The fretboard is by far one of the most important parts of the guitar, not only because it is what will change the note when pressing the string against it, but because it is the part that is in more contact with the musician.
If the fretboard is not comfortable, then the playing will not be as well, this is why there are a lot of things to consider like size, depth, inclination, and of course what is made of.
When luthiers started making electric and acoustic guitars they tried different kinds of woods, and with different terminations, even though they may be made of a lot of different materials, two of the most commons fretboards are both maple and rosewood, especially on the Stratocaster model.
Have in mind that the fretboard will not influence your sound as much as your pickups. If you want numbers, I would say that 90 % of the sound is the combination of the strings, pick and pick-ups on your guitar, then the last 10 % will come from your fretboard.
This makes the fretboard material not a definitive matter when buying a guitar.
The maple fretboard main feature is that it provides a brighter and punchy sound with a lot of note definition and clarity.
This means that the notes will be easy to understand by the ears and that will be very precise. It is a faster fretboard as they are usually made in one peace since the surface of the fretboard is very light, it is very easy for the hand of the guitarist to go up and down the fretboard.
This means that if you are looking for a soft fell – fast playing neck, then the maple fretboard will provide that for sure.
The durability is very good on the maple fretboard, and cleaning it is also very easy and fast, however, if it breaks, it is more expensive to re-fret a guitar with maple than with maple, so this may be a con to look out for.
If you are a bender (a guitarist that loves to bend the notes), then the maple fretboard is a great option.
First, it will feel very soft and light when bending. Secondly, the note will be very clear all throughout the bending (Even when pre-bending, or post-bending).
If you look at guitarist that loves to play long notes and have long bent as well, almost all of them are playing on maple fretboards. When you see players that try to get a heavier metal sound of their guitar, then they go to a rosewood fretboard and just played it hard.
Also, it is somewhat easier to get nice high pitch sounds from the upper part of your fretboard with a maple fretboard; the notes will get loud for sure.
On the rosewood fretboard, all the notes will sound much more similar in tone to each other despite how high or low you are on your fretboard.
Rosewood fretboard provides a very bluesy sound with a lot of depth and sense of space. The warm sound that the rosewood provides it is never achieved by maple (or at least that is what the guitar players and manufactures say).
When it comes to telling the difference in sound, this may be something I may argue if you are an experienced player and play huge shows for music fanatics as David Gilmour does, then you probably notice this difference.
However, if you are the average player playing in your room or with your friends, I will strongly argue that you will tell no difference in between the two frets.
What is arguably is that the rosewood fretboard feels harder to play on, this means that the player will need some extra strength to perform the same task as with a maple fretboard.
On the downside, rosewood fretboards do require much more cleaning and maintenance as most of them do not have any finish on them as maple does.
Lemon oil conditioner is the typical product to use when cleaning the fretboard, have in mind that to do this you will have to remove all the strings and then re-string the guitar every time, this means you will also have to coordinate that when it is time to clean the fretboard it is also time to change the strings.
If you forgot to clean the fretboard and the strings are new, then you may have to throw them away before their time as in general removing and stringing the same set is not recommended.
|Maple Fretboard||Rosewood Fretboard|
|Nice clean sound||Warm sound|
|Easier to clean||It requires a higher level of conditioning that maple|
|More expensive to repair||Maybe a bit too hard for the beginners|
|Bright sound||Cheaper to repair or even change|
|Nice for percussive playing||Not ideal if you sweat a lot when playing|
Depending on your style of playing and what kind of sound you want to get out of your guitar the option you should choose.
With the maple fretboard, you will get a brighter sound, and the feel will be much looser, on the other hand with a rosewood fretboard, the sound gets a little bit darker and deep plus moving the hand through the fretboard is a bit trickier.
Lastly, if you are the kind of player that sweats a lot the fret hand, then rosewood may even stop you from playing fast and comfortable, go for the maple.
I would like to put a final thought on the article, having both necks is awesome if that is a possibility, my general comment when people ask me, what is better in music A or B, I always say, both!
Try to have as many options as possible and learn the difference by yourself, this way you will know which guitar will be ideal for each song. Have different guitars with different necks, pickups, strings, gauges, etc.
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