and to Southwest Asia; and red alder, which is native to the U.S. West Coast.

As you might guess, red alder is the one used for guitars in general — and Fender guitars in particular. Since it grows from Southeast Alaska to Central California and almost always within 125 miles of the Pacific Coast, a plentiful and affordable supply existed practically in Fender’s backyard.

Of the 30 or so alder tree varieties, the fast-growing red alder ranks among the world’s largest, reaching heights up to 100 feet. It’s often used for furniture and cabinetry. Instrument bodies made of red alder typically consist of two to four pieces glued together.

Red alder boasts many sonic advantages. Not especially dense, it’s a lightweight, closed-pore wood that has a resonant, balanced tone brighter than other hardwoods, with a little more emphasis in the upper midrange. It imparts excellent sustain and sharp attack. It’s very easy to work with and it glues well. Notably, alder also takes finishes well — with a light brown color and a tight grain that’s only slightly visible, it’s ideal for solid colors rather than the transparent finishes that look so good on ash.


So, as I said originally: ash is almost always, unless explicitly stated by some bizarre special edition, going to be your highly trans and butterscotch finishes. Alder is going to comprise--mainly, of course nobody can say each and every single--your colored guitars.

And in this I'm talking about trad Teles (and to a large degree Strats.. I don't play Mustangs and Jaguars btw, so I'm out of that convo).

And the majority of the best of the aforementioned I've personally played, have been alder.
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...and other gear.

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