The wooden elephant in the room…
As you have probably heard, ultra-lightweight Swamp Ash is getting more difficult to come by. Getting and maintaining a constant supply has proved to be fairly daunting. The situation has definitely not improved post pandemic, and as a result, every time we order Swamp Ash; it costs more and more — and we are able to get less and less.
Besides 2020 being an all around tough year for lumber mills who have had to survive closures and being short staffed, there are a few other reasons for this shortage:
First and foremost, for the better part of the last 50 years, North America has been invaded by a pest species called the Emerald Ash Borer. This species of beetle lays its larvae in Ash trees, then when they hatch, the larvae eat until the tree is dead or unusable as tonewood.
Secondly, Ash trees take 50-60+ years to mature into a harvestable tree, so there are only as many trees around today as were planted 50-60 years ago. Unsustainable farming practices along with the impact of the EAB have caused Ash, especially guitar-quality Swamp Ash, to become increasingly more rare as the years go on.
Finally, the trend among guitarists for at LEAST the past decade has been to demand lighter weight Swamp Ash guitars. Once a select few boutique builders showed the world that all of the beloved classic body shapes could be built using Swamp Ash that is considerably lighter than what was historically used, suddenly players became accustomed to extraordinarily lightweight Swamp Ash and a new benchmark was set. Obviously, not every Ash tree harvested can yield “ultra-lightweight” wood, in fact, only a very tiny percentage can, so this new appetite for super lightweight Swamp Ash created even more of a strain on the Ash supply.
As you might have noticed, many of our competitors and other guitar builders have stopped carrying Swamp Ash altogether. Alternatively, the companies that still carry Ash are oftentimes using heavier furniture-grade Ash, hard “baseball bat” Ash or Ash that does not have the striking “cathedral” grain lines that guitar players have come to expect…while still charging premium Swamp Ash prices.
NOT TO WORRY THOUGH, we still have plenty of beautiful, lightweight master-grade Swamp Ash. We can say with a large amount of certainty that we will be one of the last (if not THE last) guitar/parts company out there supplying high quality Swamp Ash.
However, due to the rising cost of raw lumber and the ever-increasing demand for this premium tonewood, we are raising our prices on Swamp Ash across the board.
Trust us, we don’t like this any more than you do. This is the only way we can continue to ensure that we will have Swamp Ash for a good few more years into the future. This price increase is not going into our pockets, but rather straight to the lumber mill. We stand by our supplies of wood, and welcome you to compare the quality of our Swamp Ash supply to anyone else on the market right now…you will quickly see there is no comparison.
We are working on many new and exciting alternative tonewoods and tonewood sources as well. We are currently looking into a steady source of Ash that might be a touch heavier or not-quite-master-grade that we can offer at a lower pricing tier, much like we used to offer “Hard Ash” for a little cheaper than “Swamp Ash.” More details on that as they become available.
In the meantime, read about some exciting tonewood alternatives below!
Paulownia, Pine, Oh My!
Paulownia (pronounced “paw-LOH-nee-ə),” might seem like a “new tonewood” on the boutique guitar scene, but did you know that Guitar Mill was offering Paulownia as far back as 15 years ago? In fact, we even own the domain name www.paulowniaguitars.com.
To put it simply, no one has more experience with Paulownia than we do! Back in 2006, Mario saw it as the wood of the future, and now that future is here.
Paulownia is remarkably like Swamp Ash….BUT EVEN LIGHTER! The tonal profile of Paulownia and Swamp Ash are both bright, clear and resonant. However, the average Paulownia body weighs about a pound less than the same Swamp Ash body. Due to this decreased density, Paulownia is even more resonant that Ash in most cases — Paulownia guitars will sing forever.
In regards to appearance, the grain patterns are even similar — sometimes almost identical! When it comes to selecting an alternative tonewood to Swamp Ash, Paulownia is the obvious first choice.
Paulownia is perfect for long hours on stage (someday), or if you have a bad back like most of us do. Guitar Mill Paulownia is sustainably farmed right here in Tennessee.
We have been absolutely blessed with some beautiful and ultra-light Eastern White Pine — it’s not your father’s Yellawood®. This pine is beautifully clean, remarkably resonant and astoundingly light, both in weight and in color.
We have selections of this primo Pine available on our “Get it Now” store. Pine is not just for Snakeheads anymore!
If you would like to know more or help track the effects of the Emerald Ash Borer, please follow The Emerald Ash Borer Information Network. They do fantastic work to track the spread of the EAB menace.