Rosewood vs Maple Fretboards: Complete Comparison


Rosewood and maple are two of the most popular choices of fretboard wood and are used by many brands including Gibson, Fender, Ibanez and PRS. In this article I’ll compare the tone, feel, look, cleaning and maintenance of rosewood and maple fingerboards so you can figure out which is the best for your guitar.

Rosewood vs Maple Fingerboards

Maple fretboards are usually lacquered whereas many rosewood fretboards are unfinished. As a result, maple fretboards typically sound brighter and feel harder and smoother in comparison to rosewood fretboards which have more grip and sound warmer and darker with more sustain.

Maple FretboardRosewood Fretboard
Usually lacqueredUsually unfinished
Sound bright and have a fast attackSound warmer with more sustain
Feel harder and smootherFeel rougher and softer
Lighter without a prominent grainDarker with a more prominent grain
Can be easily cleaned using a damp towelNeed to be deep cleaned using steel wool
No need to apply lemon oilLemon oil needs to be applied periodically
Used by Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van HalenUse by Slash and Jimmy Page
Rosewood vs maple fretboards

Do They Sound Different?

Okay so the first thing that guitarists usually wonder about specification choices, is does it actually make a difference to the tone of the instrument?

If you play two electric guitars unplugged, back-to-back and they’re identical in every way apart from the fretboard, then you’ll be able to hear the difference. The same of course goes for acoustic guitars.

Maple fretboards sound brighter compared to rosewood fretboards that sound warmer. Maple fretboards have a faster attack so sound more punchy compared to rosewood fretboards which offer more sustain.

However, it’s not really the unplugged tone that we’re interested in with an electric guitar.

When the guitar is plugged into an amp, it’s incredibly difficult to tell the difference between a maple and rosewood fingerboard. This is because the pickups are far more important in shaping the tone of the guitar, and the fretboard material becomes a lot less influential.

Check out this YouTube video by Darrel Braun Guitar for a comparison.

Okay, there may be the tinniest difference between the tones when plugged in, but you’re highly unlikely to realise it unless you play both guitars back to back. Even then, I personally have to try super hard to notice it.

In my opinion, it’s far more important to consider the feel of the fretboard instead of the miniscule impact it has on the tone when deciding between rosewood and maple.

Do They Feel Different?

Rosewood fretboards feel a bit softer and have more friction compared to maple fretboards.

However, if you look at the density and hardness ratings for both types of wood, it looks like the opposite would actually be true.

Density:

  • East Indian Rosewood = 800 kg/ m3
  • Maple = 740 kg/ m3

Hardness (Janka Rating):

  • East Indian Rosewood = 1780 lbf
  • Maple = 1450 lbf

So why are maple fretboards still harder and smoother feeling compared to rosewood fretboards?

This is because most maple fretboards have a lacquer over the top, whereas most rosewood fretboards are unfinished.

The fretboard lacquer can be either satin or gloss. Gloss finishes feel stickier and can actually have more friction than rosewood fretboards, however satin finishes feel smooth and fast to play on.

Some players like a rosewood fretboard that feels a bit rougher and offers plenty of control and grip, however others find the smoothness of a maple fretboard easier for bending strings. Rosewood also feels softer so can be a touch more gentle on the fingers.

There’s no “best” or “easiest” fretboard wood in terms of feel, but there are personal preferences so I’d advise trying both.

Appearance

Rosewood is a much darker wood compared to maple and is typically selected for guitars with mahogany necks as it tones in nicely, and guitars with darker bodies, although there are plenty of exceptions to this.

Maple on the other hand is much lighter and is typically used on guitars with maple necks. In a lot of cases, the maple neck and fretboard is composed of a single piece of wood. With rosewood fretboards you’ll almost always find the wood is layered on top of the neck, as rosewood necks are very rare.

Rosewood fretboards can either be lacquered or left unfinished. Like layered maple necks, the finish can either be satin or gloss which affects both the look and feel of the fretboard.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Due to the lighter appearance of maple, it look dirtier faster than rosewood. Rosewood fingerboards do still get dirty, but it will be less visible. Some players like maple for this reason though, as they can easily tell when their fretboard needs cleaning.

Cleaning and maintenance is also a lot easier with maple fretboards compared to unfinished rosewood fretboards.

With an unfinished rosewood fretboard, you will need to use ultra fine (0000) wire wool occasionally to give it a deep clean and then use lemon oil to re-hydrate it. Using wire wool on a lacquered fretboard (maple or rosewood) is not advised as the wire wool will abrade the finish and wear it down.

To clean a lacquered maple fretboard you simply wipe it down with a slightly damp, or even a dry cloth if it isn’t that dirty. There’s no need to use lemon oil as it won’t penetrate the laquer.

Guitars With Rosewood and Maple Fretboards

Guitars with Maple Fretboards:

  • Fender Stratocaster
  • Fender Telecaster
  • Fender Mustang
  • Fender Jazzmaster
  • Ibanez Genesis
  • PRS Silver Sky
  • Squier Classic Vibe
  • Squier Affinity
  • EVH Striped Series 5150

Guitars with Rosewood Fretboards:

  • Fender Stratocaster
  • Fender Telecaster
  • Fender Jazzmaster
  • Fender Mustang
  • Fender Jaguar
  • Gibson Les Paul
  • Gibson SG
  • Gibson ES-335
  • PRS Custom 24

Guitarists Who Use Rosewood and Maple Fretboards

Guitarists Who Use Maple Fretboards:

  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Eric Clapton
  • Eddie Van Halen
  • David Gilmour
  • Jimmie Vaughan
  • Eric Johnson

Guitars Who Use Rosewood Fretboards:

  • Slash
  • Jimmy Page
  • Zakk Wylde
  • Billy Gibbons
  • Bob Marley
  • Mick Ronson

Check out my comparison between rosewood and ebony fretboards.

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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