Guitar fretboard: what makes a good fretboard & best woods

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  July 10, 2022

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Every guitar component or part has its own important function, and the fretboard is no different.

The main function of a guitar fretboard is to provide a hard, smooth surface for the player to press their fingers against when playing chords or notes.

Guitar fretboard: what makes a good fretboard & best woods

Electric guitars like the Fender Stratocaster have maple fretboards that have a very hard, smooth surface ideal for fast playing.

Gibson Les Pauls have rosewood fretboards that offer a warmer tone and are often preferred by blues and jazz guitarists.

When buying a guitar look for a wooden fretboard preferably made of rosewood, maple, or ebony. These are long-lasting woods that produce a bright sound and crisp tone.

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, you can find guitars with composite or laminate fretboards.

If you’re looking to get your first guitar or simply looking for a new guitar, read my guide first.

In this post, I’m sharing the characteristics and features of a great guitar fretboard so you can pick an electric or acoustic guitar that will look and sound beautiful.

What is a guitar fretboard?

The fretboard, also called a fingerboard, is a piece of wood glued to the front of the neck.

The fretboard has raised metal strips (frets) that the player presses their fingers down on to create different notes.

The notes are located on the fretboard by pressing down on the string at a specific fret.

Most guitars have between 20 and 24 frets. Some guitars, like basses, have even more.

The fretboard usually has inlays (markers) on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th frets. These inlays can be simple dots or more elaborate patterns.

When it comes to the construction of a guitar, the fretboard is one of the most important aspects.

The fretboard is what allows the guitarist to produce different tones and notes by pressing their fingers down on the strings.

Also read: How many chords can you actually play on a guitar?

Electric vs acoustic fretboard/fingerboard

The electric guitar fretboard and the acoustic guitar fretboard serve the same purpose, but there are some slight differences between the two.

The electric guitar fretboard is generally made of a harder wood, such as maple, because it needs to be able to withstand the constant wear and tear of being played with a pick.

The acoustic guitar fretboard can be made of a softer wood, such as rosewood, because the player’s fingers do most of the work and there is less wear and tear.

An electric guitar fretboard also has a smaller radius than an acoustic guitar fretboard. The radius is the measurement from the center of the fretboard to the edge.

A smaller radius makes it easier for the player to press down on the strings and get a clear sound.

The acoustic guitar fretboard can have a larger radius because the player’s fingers don’t have to press down as hard on the strings.

The size of the radius also affects the sound of the guitar. A larger radius will give the guitar a brighter sound, while a smaller radius will give the guitar a warmer sound.

What makes a good fretboard? – Buyer’s guide

There are certain features to consider when buying a guitar. Here’s what to look for in a good fingerboard:

Comfort

A good fretboard needs to be durable, smooth, and comfortable to play on.

The fingerboard should also be smooth and level, without any sharp edges that could catch on the player’s fingers.

Finally, the fingerboard should be comfortable to play on.

It should not be too slippery or too sticky.

Best strings for electric guitar
Best strings for electric guitar

When it comes to comfort, a sticky finish is generally better than a slippery one.

A stickier finish will help the player’s fingers stay in place, while a slippery finish can make it difficult to control the strings.

Material: wood vs synthetic

A good fretboard should be made of a material that is durable and will not wear down easily with extended use.

It should not warp or deteriorate over time.

There are many different guitar fretboard woods that can be used for a fretboard, but some of the most common are maple, rosewood, and ebony.

Each of these woods has its own unique properties that make it better suited for certain types of guitars.

There are synthetic fingerboards too, and these can be made from materials like carbon fiber, fiber, phenolic, and graphite.

While synthetic fingerboards have their own benefits, they are not as common as wood fingerboards.

Some guitarists prefer synthetic fingerboards because they are more durable and easier to care for.

Richlite fretboard

The richlite fretboard is a modern synthetic fretboard that is made from paper and phenolic resin.

Richlite is a popular choice for guitarists who want a durable and easy-to-care-for fretboard.

It is also a good choice for those who want an eco-friendly option. It is presented as a better alternative to ebony boards.

If you don’t like synthetic materials like most guitar players, wood fretboards are still the most popular.

The guitar fretboard wood is very important for the tone of the guitar. The wood influences the tone produced by the instrument.

The three main woods used for electric guitar fingerboards are maple, rosewood, and ebony. The rosewood and maple are super popular because they are a good value and sound nice.

These woods all have different properties that make them better or worse for certain types of guitars.

For acoustic guitar fingerboards, the two most common woods are rosewood and ebony.

I’ll discuss the three kinds of wood used for guitar fretboards briefly so you know what each one implies.

I’ve got a separate article with a long list of other guitar woods you can read about here.

Rosewood

Rosewood is a popular choice for fretboards because it is very durable and has a beautiful grain pattern.

A rosewood fretboard is also comfortable to play on and produces a warm, rich tone.

One downside of rosewood, however, is that it is a bit more expensive than other options.

Vintage Fender guitars are known for Indian rosewood fretboards, and this is one of the reasons why they have such a great sound.

Brazilian rosewood is considered the best type of rosewood for fretboards, but it is now an endangered species and is very expensive.

Therefore, it’s mostly vintage guitars that have some of the rare endangered wood fretboards.

Indian rosewood is the next best option and is the most common type of rosewood used for fretboards.

Bolivian rosewood, Madagascar rosewood, and Cocobolo are also good choices, but they are less common.

Rosewood is a naturally oily wood, so it does not need to be treated with oil.

However, some guitarists prefer to treat their fretboards with lemon oil or other products to help protect the wood and keep it looking new.

