Rosewood and pau ferro are two very popular woods used on electric and acoustic guitar fingerboards, but what is the difference between them? In this article I’ll compare their sound, feel, appearance and durability.
Rosewood vs Pau Ferro Overview
Rosewood fretboards are more porous so feel rougher compared to pau ferro fretboards which feel smoother and have less friction. Rosewood is darker in appearance and a harder wood meaning it is less likely to get damaged. Pau ferro sounds brighter compared to rosewood which sounds warmer.
|Used on high-end guitars||Used on mid-range guitars|
|Sounds darker and warmer||Sound brighter and snappier|
|Feels rougher||Feels smoother|
|More hard-waring||More likely to get dented|
Rosewood fingerboards were gold-standard for many brands until 2017 when new CITES legislation placed restrictions on its export. As a result, rosewood fingerboards have become a lot less common and are typically reserved for high-end guitars. However, these restrictions have been recently lifted so rosewood is likely to make somewhat of a comeback.
Pau ferro on the other hand is cheaper to import compared to rosewood and hence has become a more popular choice for fretboards, particularly on less expensive models. For example, Fender’s Mexican line of guitars now use pau ferro and maple, whilst rosewood is reserved for the American models.
Do They Sound Different?
Pau ferro is more dense (less porous) compared to rosewood which gives it a brighter tone with a faster attack and hence, snappier sound. Rosewood on the other hand sounds darker with more warmth and sustain, but less snap in comparison to pau ferro.
There’s a big debate over how much the fretboard wood affects the tone of a guitar and it’s always tough to find an apples to apples comparison.
In my opinion, the effect that the fingerboard wood has on the tone of the guitar is miniscule in comparison to other features like the pickups and body wood. It also has basically no impact if you have a lacquered fretboard. Hence, I don’t place much importance on it when buying a new guitar.
However, the fretboard wood does really affect the feel of the fretboard (far more than it does the tone), and this is a factor well worth considering.
Check out this YouTube video to hear a comparison of a Stratocaster with a rosewood and pau ferro fretboard.
Do They Feel Different?
Pau ferro is a denser material compared to rosewood. Rosewood has a density of approximately 800 kg/ cm3 whereas pau ferro has a density of roughly 870 kg/ cm3. This means that pau ferro is roughly 9% denser compared to rosewood.
Rosewood is relatively porous which means there are more gaps between the grains of the wood. The result is that the fingerboard doesn’t feel as smooth, and there is more friction when bending the strings for example.
Pau ferro fretboards feel smoother since the wood is less porous which some players prefer as it feels more gentle on the fingertips and a bit faster to play on. It’s still not as smooth as ebony though which is very dense (1100 kg/ cm3).
Rosewood is also a harder wood compared to pau ferro, which means that it feels a bit more solid and firm compared to pau ferro. However, you are unlikely to notice this difference unless you play both fretboards back to back.
Do They Look Different?
In terms of appearance, rosewood is darker compared to pau ferro. Rosewood also is a cooler shade of brown compared to pau ferro which looks slightly warmer.
You can also check out these links to see the Fender images of both woods:
I personally really like the look of pau ferro, but if you want it to look more like rosewood then some players choose to wax it to make it look darker. Alternatively, treating the fretboard with lemon oil usually has a similar effect over time.
Although not as dense, rosewood is harder than pau ferro which makes it less likely to get damaged.
Janka Hardness Rating:
- Rosewood = 10,870 N
- Pau Ferro = 8,710 N
Rosewood and pau ferro are both quite oily woods so are relatively low maintenance and less susceptible to warping compared to ebony.
Guitars With Rosewood and Pau Ferro Fretboards
Guitars with Rosewood Fretboards:
- Fender American Original
- Fender American Performer
- Fender American Ultra
- Gibson Les Paul
- Gibson ES-335
- Gibson SG
- PRS Custom 24
- Epiphone Les Paul Custom
Guitars with Pau Ferro Fretboards:
- Fender Player
- Fender Vintera
- Fender Noventa
- PRS SE Silver Sky
Check out more fretboard wood comparisons: