Maple vs. Rosewood Fretboard | The Ultimate Showdown!

The maple vs. rosewood fretboard debate is hotly contested. You’ll find no shortage of thoughts and opinions on which is better and why.

If you’re wondering what fretboard material you should get with your next guitar purchase, this blog post is for you!

I’ll be exploring the differences between these two popular materials and taking an in-depth look at what makes them unique. I’m also going to throw in a few alternatives you should consider as this debate of rosewood vs. maple goes beyond these woods.

The winner of this debate will surprise you, so without further ado… let’s begin!

All Killer, No Filler; The Answer Revealed!

For most of you reading, you won’t need to spend the time researching all the nitty-gritty details of the Maple vs. Rosewood fingerboard debate.

So TL;DR, there is no winner. In fact, if you make your purchasing decision based on the “tone” it gives guitars, you’ll be surprised to hear that the fretboard material you choose doesn’t make much of a difference.

If you don’t believe me, check out this video from Darrel Braun Guitar. You tell me that you got a 100% hit rate on the blind test, then I’ll eat my words 🙂

At the end of the day, it comes down to how these fretboards feel under your fingers and the aesthetic. If you think it will make a massive difference to your guitar’s tone, you might go down the wrong rabbit hole for what will move the needle with your sound.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into the differences between maple and rosewood fretboards.

Characteristics of Maple Fretboards

Maple tonewood is known to have a neutral, balanced, and articulate sound. There is little coloration and overtones, and because of maple’s density and less sustain, it’s often found on performance guitars as a body wood. This is because of the projection and ability to cut through a dense mix of instruments.

Maple fretboards share similar characteristics to guitar bodies built with maple. Maple’s response has a quick, immediate, and snappy sound.

Playability of a Maple Fretboard

Maple is a porous wood and needs to be protected from moisture. So guitar manufacturers will use a polyurethane, polyester, or nitrocellulose lacquer finish to coat a maple fingerboard.

This gloss finish will give a maple fretboard a more slick and plasticky feel. Some guitar players enjoy the glide of a maple neck, but others may find it either too slippery or sticky depending on the oils of your skin.

Maple is also commonly used as the neck material on guitars. So when you purchase a guitar that features maple, it’s often a one-piece maple neck. Meaning it’s one solid piece of wood. This is unlike a rosewood fretboard guitar, where the neck and the fretboard could be made of a different material.

I have never felt much of a difference between a maple or rosewood fretboard, so when it comes to what feels more comfortable for you to play, I recommend going and demoing a couple of electric guitars at your local guitar store.

Hard Maple vs. Silver Maple

Guitar manufacturers building guitars with a maple fretboard will use either hard or silver maple.

Hard maple is more durable, exotic looking, and expensive than silver maple. Silver maple, also known as soft maple, is more forgiving to work with, and there’s more available. It’s often used as a cheaper alternative for budget guitars.

If you’re purchasing a famous name-brand guitar, like Fender, you’ll most likely get a hard maple fretboard.

It’s also worth noting that silver maple is still a dense wood and can play great. The shortcomings will depend on how well the guitar was made.

Does Maple Grain Pattern Effect Tone?

One of the draws of maple is the various and beautiful, looking grain patterns. Guitars that use exceptional-looking grain can be more expensive, even though the tone is the same compared to less aesthetically looking maple.

So the question is, does grain pattern positively or negatively impact the tone of your guitar?


You won’t see the noticeable grain on maple fretboards due to the dense fibers that easily get caught and torn apart by tools.

For this reason, the looks of maple become a more significant player when used as a body or top wood tonewood.

However, This doesn’t mean you won’t find guitar fretboards with a pattern; it’s just not going to be as common.

The most popular patterns are:

Curly, Tiger, Flamed

The most common maple patterns you’ll find on guitars.

This is a close-up picture of an electric guitar. It is a Les Paul style guitar highlighting a flamed maple top. It's orange and red.


One of the rarest and most beautiful figure patterns. Also very expensive.

A product photo of an electric guitar. This guitar is an LTD that has a quilted maple body. The guitar is grey and black in color.


Birdseye is a rare pattern and is said to be in 1% of veneer harvest.

This is a close up photo of maple wood. It is demonstrating the figure grain pattern of birds eye.


This black marble pattern is distinct but rare and difficult to find. However, it makes for a very unique and eye-catching guitar. Woodshop News compares finding Spalted Maple to finding truffles in the forest.

A close-up of a yellow bass guitar. This guitar has a spalted maple top that has a dark grain pattern.

