Rosewood vs Maple Fretboard – What is the Difference Between Them? 

The fretboard is one of the most important parts of a guitar, hugely impacting the overall tone. Plus, it affects the aesthetics and feel of the instrument. With this, many of you are probably curious about the differences between rosewood vs maple fretboard. 

Rosewood and maple are two of the most outstanding woods that you will find in guitar fretboards. Rosewood is more popular, but that does not mean that maple is inferior. Here is a quick rundown of how the two are different: 

  • Types: Some of the most common types of rosewood include Indian, Honduran, and Brazilian. On the other hand, for maple, two of the most common in guitars are silver and hard maple. 
  • Aesthetics: It is common for rosewood to have a dark caramel brown color and a grainy appearance. Meanwhile, maple has a creamy shade with small and light-colored pores. 
  • Finishe: Maple can have different finishes, including lacquer, satin, and gloss. As for rosewood, transparent and glossy finishes are amongst the most common. 
  • Texture: The differences in finish result in variations in texture. Between the two, rosewood feels smoother, which is also because it is naturally oily. 
  • Construction: When a guitar has a maple fretboard, it is common that its neck has a one-piece construction, which is made of the same material. This is unlike rosewood, which is often glued, so the neck can be made of a different material.
  • Tone: Rosewood has warm and sweet tones. Meanwhile, maple generates crisp and well-defined sounds. 
  • Playability: Although the playability will depend on the type of finish, in most cases, maple is easier to play compared to rosewood. 
  • Care and Maintenance: The pores and grains of rosewood can attract dirt and dust. Meanwhile, the light color of maple will make it prone to darkening over time. Regardless, make sure to keep the fretboard clean for its optimal functionality.

Read on to learn more about rosewood vs maple fretboard and decide which one is a better option for you. 

Rosewood vs Maple Fretboard 

rosewood vs maple fretboard
Rosewood Fretboard

A lot of people often overlook the fretboard when evaluating the quality and performance of a guitar. Many will focus on the neck or body but will seldom look at the fingerboard despite its importance. 

The fretboard is critical because it largely influences a guitar’s tone. Aside from implementing the right techniques, the choice of wood also matters. Every wood has its respective properties. It affects its responsiveness to touch and determines the playability of the instrument. Visually, the fretboard’s wood will also have an impact. 

So, what is the better option? Should you go for rosewood or opt for maple? Both are impressive, but they have some differences. Below, I will talk about maple vs rosewood fretboard to help you decide:

1. Types 

Before anything else, let’s first look at the types of each wood that you will often see in a fretboard. For rosewood, there are three main types: 

  • Indian Rosewood: It is one of the most musically rich tonewoods, making it a popular option for a fretboard. The material generates deep notes and bright treble notes. As the name implies, it is from East India. The material is also known for being affordable, making it popular amongst budget guitars
  • Brazilian Rosewood: If you do not mind a splurge, this high-end material is a great option. It is hard to find because it is an endangered tree, which is also one reason why it is expensive. It has a rich and deep color that will make your guitar a head-turner. 
  • Honduran Rosewood: While it isn’t as popular as the two mentioned above, it is equally a great option for a fretboard. The color is almost similar to Brazilian rosewood. It is also endangered, but not to the same extent as the latter. 

Meanwhile, if you are looking for a maple fretboard, two main types are available: 

  • Hard Maple: It is a heavy and durable material compared to silver maple. It is also more expensive, so it isn’t for people on a budget. Some of the brands that often use this include Fender and Paul Reed Smith. 
  • Silver Maple: If you are looking for something more affordable, this is a great material to choose. It is cheaper because it is easier to find. Many of the guitars made in China and Indonesia are using this material. 

2. Aesthetics 

The fretboard occupies only a small part of the guitar. It isn’t as noticeable as the body or the neck. Nonetheless, the material of choice affects how it looks like. The aesthetic will depend mostly on the main material of the fingerboard.

While the specific appearance will differ on the particular type, such as Indian, Brazilian, or Honduran, rosewood is often dark caramel brown. Nonetheless, you can also find some in lighter tones, but they are not that common. Plus, the material has a grainy appearance. 

On the other hand, a maple fretboard has a flamed appearance with a creamy shade. Over the years, it easily shows signs of aging, which many people consider a good thing since it adds more character to a guitar. One thing that makes it look different from rosewood is the presence of light-colored and small grain lines or pores. 

3. Finishes 

rosewood vs maple fretboard feel
Maple Fretboard

Aside from the material itself, the fretboard can also have different looks depending on its finish. For maple, lacquer is the most common finish. It is commonly sprayed, providing a shiny and transparent protective coating.

