Fender Ending Its Use of ‘Swamp Ash’ Wood on Future Stratocaster Guitars

Fender Stratocaster
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Fender Stratocaster
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Photo Credit: Simon Weisser

Fender has been using ‘swamp ash’ since the 1950s for its Stratocaster guitars. That’s changing.

The type of wood used in these guitars lent a particular sound to many famous musicians. Muddy Waters, Keith Richards, Chrissie Hynde, Bob Dylan, and many more have praised their Fender guitars. The swamp ash used to make these guitars is sourced in the lower Mississippi delta – an area experiencing rapid climate change.

Swamp ash can refer to green ash, black ash, and white ash. It’s become an integral part of Fender’s sound over the years, usually cheap and readily available. But Mike Born, former director of wood technology at Fender, says that is changing.

In 2019, an acute shortage of swamp ash forced Fender to announce a change in its line-up. The legendary guitar maker has abandoned the use of swamp ash in many of its Stratocasters or Telecasters. Instead, the wood is reserved for high-priced vintage models only.

“In order to uphold our legacy of consistency and high quality we, at Fender, have made the decision to remove Ash from the majority of our regular production models,” the company stated. “What little Ash we are able to source will continue to be made available in select, historically appropriate vintage models, as supplies are available.”

Fender says the dwindling supply of wood for its Stratocaster is due to climate-fueled flooding in the swamps where the wood is harvested.

The area is staying underwater longer during the year, reducing workable days for logging crews. Constant flooding also endangers the growth of new saplings, making it hard to regrow what is harvested. An invasive boring-beetle is also spreading, making wood unusable.

Experts warn that the supply of swamp ash could become even more tenuous. “The average player just won’t be able to afford it,” Born says. Flooding in the lower Mississippi has become more frequent and more severe over the last 150 years. The lack of supply has resulted in changed guitar partnerships, too. Richie Kotzen of Poison’s signature Fender guitar models are now made with a different wood.

“Many years ago I had decided what my favorite woods were on a guitar. I learned that I liked a swamp ash body with a maple neck, and I stuck with it,” he told Scientific American. “Now I’m going to have to figure out a replacement wood for ash.” So what are the alternatives, since swamp ash is so rare?

Red alder may be an adequate wood that produces a similar twang. Fender uses alderwood to make less expensive versions of many of its swamp ash guitars, and it’s been a mainstay in many Fender models for decades. But not everyone agrees that it’s a reasonable substitute. “Ash has a very fast attack. Think of a bright clap,” says Brian Swerdfeger, Vice President of Fender’s R&D. “Alder has a warmer, softer attack. Still a clap, but it’s rounder.”

One option may be to breed swamp ash trees elsewhere, where flooding and parasites aren’t a problem. But that project will take decades to mature, and the swamp ash shortage is here now.

32 Responses

  1. JAS

    From all I have ever heard, most Strats were made of Alder.

    I am curious about the ‘climate change’ comment. Seems a little political to use the term. Strats are always painted, so it really doesn’t make enough difference to make a news story regarding the wood.

    On a day to day basis, who cares.

    • Jimmy Buddha

      Hi JAS, “climate change” is a scientific term not a political one?

      • Erik

        Well it’s a term that’s found it’s way into politics, also I find it ironic that all other guitar makers don’t come up with all the excuses to discontinue all these woods that Fender claims to be a shortening of…. 1st it was Rosewood now it’s Swamp Ash, Pretty sure they’ll come up with an excuse to discontinue Alder sometime ?

    • Brian

      You don’t know
      What you are talking about what wood makes so much difference you’re a fool

    • Dennis Allen

      And yet you read the article and commented. Its the Trump trolls that have turned fact based objective reality into a choice. Two plus two has always been four and always will be regardless of your politics. “The wood is painted” so who cares?? A real kidder you are.De

    • Art

      Loss of swamp ash is more of a blow to the manufacture of Teles. Strats, not so much.

  2. OrphuesSF

    What the article doesn’t address is the density of the ash used. I have an early 60s Tele that’s reasonably light and rings like a bell. Other ash bodies are heavier and bark more. But, yes, ash is the ticket! Anyone have knowledge of the relationship of region or species and this characteristic?

    • Ian Williams

      Surely that’s part of the charm. Every guitar has a slightly different character. If every one was exactly the vista to a guitar store would be very boring.

  3. KAL

    Hi JAS,
    Science has delivered the evidence beyond any shadow of a doubt that climate change is a serious issue. You’d be wise to take it seriously.

    • James

      “Science” as you put it hasnt done a damn thing. Scientists and researchers do all the work. That said of course climate change is proven! Its been happening since the beginning of the earth! Its why we have those pesky Ice ages. If you are saying that man made climate change has been proven without a shadow of a doubt by “science” that isnt true as far as facts go. I think most reasonable people believe that humans have had some effect on the climate. It being a proven fact would mean there arent any highly intelligent researchers that have a different opinion. The “science” is never settled! If you believe the horse shit that we have 8 to 10 years before we hit a point of severe damage or the end of the world you really need to research both sides of the argument. Climate change science is still a very new field. It is also know to be funded by special interest. The 1 to 2 degrees of temperature change claimed to be caused by carbon dioxide is not an unprecedented temperature shift. Especially since the increase aligns with the world coming out of a little ice age that ended in the 1890s. During this little ice age the atmosphere had the bare minimum of CO2 required for life on earth to exist and thrive. Your just gonna call me names and talk smack im sure. My point is there are ALWAYS 2 sides to every story. Also considering the amount of money that flows into climate science as well as politicians climate change is definitely a political subject whether the “science” says its true or false.