Maintaining Maple Fretboards

The first thing guitar players should always do before playing is wash their hands. This will remove dirt and oils from rubbing off onto the guitar fretboard.

To maintain a maple fretboard specifically, you should wipe it down with a dry lint-free microfiber cloth after playing.

If your maple fretboard has a gloss finish, you can use any standard fretboard cleaner meant for finished woods.

You shouldn’t use lemon oil when cleaning a finished maple fretboard, as oils are meant to hydrate wood. But since maple is already finished and protected from moisture, this is unnecessary.

However, suppose you have an unfinished maple fretboard (roasted maple). In that case, you will want to use some lemon oil to help keep the neck moisturized. You’ll want to apply a conditioning oil treatment to your fretboard every 6-12 months.

Guitarist who play Maple Fretboards

Many famous musicians play guitars with maple fretboards. While it’s tough to say if these players are actively choosing to play a guitar with a maple fretboard, or if it is just the nature of the kinds of guitars they play is up for debate.

However, here’s a list of a few famous players who are seen shredding on maple fretboards.

  • Eric Clapton
  • Eddie Van Halen
  • Dan Auerbach
  • Keith Urban
  • David Gilmore
  • Tom Petty
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Buddy Guy
  • Adam Hann


What is roasted maple?

Roasted maple is when the wood is heated up to remove sugars and moisture. This process makes the wood a dark caramel-brown color and is more resistant to moisture.

Roasted maple fretboards tend to be unfinished and must be maintained with oil. Some also claim that roasted maple gives a guitar a more “vintage” sound.

Guitars with roasted maple are also more expensive than non-roasted maple.

Can you get a guitar with a non-finished maple fretboard?

Yes. Roasted maple fretboards are often unfinished but are more expensive and less common on your standard electric guitar.

However, some players who don’t like the gloss feel of maple fretboards will sand off the gloss to make it feel more natural.

Pros & Cons


  • Has a quick, immediate, and snappy sound
  • Doesn’t color the sound
  • If it has a gloss finish, it is very easy to clean and maintain
  • Slick feel


  • Some players don’t like the feeling of a gloss finish
  • Bends can be harder to control due to the slickness
  • Shows wear and tear quicker than rosewood

Characteristics of Rosewood Fretboards

Rosewood, as a tonewood, is known for having a warm and mellow sound. It has a slight scoop in the midrange when used as a back and sides wood for an acoustic guitar.

As a fretboard material, rosewood has similar sound characteristics, but it won’t be as dramatic.

A rosewood fretboard has more overtones than maple and will have a more rounded sound. You lose some note articulation but gain a smoothness that reduces harshness in high-frequencies.

It’s also worth noting that a rosewood board is often placed on top of a neck of different wood materials. So the sound characteristics will change depending on what neck wood is used.

These differences are subtle, so take it with a pinch of salt when doing your rosewood vs. maple comparison.

Playability of Rosewood Fretboards

Since rosewood is an open-grained wood, it will have a bit more grip and “push back” than maple. Some players may even describe the feeling as spongey.

This “sponginess” gives a rosewood fretboard more control over dynamic playing, like bends and slides.

Common Types of Rosewood

Rosewood has various species. While some are becoming increasingly difficult to find in new guitars, you’ll see a few different varieties thrown around in marketing material, and it’s good to know a bit about what you’re buying.

The most common rosewood fingerboards are:

Indian Rosewood

This is the most common and popular species for a rosewood fretboard. While it’s been added to CITES Appendix II, the use of Indian Rosewood is becoming less common due to additional restrictions.

A closeup picture of a guitar fretboard made with Indian Rosewood.

Honduran Rosewood

Honduran rosewood is rare because of restrictions from overharvesting. It can still be purchased from reputable dealers and is often used on premium acoustic guitars as the back and sides tonewood.

A product photo of an acoustic guitar. This guitar is a Taylor that has a Honduran Rosewood back.

Brazilian Rosewood

Brazilian rosewood has been used on many vintage electric and acoustic guitars. It’s also been illegal to harvest, export, and sell since 1992 after being declared endangered.

Guitars can still be sold legally with Brazilian rosewood if they have a CITES certificate. Still, you are going to pay a premium for this wood.

This picture shows the back of an acoustic guitar that is in a small room with a teal background. The picture shows the back of the acoustic guitar highlighting a beautiful brazilian rosewood tonewood.

Rosewood Sustainability

While rosewood has been the standard for guitar fingerboards, overharvesting has put some Rosewood species on the endangered list.

Brazilian rosewood is only allowed in manufacturing if you have a CITES certificate stating it was harvested before 1992.

