If you’re looking at getting a new guitar you might be deciding on which type of fretboard is best. Ebony vs Rosewood fretboards are often compared as they provide a similar aesthetic relative to a bright light colored maple necks you might otherwise see.
While both are great options, there are differences you might like to know before you purchase your next guitar.
These differences are minimal, and how the manufacturer crafts the guitar will make more of an impact on tone, feel and playability, than the choice in wood.
Is ebony fretboard better than rosewood
Ebony seems to have an advantage over rosewood in terms of fretboard consistency and playability. However, tone is subjective and preferences may vary.
In this paper, they dive into just this topic. What they found was that ebony provided more consistency, and has less dead spots on the fretboard.
That being said, they also mentioned that how the luther or guitar maker crafts the fretboard, and other materials like hardware and fret wire makes more of a impact on tone than ebony vs rosewood.
Musicians love to say they can hear the subtle differences between this or that. If you tell me you can distinguish the difference between ebony vs rosewood in a blind sound test like the study did, I’d find it hard to believe.
We’re not even talking about the whole neck here, just the fretboard. I you’ve trained your ear to distinguish between the two woods, that’s great but I feel like my own time would be better served doing something else.
With that rant out of the way, ebony is said to have a faster attack, purer and crisper tone. VS rosewood fretboards where the tone is going to come brighter, warmer and with more overtones.
If you really want to test the differences head down to your local shop and try to find the same model of guitar made with different neck material.
That’s the best and probably the best comparison you’ll be able to get, otherwise, here’s a video on just this topic:
How can you tell the difference between a ebony and a rosewood fretboard
Ebony is a darker color than rosewood, which is usually a brownish-red. Rosewood typically provides warmer brighter tones, vs ebony offers purer crisp tones with less overtones.
Of course they might have applied a stain to the wood, but typically you should be able to visually spot the difference between an ebony fretboard and a rosewood fretboard quite easily.
You should know that some cheaper guitars use a composite fretboard that is simply black in color. So, not every black or super dark fretboard is going to be ebony.
While playing you may notice a faster attack with ebony.
Personally, my daily driver has a rosewood fretboard. I really like the feel of the grain on rosewood.
Ebony and maple fretboards feel more slick and refined. Rosewood you can feel the grain pattern pop and has a more “earthy” feel.
Having played ebony and maple fretboard before, I’m not a diehard for any one type, but rosewood would be my preference for an acoustic guitar.
If we want an electric I’d go with ebony or maple, depends on the guitar I suppose.
Is Ebony harder than Rosewood
Yes, ebony is one of the hardest woods in existance and is much harder than rosewood. For fretboards, how much this should impact your choice of materials is marginal.
Ebony is going to be more durable, which is something we’ll get into later, but the hardness of wood is increased with ebony.
Hardness of course can affect tone, and is one of the main reasons why there are differences between the two woods. Also, why you see only a few other varieties of wood used for the fretboards along with ebony and rosewood.
Maple is also a common choice for fretboard wood. I’m of the opinion that the selection of fretboard wood is more of an aesthetic choice by the guitar maker than a choice in tone and resonance.
Dark colored guitars are often matched with ebony, lighter guitars matched with the light maple, and rosewood for the medium to dark colors.
Ebony vs rosewood fretboard wear
The kinds of wood used to make your guitar will impact a lot of things in the look and feel of your guitar.
Over the long term you might also want to consider the wear and tear on your guitar, as some types of wood are better for this than others.
The difference in fretboard wood do add up, but looking at just the longevity and wear makes ebony wood superior. In fact for wear, rosewood fingerboards are probably the least durable.
However, we’re talking minimal and unless you’re playing your guitar for hours a day for 20 years, straight, you’re not going to notice a big difference for wear. The cool thing with ebony is that its hardness makes it durable even when thin.
Ebony fingerboard is usually the most common type of wood used for “scalloped” frets. Fretboards where the wood is carved out of the middle of the fret.
This is done to ensure the string only contacts the metal of the fret and not the wood. There’s a lot of cool thing you can do with a scalloped neck, but that’s for another day.
A guitar made by a reputable luthier is going to last you decades regardless of the choices of fretboard wood. Every popular fretboard wood will offer a guitar neck that will last you year and will not likely need replacing.
Therefore, if you’re looking into the materials that make up a guitar neck, and fretboard, don’t dwell too much on the durability, as the differences are minimal.
Overall, the choice of wood for your fretboard isn’t going to make or break the guitar. Ebony offers a “purer” tone if that’s what you’re looking for, rosewood is going to give you a warmer experience.
Whether you’ll be able to hear a noticable difference if your fretboard is made of ebony vs rosewood is entirely up to you and your preferences.