Another popular option is the satin finish, which has a natural texture that makes it easy to play with. Matte, gunstock, and gloss are other finishes that you will find. 

Meanwhile, if you opt for a guitar with a rosewood fretboard, it is common to find a glossy and transparent finish. It perfectly complements the dark shade of the wood, making its natural properties stand out. 

4. Texture 

With the differences in finishes come the variations in the texture of the fretboard. The nature of the material is also responsible for how it feels when playing. Rosewood fretboards are naturally oily. They are quite slippery for some users, but you will get used to their texture with constant practice. 

As for maple, the texture and feel largely depend on the finish. For instance, if it has a lacquer finish, it will be smooth. A satin finish will also feel the same. If you want the fretboard to be a bit rougher, you should go with a matte finish. 

Again, rosewood vs maple fretboard – what’s the difference? Aside from the appearance, maple is usually used to construct the guitar’s neck and fretboard. Meanwhile, the rosewood fretboard is placed on another wood, then used on the guitar’s neck.

5. Construction 

It may not be noticeable at first, but the guitar will have a different construction depending on the material that it uses on the fretboard. If it is made of maple, it usually has a one-piece construction. It means that maple is also the same material that you will find in the guitar’s neck. 

If the guitar has a rosewood fretboard, the neck can be made of a different material, such as maple and ebony. Instead of having a one-piece body of the same material, rosewood glues to another wood. 

6. Tone 

It is perhaps one of the biggest differences when it comes to the two materials. Some might look at the body and neck when evaluating the tonal characteristics of a guitar. While the fretboard isn’t as large as those two parts, the material of choice is equally vital in determining how it sounds. 

With rosewood, you can expect the tone to be warm and sweet. It will soften the sound that the guitar generates, especially when it has a rosewood neck. As a naturally oily wood, it has a richer fundamental tone. The oily pores absorb the unwanted tones. 

Meanwhile, maple has a well-defined and crisp tone, which is similar to ebony. The wood is strong and dense, resulting in tighter grains and smaller pores. In turn, you can easily play simple and articulate notes. More so, it is snappier and brighter compared to what you can hear from a guitar with a rosewood fretboard.

7. Playability

rosewood vs maple fretboard tone

Especially if you are a newbie, it is crucial to consider the playability of a fretboard. It dictates how easy it is to play the guitar. In maple, the playability can vary depending on the finish. It can be sticky or smooth. Most will prefer it to be smooth, which will make it easier to play the guitar. If the fretboard feels sticky, a quick fix is to sand the surface. 

Rosewood can be complicated in terms of playability, especially as the guitar ages. It can dry out, especially if you are often playing. Plus, since it is hardwood, you might feel the need to press harder. In turn, you might end up being uncomfortable. It can also have small potholes, which makes it more difficult to play. 

8. Care and Maintenance

Whether the fretboard is rosewood or maple, proper maintenance is vital. With an open grain and irregular surface, rosewood requires more effort to clean and maintain. Dirt and dust can accumulate on the surface and can negatively impact the quality over time. 

Maple has a light cream shade, which can darken over time. The signs of wear and tear are more visible compared to rosewood. Nonetheless, it will take several years before such will be apparent, especially if you invest in a high-quality guitar. 

To maintain the fretboard at its best, here’s what you should do. 

  • Start by removing the strings of the guitar. It will expose the fretboard, making it easier to clean;
  • Clean the fretboard by using alcohol wipes. Pay attention to the areas with discoloration, which is a sign of heavy dirt;
  • If there is hard or stubborn dirt, steel wool will help. Use this only in a rosewood fretboard. It can damage maple, especially when it has a glossy finish;
  • Next, condition the fretboard to restore its look and functionality. You can do this by applying lemon oil on a clean rag. Let it settle on the fretboard for better absorption;
  • Depending on the extent of dirt or damage, you might need to reapply and wait overnight for the oil to settle on the wood; and
  • Once the guitar is clean and dry, reattach the strings. 

Conclusion – Rosewood vs Maple Fretboard 

Rosewood is the most common material that you will find in fretboards. It has a rich and warm tone, which is more mellow compared to maple. The material is naturally oily, which also makes it smooth, minimizing the need for a finish. Nonetheless, it requires frequent conditioning, which is crucial for maintaining its optimal performance. 

If you prefer a guitar with a bright and snappy sound, then a maple fretboard is better. It is a dense and hard tonewood, which makes it easy to articulate notes. It has a creamy shade with a feel that depends largely on the finish. Additionally, it has tight pores and little natural oil, which also makes it slick.