Does Guitar Fretboard Material Affect Sound? Is my question. Specifically I'm asking about electric guitars and maple vs. rosewood vs. ebony. And wood necks, not aluminum. Not asking about thick vs. thin frets, just the fretboard material. Thank you!

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    You could make an argument that since frets don't provide ideal vibrational nodes, the density of the wood affects the way the frets vibrate, impacting the sound of the instrument. Whether this would cause an audible difference or dominate other factors is another matter. There seems to be a difference in tone, but this could be in my head. There definitely is a difference in the way it feels to play on different woods (or maybe this is in my head, too). No one can argue that the different woods don't wear differently. But, who cares? Play on the guitars that sound and feel right to you. – David Bowling Sep 18 '18 at 1:22
  • I'm not trying to select an instrument, just asking. After playing a rosewood Telecaster for years I've now got a maple version, unfortunately I can't compare the two side by side. (Never sell your ______) – Bruno Botticelli Sep 18 '18 at 6:07
  • @DavidBowling - is 'vibrational node' an oxymoron? At a node, there's no vibration, surely? Who cares? Not me! I'd challenge someone to a blindfold test. There may be minimal difference, but that's going to be overshadowed by many other factors. – Tim Sep 18 '18 at 6:55
  • @IamaGuest -- This is an issue that sparks endless and senseless debate. Most wouldn't claim more than a small difference, some will demand scientific study, others will point to pretend-scientific studies done in someones bedroom. If I feel like this instrument is brighter than that instrument, there is no point in getting out the calipers: hearing is good enough. I might feel differently on different days. I think that any answers that you get on this topic will just be opinion. – David Bowling Sep 18 '18 at 7:45
  • I have a Strat with a maple fingerboard, and a Strat with a rosewood fingerboard, and the main difference to me is that the maple fingerboard feels somehow bouncier or more lively under the fingers. I also have a guitar with an ebony fingerboard, and that feels different than the other two, but maple seems most distinctive to me. I always feel like I play a little differently when I get on a maple fingerboard, and they always sound slightly brash to me. Whether this feeling is based in physical fact or psychology, I don't care. That is my experience with fingerboard woods. – David Bowling Sep 18 '18 at 7:45

As pointed out in the comments, this is a contentious question (though not as bad as "tonewood" for the body of the guitar). Some people (in particular manufacturers and sellers of electric guitars) insist that of course there is a difference. Others point to the lack of reproducible tests with proper protocol that would show a difference.

Looking at it from a physical perspective: the amplified sound of an electric guitar is generated by the motion of the strings in the magnetic field of the pickups, which is then picked up by the PUs, filtered in the electronics and modified in various ways by the amplifier, cab etc. The movement of the wooden parts only play a role insofar as they absorb energy from the movement of the strings - i.e., any energy that is transmitted into the neck or body is, for all practical purposes, lost to the sound of the guitar. The two main points where energy can be transferred from the string into the wood are the bridge and the fret.

So in principle, if you had a fret that was anchored in a rubber-like material, it would probably absorb quite a bit of the vibrational energy, leading to faster decay and (depending on the frequency dependence of the absorption) probably a duller tone.

However, no one uses rubber for their fretboards. The commonly used woods are reasonably hard (for obvious reasons), and I would not expect a significant difference in sound - significant as in, you can reliably hear a difference, let alone one that cannot be compensated by a tweak of the tone pot.

I would also expect the size, material, and finish of the frets to make at least as much of a difference - after all, they are in direct contact with the strings - but you don't see a lot of marketing hype around "tone frets". Also, there are at least a dozen factors that have been shown to have a detectable influence on the sound of a guitar, so don't worry too much about the ones that seem to be more in the realm of speculation.

  • More likely the material used in the neck affects how easy it is to bend the neck & thus move the pitch rather than the tone. – Carl Witthoft Sep 18 '18 at 13:05
  • Thank you for you healthy size answer Richard, and please note that I don't have a position on this; I'm not a gold-cable audiophile, but at the end of the day what you "expect" isn't an answer. We part as friends! And Carl, I think the truss rod gets the deciding vote on how far you can bend the neck. – Bruno Botticelli Sep 18 '18 at 19:28

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