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Ebony or maple fretboard for a Strat?

Discussion in 'Stratocaster Discussion Forum' started by joebloggs, Jan 2, 2018.

  1. lonegroover

    lonegroover Senior Stratmaster

    Mar 5, 2016
    Yes, but the way the strings vibrate is undoubtedly influenced by the materials they are in contact with - directly, or indirectly. The frets, the bridge, the nut, the fingerboard your fingers, sometimes your right palm and so on.
    s5tuart and knh555 like this.
  2. knh555

    knh555 Senior Stratmaster

    Dec 6, 2016
    I'm looking at it from a systems engineering perspective. The fingerboard is part of the physical/acoustic guitar and its construction. I think there's some truth in how people talk of making one change at a time such as fretboard material, cap values, pickups, etc, and seeing how things change, but the variance on the change for each of these parts may be bigger than the desired outcome. Only by really looking at it from a systems engineering perspective will you really understand. It's similar to the violinist auditioning dozens of bows to best match a bow to both his or her playing style and the instrument itself. Same goes for the wood in a guitar, whatever the amplitude of its effect on tone.

    In the end, I simply buy guitars that play and sound well and don't mess with them too much after that. Those represent well-functioning systems, once set-up properly of course.
  3. Groovey

    Groovey Most Honored Senior Member

    Nov 17, 2016
    NC. USA
    The system, ie., string, nut, finger, fret, bridge, pickup.
  4. Groovey

    Groovey Most Honored Senior Member

    Nov 17, 2016
    NC. USA
    Ooh, forgot one. Plectrum. Whatever it may be.
  5. Fuzzpop

    Fuzzpop Ryan-Ola Silver Member

    Aug 14, 2012
    Washington, D.C.
    There we go. Definitely way too many factors to isolate what the fretboard wood does to a guitar. Pickups are the most important thing to the sound for me and pretty much everything else is about either feel (very important) or function (good tuners/bridge for stability). But a far as tone goes, to me it's all the pickups and the fingers.
    Groovey likes this.
  6. Teleplayer

    Teleplayer Strat-O-Master

    May 29, 2012
    Sydney, Australia
    I have had two guitars with ebony finger boards. The first one was a musikraft custom build that i have since sold. The other is a warmoth build that i have swapped necks across different bodies and actually replaced with an identical spec Warmoth neck except for fingerboard material. Both necks had Warmoth vintage/modern trussrod.

    My opinion:
    1. Ebony finger board accentuates brightness. If the guitar is made from hard, bright woods, the ebony fingerboard will make it even brighter.

    2. For a strat or tele, I dont recommed ebony fingerboard. It can create a thin tone with undesirable top end brightness. If you feel that you want a strat/tele with ebony fingerboard, you will probably be better off with Pau Ferro instead. Pau Ferro has similar smooth feel, is also relatively strong and heavy, but it is not as bright in tone.

    3. I finally found a good use for my warmoth neck with maple back and ebony fingerboard. I use it with a hardtail mahogany strat body that weighs 5lb for the body alone. I think the mahogany softens the top end and gives a rich, balanced tone. If you look at guitars from major manufacturers it is common to pair a mahogany body with ebony fingerboard, and to me it seems a very deliberate choice.
    Groovey likes this.
  7. BryMelvin

    BryMelvin Strat-O-Master

    Feb 13, 2014
    That's stretching to the extreme with the sound deadening rubber instead of a conducting wood of any type.

    However I have played (son owns) an ovation applause with an aluminum neck, resin body sand wood top. that doesn't sound very different than any other piezo equipped acoustic. He also has an early Dean superstrat with graphite fingerboard.

    It sounds like any other emg equipped shredder superstrat. There are resin supros etc.

    I would say you can make an adequate guitar out of any material that isn't sound deadening.
  8. smithstrato

    smithstrato Senior Stratmaster

    Aug 25, 2013
    Para Para
    Ebony would be my choice. I like the look . Some ebonys were discarded because of lighter grains running through dark.. I like the look and have some on my early G&L"s. It feels like maple to me with no finish.
  9. tanner1

    tanner1 New Member!

    May 18, 2014
    I have purchased 5 Strats in the last 4 years. 1 mim, 3 CV and 1 American special. All with maple fretboards except for I strat cv with ebony fretboard. I can't tell any tone difference. I just sold the cv with ebony fretboard. I can't get the feel from ebony as I can with Maple. I just purchased another CV Strat from Sweetwater it has a fender free lessons as the sticker on pick guard. Where can I purchase a cv sticker? A little off the cuff but.....
  10. lonegroover

    lonegroover Senior Stratmaster

    Mar 5, 2016
    Yes, I did that to demonstrate that non-metal materials make a difference to the way an electric guitar sounds through an amplifier.
  11. lonegroover

    lonegroover Senior Stratmaster

    Mar 5, 2016
    I suppose I am as well; I am one.
    knh555 likes this.
  12. rocknrollrich

    rocknrollrich Senior Stratmaster

    Jan 8, 2016
    I would vote ebony.
    I've never played a strat with ebony, but my Gibson Lp is a 1979, with an ebony board. It is hands down the slickest, best feeling, best looking fretboard I've ever played on.
    As far as it drying out or frets popping out, I've had zero problems. Zero.
    And the guitar is 39 years old.
    I put a little mineral oil on it once a year, right before winter.
    smithstrato and Groovey like this.
  13. Malurkey

    Malurkey Senior Stratmaster

    Dec 28, 2016
    “Well, you see honey, this guitar has an ebony fretboard instead of a maple one, which makes it sound very different. That’s why I need both!”

