There are multiple factors that play a role in the look, feel and sound of an instrument, one of which is the choice of wood for the fingerboard. Whether it’s the feel of the wood, the tonal qualities it imbues or even just the look, knowing which fingerboard best suits you is an important aspect in finding the perfect instrument.
While there are several different types of woods used for fingerboards, rosewood, maple, ebony and pau ferro are far and away the most common. Other wood varieties used for fingerboards are purple heart, wenge, cocobolo, padouk and bubinga but compared to the main four, they are not as widely available and therefore a bit more expensive to use, usually reserved for custom made or high end guitars. Let's take a look at how the main four stack up:
Out of all the woods available for fingerboards, rosewood is easily the most commonly found. Its natural oils and open pores give it a warm tone and smooth feel while its medium-density character make it less reflective than woods with a tighter grain. This also gives rosewood fingerboards a somewhat softer attack and feel.
Out of the different types available, Indian rosewood is the most used for fingerboards. Indian rosewood is characterized by its rich, dark brown color and even grain. It is also a widely available wood, giving it a relatively cheaper cost than other rosewood options. Brazilian rosewood is another popular choice although it’s not nearly as plentiful, making it a bit more expensive.
The most striking feature of maple fingerboards are its light colored appearance and very tight grain pattern. It’s stable and highly reflective characteristics give it a bright tonal quality. Unlike rosewood, fingerboards made out of maple require a finish because of its lack of natural oil. Gloss or satin are the most used finishes with tung oil being another common option.
Maple’s wide availability and quick re-growth make it the most sustainable wood choice. This has driven many manufacturers to experiment with different curing techniques such as backing or “torrification.” These techniques aim to give maple a softer feel and sound along with a more rosewood-like appearance. With torrification in particular, moisture is imbued into the wood so that a finish coat isn’t necessary.
Ebony fingerboards can be described as a sort of middle ground between the three, combining the natural oils of rosewood with some the hardness and density of maple. The natural oil and tight grain give ebony fingerboards a crisp, snappy tone and smooth, even feel. The striking and consistent black color of ebony fingerboards make it a popular choice for its aesthetics alone, especially among metal-centric electric guitars.
Although not as widespread as maple, rosewood and ebony, pau ferro is fast becoming a popular choice of fingerboard wood. Pau ferro is characterized by its tight grain with a similar sound and feel to rosewood, yet harder and slightly lighter in color. Tonally, pau ferro tends to have a thick low-end, prominent high-end sparkle along with a percussive attack and excellent clarity, making this wood a natural choice for use in high-gain styles such as metal and rock.
Your Turn to Sound Off!
Which fingerboard wood do you prefer and why?
Sound off in the comment section below!
You can browse our selection of instruments by fingerboard wood below!