      • Nature boy

        Sounds like maybe the climate is changing at an unnatural rate and causing your rash and many changes to the environment which has devastating effects on wildlife and causes the rash you are suffering from

        • Jon T

          If you are correct , the emotional tilt combined with your unwarranted personal attack does nothing for your cause but illustrate individual ignorance . Sucks but true …

    • Peter

      I like in las Vegas or was an oven many years ago I’m taking it serious, what can I do to change that?

  4. Keith Spaulding

    Never Purchase Fender Products Again… More Political Bull.

  5. STRATegic

    Climate change is real & is happening, like it or not. That it’s been politicized & touted as not real by certain career politicians funded by fossil fuel industries has no actual bearing on tidal flooding, drought, & harsher storms than in previous decades. It’s happening. They know & it’s in their best financial & career interests to dispute it but the changes are real. This creates scarcity in products derived from natural resources such as wood for guitars, food crops & other items. Get used to the changes. There will be many more to come.

  6. Shakehouse

    Science is the omni -one under the microscope….modest proposal…..let buyers send the wood in for the bodies and fender supplies the necks and they are built there.

  7. John M.

    This may be a total conspiracy theory but what if Fender was a for-profit company?!?! Lumber is a commodity… labor, production and distribution are costs. Revenue needs to exceed total cost for profit. WTF people? I have my own view on climate change but you’re missing the forest for the trees. *Swamp Ash

  8. James Scott

    The oligarchs spent a few billion developing Miami Beach properties last year. They obviously don’t really believe the settled science some here are so sure of. I am positive the billionaires have better info than the people who are so sure the world is in trouble. Why arent the billionaires investing in new cities inland?

    Most people have no critical thinking skills and that is just how the oligarchy likes it.

  9. Fenelon

    The term “climate change” is not inherently political; it is simply a description of a phenomenon without
    stating a cause. I don’t recall the piece stating that Fender attributed climate change to humans here, so the piece doesn’t take a side on the cause. (Besides, climate is always changing, so “climate change” is a trivial term unless you state *what* change and it’s cause.) So we don’t know Fender’s political position here, at least not from this piece. Furthermore, the piece mentions the invasive boring beetle as a contributing cause.

    So, at least from this piece, there is no basis for bashing Fender for its politics.

    As for the type of wood making no difference in tone: Go play several Starts & Teles made from ash and several made from alder. Play the with and without amplification. Note the densities of each. I think you’ll find out quickly that the wood makes a significant difference in tone. If you still doubt, play Strat-style & Tele-style guitars made from mahogany or hard rock maple. I can’t imagine any decent musician not hearing a significant difference correlating to the wood used. If wood type made no difference in tone, manufactures would have switched to less expensive & more easily worked woods decades ago.

    For the record, I’m a hardcore conservative & skeptical about man-made climate change. (If temperature is rising, it is not necessarily due to humans, let alone necessarily catastrophic. Remember the impending disasters from global *cooling* & “the population bomb” in the 1970s? Politicized science & scientific fads are nothing new.)

    Please, let’s all be more skeptical of ourselves & more charitable about others.

  10. Frank

    Seriously, never met or know of a Republican that is a great guitar player and can improvise and don’t say Ted Nugent. I’m talking about REAL guitar players!
    Impossible to create without compassion.
    A guitars tone starts with what the body is made of…this is serious.

  11. Johnson

    Um it’s not due to flooding it’s due to the wood booring beetle. Swamp ash is the part of ashwood IN THE WATER flooding is hardly the problem this was a very very poor article

  12. Bill. Ham ft worth guitar man

    Ur article on swamp ash and fender is probly somewhat visionary woods of all kinds and every other natural resource on. Earth is already being toward extinction we would do well take lesson from easter island start to grok true meaning of balance and harmony of nature. God already gave us and finally understand real problem. Greed. And. Humanism. Yeah right.

  13. John

    Climate Change is the Cult religion of the New Marxist left. Not too long ago Science was telling us we were headed for an ice age. That was before Greta and Al Gore and John Kerry became scientists.

    In a blindfold test can you really tell the difference between ash and alder?

  14. John

    I thought Scott Grove settled this question ??? …Rob Chappers Chapman and the Captain at Andertons in jolly old England can’t tell the difference between a Gibson and an Epiphone Les Paul.

  15. C. Sense

    While we can do a lot of nice little things for our environment every power source has drawbacks and environmental problems. The science is never settled. Maybe when we can control sun spots, solar storms and our shifting magnetic poles we could control “climate change” better. Let’s get back to the guitars please.

  16. kvn

    Since the late 50s, Fender have gone back and forth between alder and ash, depending on cost/availability/demand for the woods (and it’s pretty likely that the Telecasters played by Muddy Waters and Chrissie Hynde were both alder, being from the 60s). This article is just Fender managing to get some press and creating a little mystique; I promise you that swamp ash will not “disappear”, just as Brazilian rosewood didn’t after it was declared endangered in the late 60s – it just became more “desirable” and expensive. And I can also promise you that if you took a good-sounding alder Telecaster and swapped all the parts onto a swamp ash body, you wouldn’t go “wow! That sounds so much better! I can’t believe I ever thought alder sounded good!”). It’s nostalgia marketing, playing off the idea that everything was better back in the good old days (it wasn’t, but we were younger, so we remember it that way).

  17. Pepelepew

    Left wing loons, going to round up your brazilian rosewood and mahogany, Southern ash strays over a Stalinist myth.