If you’ve read our guitar and bass guitar buyer’s guides, you might be wondering how important the wood used for the fretboard is. Since it actually helps shape the sound, look and feel of almost every guitar and bass, maybe the question should be: which type best suits you? Dip into this blog and you’ll learn the most important differences, making picking out your new guitar that bit easier!
The Different Woods Across the Board
The fretboard of a guitar is a crucial part, since it’s the place where at least one of your hands will be working to shape notes and chords. There is, and always will be, discussion among guitarists about the actual effect of the different types of wood used for fretboards, as the sound of any guitar remains the sum of all of its parts. Still, there are definitely differences that are worth taking a closer look at.
Rosewood fretboards can be spotted by their brown colour and beautifully dark wood grain. There are hundreds of species that belong to the Dalbergia genus, so the look can differ slightly. Relatively porous compared to maple and ebony, rosewood has a warm tonal character with an emphasis on the lower frequencies. Until recently, rosewood was the most-used type of wood for guitar fretboards, but due to the restrictions stated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), an increasing number of manufacturers have decided to use alternatives like pau ferro and walnut.
Maple is often used to craft one-piece neck-and-fretboards or to make necks that will have a different fretboard glued onto it. This characteristically dense wood can be instantly recognised by its light colour and is known to shape a tight sound with a snappy mid-range. As a result, maple is associated with a bright and pure sound, and the only thing that can affect its look and feel is the finish, or lack thereof. While a lacquered fretboard naturally feels different and usually looks darker, it’s certainly not better than an untreated fretboard. It’s simply a matter of taste!
Ebony is a lot like maple in terms of tonal characteristics. It has a high density and produces a tight sound with snappy highs. Since it’s more costly and more difficult to shape and carve than rosewood and maple, you’ll typically find ebony fretboards on high-end instruments. Ebony has a blackish colour, looks especially luxurious and is regularly used as an alternative for rosewood due to scarcity and CITES limitations. This in turn leads to solid dark ebony becoming more scarce as well and, as a result, you’ll see more ebony fretboards with bigger differences in colour and more striking wood grains.
As you can tell, there’s definitely more that matters when it comes to the wood used for fretboards. Some guitarists may over-exaggerate the effect on the overall sound, but no one can deny that each type of wood looks uniquely different. Next to rosewood, maple and ebony, there are of course lots of other woods, as well as synthetic materials, that can be used for fretboards. We’ll save that for the next blog!