    I’m a supporting member of the tone woods matter movement!
  14. Stratoman10

    Stratoman10 Most Honored Senior Member Strat-Talk Supporter

    Aug 24, 2015
    Va. Beach, Va
    Just pick a guitar you like because of how it sounds and feels in your hands. All the maple, rosewood, ebony stuff is just a distraction to me
    brians likes this.
  15. rocknrollrich

    rocknrollrich Senior Stratmaster

    Jan 8, 2016
    A quick opinion about fretboards and tone.
    I don't subscribe to the "Its only the pickups that affect tone".

    That's a ludicrous notion imho. in everything..... your guitar is made from will affect it's tone.

    How much and it what way? I have no idea. For better or worse? I have no idea. But I am 100% sure it all matters to some extent.

    I have guitars with ash, alder, walnut, basswood, and plywood construction.
    Heck, I even have a 60s danelectro that is made from Formica or something.

    They all sound vastly different from each other. And yes, on a few of them I have swapped pickups back and forth.

    According to the logic that "A pickup only cares about the metal strings vibrating over them"
    any guitar with pickup x, will sound exactly the same as any other guitar with pickup x.
    Well, my ears definitely disagree.

    Yeah, wood matters. It all matters.
    Is ebony brighter than some other wood? Maybe, and maybe not.
    A lot of factors go into a guitars tone.
    Wood type, is without a doubt, one of those factors.
    So much for a "quick opinion", but I just calls 'em as I sees 'em.
  16. jvin248

    jvin248 Senior Stratmaster

    Jan 10, 2014

    'Stick with Maple' :)

    Ebony, PF, and Rosewood are all rain forest trees. Do you really want to encourage use of any of those? Every guitar ordered is a vote one way or the other telling the factories to keep getting that wood or not. It's like demanding Rhino Horn. Those trees take a lot longer to grow to lumber size too, even for the 'managed' forests.

    Maple is a local wood creating Canadian jobs (I'd say US but I suspect most comes from Canada)

    Maple fingerboard on a Maple neck will expand and contract together, two different woods will tend to warp through the seasons as they want to do something different from each other. The finish on a Maple neck tends to retard humidity changes too.

    So even if there were tonal differences between fingerboards (or necks or bodies) due to woods, do you want to get involved with those other issues? Especially when there are so many arguments for/against who can hear a difference or not.


  17. rocknrollrich

    rocknrollrich Senior Stratmaster

    Jan 8, 2016
    I have never had a problem with the different woods expanding/contracting at different rates causing any kind of warp.
    The fact that it is common practice to build guitars, violins, cellos etc and has been common practice for a very long time, seems to be a good indication that warping isn't a problem.
    I do however think you are probably right about how the wood is harvested and such.
    You raise a good point about that. Truthfully, I never thought about it in those terms before. If we demand rain forest woods, they'll cut down more of those woods. And I don't particularly think they'll do it responsibly either. Even if they claim to.
    Thanks for raising that point. It just made me rethink my future choices.
  18. Paperback Rocker

    Paperback Rocker Nitro-mancer Strat-Talk Supporter

    Sep 18, 2014
    Lewisville, TX
  19. RaySachs

    RaySachs Strat-O-Master

    Jun 25, 2017
    Philly area
    Fingerboards and necks are all about feel to me. If they make any difference in sound it’s lost on me - mere background noise relative to the differences caused by different body types and pickups and whether there’s a tremolo on the guitar. In terms of feel I like both maple and ebony a lot and generally not rosewood. Most rosewood boards are too grabby and frictiony for me, but I’ve played a few that felt tight and smooth like ebony. And I don’t mind them on acoustics because I don’t bend and slide as much on acoustics and that’s where rosewood bugs me.

    But, hey, it’s just personal preference and there’s no right answer. So what do YOU like?
  20. Stratdejavu

    Stratdejavu Strat-Talker

    Dec 31, 2017
    Appreciate the comprehensive explanation and clarifying your preferance for rosewood over maple. You did mention that you took into considerations other factors that could also determine the tone of the guitar like FB wood, Pickups. I’m sure you’re aware of other factors though like string guage, amp settings and sometimes pick design/thickness, picking method, ....etc. I personally just find it hard to grasp the logic where the tone of rosewood is better than maple (or vise versa) knowing that there are some other factors that can also determine the tone of a guitar. The only logical thing IMO where someone favors rosewood over maple or the other way round is for cosmetic/aesthetic reasons.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018