What is the Best Guitar Fretboard Wood?

Published Categorized as Buying Guides, Guitar selection

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best guitar fretboard wood

The fretboard has arguably the most influence over playability than any other part of the guitar. So what the fretboard (a.k.a. fingerboard) is made of will have a significant influence over the overall playability of a guitar.

The purpose of this post is to discuss what the best guitar fretboard wood is.

First let’s look at why the fretboard is so important.

Why Worry about the Fretboard’s Material?

The action of the guitar, the size of the neck, the strings you are using and the shape of the body all have some influence on the playability of the guitar.

But none quite so much as the fretboard – except perhaps the action but this is much more easily remedied (replacing the fretboard of a guitar is a much more difficult task!)

The material used can also have an effect on the guitars tone – so your choice of fretboard will also somewhat depend on the tone you are looking for – though there are other factors that will have a more profound effect on the guitars tone than the fretboard.

So What’s the Best Material?

A fretboard’s surface needs to be:

  • Durable (it’s got strings constantly pressing into it)
  • Assist in playability (no one likes a fretboard that is ‘sticky’)
  • Compliments the tone you are looking for

So what materials achieve this? Let’s look at the three most common fretboard materials, what makes them good, and their relative differences so you can see what might be best for your purposes.


maple fretboard

Maple is a common fretboard material on electric guitars but is scarcely seen on acoustics. It is typically used when the neck is made out of maple (again much more common on electrics than acoustic) and not often as a separate piece glued to a different neck wood.

Of the 3 woods here maple is the only one that requires finishing in order to protect it. Some people can find this finish ‘sticky’ to play. A lot of people use some form of ‘fast fret’ spray on maple fretboards for a smoother, faster slicker playing experience. Again though this is typically just an electric guitar thing.

This finish does make fretboard care easy as it acts as protection from drying out or getting damaged and so maple fretboards don’t require the same conditioning as unfinished fretboards.

Tone-wise Maple has a bright sound with a lot of overtones. The grain and the pores in maple are very tight meaning that very little overtone is absorbed into the wood.

Maple is naturally a light coloured wood as you can see in the image to the right.


Ebony fretboard

Like Maple, Ebony is a dense and hard wood that supports a bright sound that some say is slightly less bright than maple and others say is even brighter.

However, unlike Maple, and more like Rosewood, Ebony does not require finishing and is naturally lubricated from the oil in your fingers (another reason to play it often!). This gives it a naturally slick, fast and smooth feel.

Ebony is also less prone to drying out than rosewood and therefore requires less conditioning. But it still needs conditioning from time to time – at least once a year and maybe more depending on your climate.

Ebony is the darkest of the 3 woods here so if you like that darker look on your fretboard then this could be another consideration.


Rosewood fretboard

Rosewood helps to produce a warm tone. By far the warmest of the fretboard materials here. Rosewood has very oily pores which absorb some of those overtones for that rich warm sound. If this is the sound for you or if you are looking to ‘warm up’ a brighter sounding guitar then rosewood is a good option.

Like Ebony it does not require finishing and is naturally slick. However, it is more prone to drying out than Ebony so requires more maintenance to keep it in its best condition. This is pretty easy to do though.

Rosewood (more so Indian Rosewood) is the most common fretboard material and in terms of color is darker than maple but not as dark as ebony.

(If you’re interested, I also wrote about Rosewood in my blog comparison of Rosewood vs Mahogany)

Other Materials

These days some fretboards are being made from synthesized materials such as Micarta – which is essentially a synthetic wood – or Black Richlite.

Some people won’t even consider a material like this on their fretboard. I played a Martin recently with a Black Richlite fretboard and I actually really enjoyed playing on it. I thought I was a wood snob but I could be changing my ways!

I haven’t personally tried a Micarta fretboard but most of the feedback I here is that it actually plays and sounds quite good.

So I definitely wouldn’t turn a guitar down just because it has a non-natural fretboard.

Some people say they can’t tell the difference between these and solid wood – but I’m sure there are some purists who would disagree!

Final Say

Well thanks for reading and I hope you are now more informed about which fretboard material might suit you best.

