Rosewood vs Maple Fretboards: A Comparison

Setting out to buy a new guitar can be both exciting and a tiresome experience at the same time. Just like when buying a new car, every single person you ask will be opinionated and explaining what you should or should not buy. Knowing that guitar building has become so advanced these days, there are so many different specs to look into and so many different brands to consider. For instance, these two guitars are pretty similar in overall cost and performance, but you're not sure which of the features will sit better with own style of playing. One of the discussions we hear often is the issue of material used in building these guitars. So it's not that rare to have people engaging in rosewood vs maple fretboards discussion.

This particular issue is often discussed among Fender Stratocaster and Fender Telecaster players as these are the famous models that can have both rosewood or maple fretboards. At the same time, these two materials are the most common for fretboards so we'll try and point out some differences and ultimately help you decide which one is better for you.

Maple

Maple is a hard and thick material, giving that brighter and "snappier" tone. The same thing goes for maple fretboards, where you'll more easily achieve those tight and controlled tones. They usually go together with maple necks and alder bodies.

However, there are two different examples of maple fretboards. Most often you'll see a one-piece maple neck where the fretboard and the rest of the neck are one solid piece of wood with the frets on top of it. Most of the Fender Strats and Teles are made this way and they're known for that tighter and "twangier" tones and that chunky one-piece wood feel. You will also find this same exact type of fretboard on the Fender Jazz Bass and the Fender Precision Bass.

The other example is where you have a maple fretboard glued onto a neck, which can be of any other tonewood, even maple. Guitars with maple fingerboards that are not part of one solid maple neck are usually not that common and can be found within some special series of guitars. A combination like mahogany neck with maple fingerboard is pretty specific and there aren't that many guitar players out there who are really into it. You usually have to contact a custom guitar builder for this type of a combo.

Rosewood

Rosewood is probably the most common material used for fretboards on guitars. Being a softer wood, fretboards made of rosewood make a different impact on the tone and the performance compared to maple ones. You'll often find them associated with warm, mellow, and smooth tones. A good way to describe the difference is that the maple is more "percussive" compared to rosewood.

Another difference is that rosewood fingerboards are a bit more sensitive to the environment and usually require more maintenance and conditioning, whereas maple ones will be kept safe with just basic cleaning. There are various different conditioners out there, the most common one being lemon oil. Cleaning with lemon oil is not exactly a time-consuming task and you'd need to do it once in a while, like when you're changing your strings. If you're living in an extremely humid areas, then extra care is required.

What should I choose?

The fretboard on your guitar is where most of the action happens. Picking the right one for you should be somewhere on the list of priorities.

There are pretty much two most common variants with commercial guitars. You'd either have a Fender or a Fender inspired guitar that has a maple neck and fretboard (one piece neck), alder body, and single-coil pickups. The other option is the classic Gibson type of combo with the rosewood fingerboard, mahogany neck, mahogany body, and humbucker pickups. The first type would give you a brighter and "snappier" tone, while the second group gives darker and mellower tones.

The decision what to choose here cannot always be made as to what genre you're playing since we've seen many jazz, pop, blues, rock, even metal guitar players using any of these two categories and still getting some quality tones for their styles. It's mostly up to you and how you want to sound within the genre that you're playing.

Although not as common as these, there are many other guitars with different combinations of fretboard, neck, and body materials. The best way to determine what suits you the most is to try out and play as many guitars as you can and see how it works for you. But the general rule is that maple is always harder and thicker, giving you that tight tone, whereas rosewood is softer and usually gives some smoother tones.

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