When you shop for a vehicle, is how it looks the only criteria you consider? Of course not. You want to know how it will perform so you look at its specifications and features to know if it will do what you want it to do. The same is true for an electric guitar. It is amazing when its appearance suits your sense of style, but if you don’t get the tone you want, it is suitable for nothing but perhaps wall decoration. What some guitar players may not realize is that the neck and fretboard wood itself can make a difference in the tone you get from an electric guitar. Thankfully, the manufacturers are careful to use those woods on the neck and fretboard that produce the tone that most musicians aim for, but there are still enough variations to suit individual tastes.
Mahogany With Ebony
This is a common choice among musicians, the ebony fretboard provides for definition, along with clarity and tightness. A very dense and heavy hardwood, ebony allows for a bright attack and it offers a controlled bass controlled bass as well as sizzling highs. A mahogany back further adds some mellowness to the equation, which is a very likeable choice. Ebony is also quite durable so it holds up better to years of playing, in fact, its durability is comparable to rosewood.
Mahogany With Rosewood
Nearly as common as maple, mahogany is often combined with solid mahogany or a mahogany and maple combination. This more permeable wood isn’t as hard, strong or stable as maple, so it isn’t appropriate for the fretboard. Mahogany has a smooth, rich tone providing good results in the lower mids. The mahogany and rosewood combination enables complex highs, luxurious lows, and a pleasing midrange that isn’t thick or excessively boxy.
You can find this as either a full neck with fretboard, or as a neck with a different kind of wood for the fretboard (such as pau ferro or rosewood). Maple is the most widely chosen type of wood used for necks in solid guitars. A solid maple neck will produce tightness and cut, with a bit of pizzazz in the highs with firm lows. The high-end tone is generally not as over the top as you might believe, though it is a characteristically bright neck-wood option. Mids generally have a more snappy attack, as well as a punchy, somewhat gnarly edge when the strings are picked especially hard, but excellent clearness with lighter picking. If you go with pau ferro, which is dense and tight grained, you can expect some chunky lows, an airy midrange, and muscular lower-mids. With rosewood, you’ll enjoy a tonal character that is warmer and sweeter that softens up the solid maple sound.
The ideal way to shop for an electric guitar is to actually play them in the store. If you play two with different neck woods, you should be able to immediately recognize the tonal differences. It isn’t a bad idea to try a couple different ones in each wood type because finishes and body shapes can also affect tone. When you find the one that sounds right to you and feels right, you’ll know it. If you take the time to do this, you’ll keep playing it for years to come instead of turning it into a home décor item.
Your Turn to Sound Off!
What type of Fretboard wood do you prefer?