Ebony

Ebony is the hardest and heaviest of common fingerboard woods, adding snap and clarity to the sound. Crisp attack and fast decay contribute to ebony’s open (as opposed to warm) tone.

Ebony is another popular choice for fretboards because it is also very durable. It’s the hardest of the woods.

Ebony has a very smooth surface, which makes it comfortable to play on.

When it comes to sound, this heavy wood adds snap and has an open tone.

This wood also produces a clear, bright tone. Therefore, it’s excellent for that crisp attack.

African ebony is the best type of ebony, but it is also very expensive.

Macassar ebony is a cheaper alternative that is still good and is more common.

The most expensive musical instruments are usually made of the most premium materials.

You’ll find an ebony fingerboard on a premium acoustic guitar or classical guitar.

Maple

Maple is also known for its smooth surface, which makes it comfortable to play on.

This wood produces a very bright, crisp tone. In terms of sound, players think it’s less snappy than ebony, for example.

Maple is bright sounding and is also what makes it popular for fretboards. It gives the guitar a cutting tone that can be heard over a lot of other

But maple is more balanced and yields good sustain because of the decay.

The Fender Strats have a maple fretboard, and that’s why they sound so clean.

Many other manufacturers use this fretboard material because it’s economical and the nice color pops.

Many guitars are made with a maple neck and fretboards because it’s an industry standard.

It’s a very good material, and it’s beautiful to look at too.

There are different grades of maple, and the better the grade, the more figure or grain patterns you’ll see in the wood.

But generally, maple is quite similar to rosewood because it’s also an oily wood and doesn’t need to be treated with oil.

Color

The maple fretboard color is usually a light yellow, or creamy white, while the rosewood is brown.

The ebony fretboard can be black or very dark brown.

There’s also something called Pau Ferro, which looks like rosewood but with more orange tones.

Texture

The grainy texture of the wood is also an important factor in how the guitar will sound.

The maple has a very fine grain, while the rosewood has a more course grain.

The ebony has a very smooth texture, which contributes to its snap sound.

Also, oily texture wood can make the surface slick, while dry wood can make it feel sticky.

So, these are some of the things you should consider when choosing a guitar fretboard.

Overall, the best guitar fretboard wood is overall nicely finished and looks beautiful.

Radius

The fretboard radius is the measurement of how much the fretboard curves.

A flatter radius is better for fast lead playing, while a rounder radius is better for rhythm playing and chords.

The most common radius is 9.5″, but there are also 7.25″, 10″, and 12″ options.

The radius affects how easy it is to play chords and how comfortable it is to slide up and down the fretboard.

It also affects the sound of your guitar because it changes the string tension.

A flatter radius will make the strings feel looser, while a rounder radius will make them feel tighter.

One-piece fretted neck vs separate fretboard

When it comes to the construction of a guitar, there are two main types of necks: those with a one-piece neck and those with a separate fretboard.

A one-piece neck is made from a single piece of wood, while a separate fretboard is glued to the front of the neck.

There are pros and cons to each type of construction.

One-piece necks are more durable and less likely to warp or twist over time.

They are also more comfortable to play on because there are no joints or seams that can cause discomfort.

However, one-piece necks are more difficult to repair if they are damaged.

Separate fretboards are less durable than one-piece necks, but they are easier to repair if they are damaged.

They are also more versatile because they can be made from a variety of different materials.

A one-piece fretted neck and a separate fingerboard on two otherwise similar guitars will produce different tones.

FAQs

Does fretboard affect a guitar’s tone?

The type of fretboard you choose will affect your guitar’s tone.

For example, a maple fretboard will give you a brighter, crisper sound, while a rosewood fretboard will give you a warmer, fuller sound.

But the effect of the fretboard is mostly aesthetic and it can make the guitar comfortable or uncomfortable to play.

What is the best type of fretboard for a guitar?

There is no one “best” type of fretboard for a guitar. It depends on your personal preference and the type of sound you want to achieve.

Some guitarists prefer a maple fretboard for its bright, cutting sound, while others prefer a rosewood fretboard for its warm, full sound.

It’s ultimately up to you to decide which type of fretboard is best for your guitar.

What is the difference between fretboard and fingerboard?

These are the same thing but there are two names for it.

There is a distinction when it comes to bass guitars though.

The fretboard is a guitar that has frets and a bass guitar with no frets is a fingerboard.

Is the fretboard wood different from the guitar body wood?

The fretboard wood is different from the guitar body wood.

The fretboard is usually made of maple or rosewood, while the body is made of a variety of woods, such as mahogany, ash, or alder.

You’ll also find many ebony fretboards on electric guitars.

The different woods used for the fretboard and body will affect the tone of the guitar.

Is the maple fretboard better than rosewood?

There is no definitive answer to this question. It depends on your personal preference and the type of sound you’re trying to achieve.

Some guitarists prefer the bright, cutting sound of a maple fretboard, while others prefer the warm, full sound of a rosewood fretboard.

It’s ultimately up to you to decide which you like more.

Takeaway

The fretboard is a very important part of the guitar, and the type of wood used can have a big impact on the sound.

Rosewood, ebony, and maple are all popular choices for fretboards because they each offer something unique in terms of tone.

But it’s about more than just the wood, the construction of the neck (one-piece or separate fretboard) is also important.

Now that you know what to look out for when buying a guitar, you can be sure that you’re not wasting money on cheap instruments.

Spend some time researching the different types of fretboards and necks to find the one that’s right for you.

Read next: a full guide on guitar body types and wood types (what to look for when buying a guitar)

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:

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