Which fretboad do you think is the best and why? Would you ever consider a Micarta or Richlite fretboard? Have you tried Micarta or Richlite or another synthetic fretboard and can you notice the difference between it and wood?

It would be awesome to hear any opinions you have on fretboards in the comments below. Any other comments or questions also welcome.

Related about Acoustic Guitars:

Photo Credits

Top Photo by Tim Walker [CC BY 2.0], via Flikr

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)


  1. I am considering purchasing a Fender “Blackout” Stratocaster guitar which uncommonly has an ebony fingerboard. The article was interesting & I will base my purchase on playability/sound (if discernible). I have had a D28 Martin where the ebony fingerboard lifted up at many of the frets & flaked off. Otherwise all of my guitars have had ebony fingerboards & liked them very much. I like th look of ebony better than the others. But, the Stratocaster looks great with any fingerboard in my opinion. Interesting that no mention of fret material (nickel v stainless), and variability in feel/sound on various fingerboards. I have read that some believe stainless is brighter than nickel. So, if the guitar has a Maple neck/fingerboard with stainless steel fret could potentially be much brighter than nickel & rosewood. I used to think ebony was king but, it seems that may not be the case. especially, because I would prefer a warmer richer sound. The stratocaster is automatically set up to be bright and cutting anyways. I still think ebony looks the best.

    1. Hey Joel

      Funny you mention it, I’ve been thinking about adding in some things or writing a separate post regarding fret materials.

      You’re right that Strats are set up to be bright sounding already. Personally I find ebony to be the nicest to play. And personally I find it to be warmer sounding than maple but not as warm as rosewood. However, the effect of the fingerboard on the sound isn’t that profound – as it is with the soundboard and back and sides when talking acoustics. For electrics it may have a greater effect. I personally don’t notice too much difference sound-wise on acoustics but do notice the difference in playability.

  2. Thanks for an interesting article Nate. I’ve just taken custody of an Indian Rosewood dining table and chair set that I plan to recycle as several guitars. I want to build one classical, one acoustic, and an experimental classical ‘parlour’ guitar of my own unique (I think?) design. I’ll use the table wood for the back, sides and fretboards. Any thoughts advice on the neck itself, and the tops? I like a warm, rich bass tone. Cheers, Sebastian (England)

    1. Hi Sebastian

      Thanks for your message.

      Note that I don’t actually build guitars, so this is just from knowledge that I’ve gained, not from actual experience of building guitars.

      For the neck for the steel string, Mahogany (american or african – both of which go by a variety of other names) would be the go to – but check out more on neck woods here – https://sixstringacoustic.com/what-is-the-best-wood-for-guitar-necks. For the classical’s again you could use Mahogany or Cedar is another good option.

      For the top for the steel string – Sitka Spruce is certainly, as you probably know, the most common pairing with Indian Rosewood – and for good reason – it’s highly available – but also because it does work well with Rosewood. Other types of Spruce like Engelmann and Adirondack are less common but give a different tone of course (and are more expensive as they’re less available) – they give a more complex sound with more overtones – something that you might like or not like. But it also depends on how you like to play – Sitka is better if you like to play more aggressively but Engelmann will sound better if you play with a lighter touch. https://sixstringacoustic.com/sitka-vs-engelmann-spruce-for-guitar-tops

      For the Classical Tops, Cedar is the go to and, IMO, has a darker, warmer, fuller tone than Spruce. Spruce is also an option for the classical tops – but possibly Engelmann Spruce would work better than Sitka in this sense – would probably also work better in terms of playability too – as you’re less likely to be strumming hard on a classical guitar – so having that response and richer tone coming from a lighter touch is probably an attractive part of Engelmann over Sitka in the case of a classical guitar.

      But those are just my thoughts, like I say, I’m not a luthier, so I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject.

  3. I need to buy a guitar, but we have only yamaha Indonesian guitars, also I am worrying about fretboard as I mostly used to play classical guitar while practicing…. Now my fingers used to classical fretboard and when I play steel strings, sound won’t come properly, due gap between strings (classical and acoustic – I hope so)

    When I play on classical sound is good and acoustic guitar won’t come better sound.

    Give me advise, before I go for new acoustic guitar

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