Other species, like Indian Rosewood, have been added to CITES as endangered species. Still, these regulations are more relaxed on guitar manufacturers than with Brazilian rosewood.

For this reason, many guitar manufacturers are moving away from using rosewood and opting to use alternatives instead.


With new guitars, often, that dark-colored fingerboard wood isn’t rosewood at all. Guitar companies are using alternatives due to rosewood overharvesting or other premium woods favored by guitarists.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, here are a few popular alternatives:


Ebony is a dense, dark, and durable hardwood. Ebony’s smooth, glass-like texture produces a balanced and articulate tone.

A guitar with an ebony fretboard plays like a dream and is often found on high-end acoustic and electric guitars.

However, because of overharvesting, Ebony is considered endangered. However, Bob Taylor (of Taylor Guitars) has led the charge in sustainable Ebony harvesting to ensure that this fantastic wood can be used for guitar fretboards without depleting the earth’s resources.

Pau Ferro

Pau Ferro has become one of the most popular fretboard materials to replace rosewood after Fender Guitars’ introduction.

Pau Ferro is slightly lighter in color than rosewood but has a snappy attack like maple, but rosewood’s warm and sweet tones. It also has a smoother feel than rosewood, likened to Ebony.

Suppose you’re looking at purchasing a new guitar, especially from Fender, most likely. In that case, you’re going to get a Pau Ferro fingerboard.

A close up shot of a bass guitar that has a Pau Ferro fretboard. The background is a beige couch.


Indian Laurel has been used as a fretboard wood for more affordable models of guitars from Fender, Epiphone, and Gretsch, to name a few.

It has a similar look and feel to rosewood and is affordable and easy to work with.

A close up shot of a bass guitar that has a Laurel fretboard. The background is a beige couch.

Maintaining Rosewood Fretboards

The first thing guitar players should always do before playing is wash their hands. This will remove dirt and oils from rubbing off onto the guitar fretboard.

To maintain a rosewood fretboard specifically, you should wipe it down with a dry lint-free microfiber cloth after playing.

For a more in-depth clean, use 0000 steel wool to get access build-up and goop off the fingerboard, and then apply lemon oil to rehydrate the wood.

You should do a good cleaning of your rosewood fretboard around every 6 months.

Guitarist who play rosewood fretboards

Many famous musicians play guitars with rosewood fretboards. While it’s tough to say if these players are actively choosing to play a guitar with a rosewood fretboard or if it is just the nature of the kinds of guitars they play is up for debate.

However, here’s a list of a few famous players who are seen shredding on rosewood fretboards.

  • John Mayer
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Jeff Beck
  • Pete Townsend
  • Angus Young
  • Slash
  • B.B. King
  • Joey Landreth


Is rosewood more dense than maple?

Rosewood is a softer and less dense tonewood than maple. However, this is only by a slim margin, and the weight difference will be negligible

Why did guitar builders stop using rosewood?

Guitar builders stopped using rosewood for fingerboards due to rising concerns about the depletion of rosewood species.
For example, Indian rosewood, formerly one of the most popular options for fretboards, is now listed on the CITES Appendix II list and is subject to regulations limiting its export and sale. However, as of 2019, there has been an exemption on Rosewood Fingerboard guitars for exporting.

But due to overharvesting and regulations, guitar builders are turning increasingly towards alternative materials such as Pau Ferro.

Pros & Cons


  • Has a mellower and rounder tone compared to maple
  • Unfinished rosewood is easier to control bends and slides
  • Smooths out harsher high-frequencies
  • It is paired with different neck woods, making it more sonically diverse than a one-piece maple neck


  • Overharvesting has made rosewood challenging to source
  • Because it’s rare, it makes guitars more expensive
  • You have to be more diligent in cleaning a rosewood fretboard compared to a finished maple fretboard

The Bottom Line

Though the debate about a maple vs. rosewood fretboard will continue, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter much at the end of the day.

There will be playability and feel differences between to two, but when it comes to tone…it’s debatable.

Ultimately, it will come down to personal preference. If you’re looking for a specific tone, you’re better served modifying other areas of your guitar.

If you want to dive deeper into guitar options for both electric and acoustic guitars for all different types of use cases, please refer to my buying guide resources by clicking these links:

Buying guides for acoustic guitars

Buying guides for electric guitars

Thanks for reading!

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Brad Johnson
Brad is the creator of Song Production Pros. He writes songs and surfs on the weekends when he's not too busy with family or this website. He writes music under the moniker FJ Isles, and can be heard on all streaming services.

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