Maple or Rosewood for your guitar fretboard.
The wood that is most commonly used to make fretboards for electric guitars are the following: rosewood and maple. Although they look very different, the most important features are the way they sound and the way they feel…
To make a choice between them, it is important to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of both. In this way, the optimum choice for your needs can be made.
This article will outline what you need to know with a view to making an informed decision. If you are new to guitar playing you may not think it matters whether the fingerboard is created from rosewood, maple or any other material. However, if you are an experienced guitarist, you will have an understanding of the difference these woods can make to the sound and tone of your guitar.
The fretboard of your guitar is where the music actually comes from. Your fingers create the music on it and the optimum blend of feel and tone is of utmost importance.
The material that the fretboard is made of will have implications for your playing technique along with affecting the vibration of the strings in the pickups. Your fretboard may be very durable or may require some care depending on the characteristics of the instrument…
It is of paramount importance to have the right information to make an informed decision. All aspects of your guitar playing require thought and the material your fretboard is made of makes a real difference. In this context, let’s consider the debate between rosewood or maple with a view to deciding the way forward.
The characteristics and tone of a maple fretboard
Maple is a hard, dense wood that results in sharp, snappy tones. When considering a fretboard for a guitar, using maple results in exact, articulate notes that have an excellent bite along with a tight low end to improve the music…
Fingerboards made of maple can be combined with necks made of maple and alder body tonewoods which are brighter. Two of the ways in which maple fingerboards can be streamlined into the build of a guitar are as follows:
A maple neck can be made of one piece.
This design involves the integration of the fingerboard into the piece of wood making up the neck of the guitar. In this instance, the truss rod is passed through a channel behind the neck.
This is typical of the Fender design often seen in the Telecaster and the Stratocaster. Basses, for example, the Precision and Jazz also have this design. Manufacturers of guitars nowadays frequently use this neck and fretboard construction as well resulting in a solid, smooth feel to the instrument…
In an alternative method of constructing a neck with a maple fingerboard, it is possible to make the neck of mahogany, maple or indeed another tonewood. In this case, the maple fretboard is glued in place separately. The main benefit here is that the limit of having a maple neck is removed.
The characteristics and care of a rosewood fretboard
In comparing tonewoods, rosewood is a warm, sweet one. There is a clear difference between rosewood and maple in that the sound will be softened in rosewood even in those guitars with necks made of maple.
For this reason, it is a fact that some guitarists favor the use of a rosewood fretboard on their Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters. The reason for this is that rosewood mellows the tone of a bright guitar.
Although this is the preference of many guitar players, one’s personal choice is what matters here. Some guitarists consider a maple tone to be too harsh, thus opting for the warmer tones of rosewood. Then other guitarists prefer the bite and percussion typically found in maple.
The style of music you play will have an impact on your choice of fretboard which you may change according to what style you are playing. The tonal features of each of the woods are appropriate for different musical genres. Many guitar players have preferences for different neck and body tonewoods depending on their style of music as well as preferences for different fingerboards.
The maintenance of a maple fretboard usually only consists of basic cleaning. However, rosewood fingerboards may sometimes need conditioning. This is often done with lemon oil, a conditioner specially designed for guitars. Conditioning maintains healthy wood grain in optimum condition. It is not a difficult chore and can be undertaken routinely every time the strings are being changed.
There is one other type of fretboard to consider before deciding whether to opt for rosewood or maple: the ebony fretboard.
Ebony is not as commonly used as a material for fretboards. Nevertheless, it is popular with some guitarists. It is a dark, dense wood which feels slick and smooth. Listening to an ebony tone, I would consider it somewhere between maple and rosewood with a tendency towards brightness. Unlike maple, it isn’t finished which is why those players who opt for the crisp attack of maple without the finished feel might choose ebony.
Versions such as ESP-LTD EC-1000, specific Schecter guitars along with the Ibanez Iron Label Series are a number of ideas to start with.
Ebony, like rosewood, is under pressure due to overharvesting and forestry clearance for other uses. Indeed, in some locations, the harvesting of high-quality ebony has become illegal so the source of this wood is becoming scarcer. Some guitar companies, for example, Gibson, Taylor, and Martin have made progress in how to source tonewoods as well as developing alternative ones.
It follows that the ebony used nowadays is not as pleasing to the eye as that which was available in the past.
Deciding whether maple or rosewood is right for you is the next step. Alternatively, you may choose neither by opting for ebony instead. The features of all three are summarized as follows:
- Maple: tight lows – tight lows – sometimes harsh – hard feel
- Rosewood: mellow – loose low end – warm sounding – conditioning needed
- Ebony: dark and attractive – feels very slick – conditioning needed – bright like maple
In summary and conclusion.
The one-piece maple neck which is the design of a Fender Stratocaster. This is one of my favorite features of the Strat. The playing performance of a maple fretboard on a one-piece neck is excellent for blues, classic rock, and old-school metal.
However, the sound is tight and bright and may not be suitable for all types of music. A warmer, deeper tone for these who wish to play jazz and heavier metal. In these instances, a rosewood fretboard guitar may obtain the fuller, rounder notes that can be achieved with rosewood…
To help you hear the differences, we have two videos of Eric Johnson playing the Cliffs of Dover on a maple fretboard and then or a rosewood fretboard.
So sit back, close your eye and listen to each video to hear the difference in sound and tone. We recommend playing each video playing each guitar phrasing at a time. Start one then stop it and start the other video to hear each guitar tone and sound.
Cliffs of Drover – Maple fretboard
Cliffs of Drover – Rosewood Fretboard
(Eric solos for a bit in the beginning of this videos. He starts playing Cliffs of Dover at about 5:20 mins mark into this video.)
If you’re like me, I found the maple neck to be more of a brighter, pronounced and crisper sounding than the rosewood fretboard which sounded like it blended the notes together more. So I guess it all comes down to which sound and tone to are trying to achieve. Both versions sound great.