The term “Swamp Ash” does not refer to any particular species of ash (Fraxinus genus), but is generally used by luthiers to describe lightweight wood yielded from ash trees which are usually found in wet or swampy areas.

Weight of Ash Types Compared

Swamp Ash (guitar)

Swamp Ash (guitar)

Average Dried Weight:

less than 30-33.6 lbs/ft3 (481-538 kg/m3)

Board-foot weight:

 less than 2.5-2.8 pounds

White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

Average Dried Weight:

42 lbs/ft3 (675 kg/m3)

Board-foot weight:

~3.5 pounds

Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)

Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)

Average Dried Weight:

40 lbs/ft3 (640 kg/m3)

 

Board-foot weight:

~3.3 pounds

 

Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra)

Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra)

Average Dried Weight:

34 lbs/ft3 (545 kg/m3)

Board-foot weight:

~2.8 pounds

 

European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)

European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)

Average Dried Weight:

42 lbs/ft3 (680 kg/m3)

 

Board-foot weight:

~3.5 pounds

  • DaMoysis

    I have to disagree with your generalization. Though many manufacturers and others seem intent on describing Swamp Ash as everything from, a form of Fraxinus americana
    that is simply growing in a wet place, to Pumpkin Ash (Fraxinus profunda,) and who knows what else, it’s all patent nonsense. In biology each living organism is classified using binomial nomenclature, i.e., using a scientific name of two words, Latin in form, and usually derived from Greek or Latin roots. The convention is precise. The first name is the genus of the organism. Genus refers to the lowest classification before determining the related species. The genus name is always written first, is always underlined or italicized,and the first letter is always capitalized. The specific epithet (the second name) is always underlined or italicized and never capitalized. If an individual of a species mutates to a diverse colour, size, or growth habit, passes on those characteristics to its descendants, and the mutated group is significantly different from the parents and stable, then the same scientific name is retained, but the sub-group is assigned a variety name. The abbreviation var. is used to signify that the mutation is a variety and “var.” is placed after the specific epithet and is not underlined or italicized. Form names are given for sporadic or minor variations occurring among individuals of any population, but mainly only in horticultural situations. The abbreviation f. is used to signify that the mutation is a form, and “forma” (f.) is placed after the specific epithet and is not underlined or italicized. Consulting the taxonomy references, you’ll find no varieties or forma of the genus Fraxinus that occur simply because it’s growing in a muddy spot. Further, following the latest U.S. Forest Service “Checklist of United States Trees (Native and Naturalized), U.S.D.A. Agricultural Handbook 541; 1979), “Green Ash” is the main common name, and “Swamp Ash” the widely used local name, for one specific species: Fraxinus pennsylvanica. As for it being, as some claim, “just Ash trees that root in swampy areas,” or, more absurdly that it, “originates from the Southern parts of America, from trees whose root systems are under water,” it’s actually the most widespread native Ash in North America and grows in a wide range of conditions. I have only to walk a short distance into the woods behind the house to find it growing quite contentedly on a rocky hillside. “Swamp Ash” does indeed refer to a particular species. Ignoring standard nomenclature and making words mean whatever you wish is confounding. If I were to start calling Prunus serotina “pink maple” things would soon get very muddled. The misuse of names, corrupted by those ignoring nomenclature, or who simply don’t bother looking things up, despite common usage and acceptance by conditioning, is just plain confusing. Let’s keep the names straight so we’re all on the same page. All of the Fraxinus species do make fine tonewoods, but why not get the names right so we all know what we’re talking about (and buying).

    • G

      WOW! That’s a mouth full! Very well thought out and stated.

    • ejmeier

      While I agree with your sentiments on scientific naming, I still maintain that the common name “swamp ash” is an ambiguous term, as is the case with so many other common names. This is especially true especially since “swamp ash” is, to my knowledge, not the primary common name of any species, and is, at best, a secondary/local name that changes based on geography.

      For instance, if you take a look at another (more recent) USDA publication, such as Harry Alden’s “Hardwoods of North America” (Gen. Tech. Rep. FPL–GTR–83) you’ll see that the ambiguous term “swamp ash” can refer to Fraxinus caroliniana, Fraxinus nigra, or Fraxinus pennsylvanica.

      Secondly, the term “swamp ash,” when used online, is much more commonly used by luthiers to denote ash that has an abnormally low weight. If you tried to sell plain old Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) as “swamp ash” online, I’d guess that you’d run into some mighty disappointed customers in short order.

      However, I do commiserate with you on the corruption and misuse of names, which is rampant in the flooring industry (e.g., “Brazilian Teak”).

    • James Lowther

      I have often wondered if what is sold as really light “swamp ash” is nothing more than some Catalpa species, since some of the advertised densities of the wood are very much lighter than any Fraxinus species that I know of. If so, that is some really expensive Catalpa!