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Fretboard material and its effect on sound

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by BenderR, Sep 4, 2004.

  1. BenderR


    Jun 1, 2004
    Tucson, AZ
    While reading through some older posts I spotted a short sub-plot discussion of the effect of fretboard material on tone. Some folks contend that it only matters with fretless basses while others say that it matters on fretted basses as well.

    From my guitar experience I would have to say that it does matter and virtually all guitars are indeed fretted but I'd love to hear some other opinions on the matter.
  2. hyperlitem

    hyperlitem Guest

    Jul 25, 2001
    Indianapolis, IN
    i agree with you, it does matter. I do thing theres a bigger impact on a fretless instrument becuase obviosly there is more contact with the strings, but it matters on fretted basses too. I think stingrays are a great example. Play a fretted maple neck then a rosewood neck stingray and tell me it doesnt make a difference.
  3. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    I find it to make a negligible difference -- if any at all (on fretted instruments). Two basses with the same EVERYTHING are going to sound different -- they'll have the same general tone, but there will be a lot of different subtleties. So much of the sound comes from the strings, the electronics, the amp, and the hands. When you can have two basses with the exact same woods, strings, pickups, and construction methods (there will always be slight differences in the actual execution) and they can still sound different, then it seems that saying that a fingerboard will have an appreciable impact on the sound -- eg, rosewood is darker and softer sounding than maple -- is a bit hard to believe.

    Note that I haven't played any fretlesses that weren't rosewood or ebony. The only ebony fretless I played had active bassline pickups, all different construction/woods, and different strings than I was used to -- plust, I'd only been playing for a few months. Hence, I do not even remember what it sounded like.
  4. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    I am one of the heretics that believes that it makes a difference. The difference is subtle, but to my ears, it is there. I have played hundreds of rosewood, ebony and maple fingerboard fretted basses over the years. And every time, I have found identical models of basses(same brand, electronics and body wood) and found the maple board version to be brighter than the rosewood board version.

    Now I'm sure somebody will step in and call me a tone deaf moron.:bag:
  5. JPJ


    Apr 21, 2001
    Chicago, IL
    Hey Jeff....you're a tone deaf moron! :D

    Seriously, I believe that the fretboard wood has a significant impact on the overall tone of the instrument....they way the treble frequencies respond, how round or sharp the notes are, note definition, warmth, clarity....however you want to describe it. However, a lot of players don't hear these differences and others simply don't care. The bottom line is really whether you hear them, and if so, whether this different matters to you or has an impact on your opinion of the instrument in question. ;)
  6. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Play a Fender Jazz with Rosewood board and Maple board back to back.

    Too easy;)
  7. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    Yep. If you're saying what I think you are. And you being such a fan of ash/maple late 70's Jazz basses, I think you are.
  8. BenderR


    Jun 1, 2004
    Tucson, AZ
    I think that it must. I have played Fender guitars since 1972 and I have always preferred maple necked Fenders to their equivalent rosewood fingerboard model. I haven't seen that many maple-fingerboard basses in the flesh so I can't say that I've ever done a back to back test. The effect of the fingerboard wood seems to be at least as prevalent as the effect of the neck wood in my observation. I'm curious as to the reasons but I am certain that it is a combination of many factors at work.

    What I find most interesting is the fact that maple fingerboards are not more popular. I would think that the funk/slap/pop contingent would love that sound but what do I know, I thought the Internet was a fad too. :)

  9. JJd2sc


    Jul 31, 2003
    Marietta, Georgia
    I agree with hyperlitem. Play a stingray with maple and then rosewood. I can CERTAINLY hear the difference.
  10. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    i hear the difference and FEEL it.
    I find bright to warm (including finger/string noise) is Phenolic/Maple/Ebony/wenge/Rosewood
    WMMV :cool:
  11. xyllion

    xyllion Commercial User

    Jan 14, 2003
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Owner, Looperlative Audio Products
    Fretboard wood is one of many factors that make up the sound of a bass. How much difference is a matter of personal opinion. I personally find that there are other factors that have a greater impact on the sound than fretboard wood.
  12. oversoul

    oversoul fretless by fate

    Feb 16, 2004
    I also noticed a different feel after changing from maple to a purpleheart board.
  13. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    They both sound exactly like a Stingray to me.

    No, I'm not just putting this thread in perspective. My point is that fretboard wood is near the bottom of factors that influence tone. Sure, I've heard basses with maple fretboards that sound brighter than those with rosewood. I've also heard basses with rosewood boards that sound brighter than their maple-boarded siblings.

    Fretboards with glossy finishes sometimes offer a bit more sizzle when the bass is played unplugged... my theory is that string buzz and whatnot is reflected better by the smooth surface. However that reflected sizzle isn't sensed by the pickups. Remove the frets and the board *does* affect how the string vibrates.
  14. jeff schmidt

    jeff schmidt no longer red carded, but my butt is still sore.

    Aug 27, 2004
    Novato, CA
    While it's true that even 2 basses made from the same slab of wood will sound different - the general "snappy-ness" of maple fingerboards on fretted bass cannot be denied.

    Maple (when played with the same force and style) will yield notes that have a much larger and sharper attack profile than darker wood boards where the transient is less pronounced.

    The snappy-ness of maple boards may be mitigated or accentuated by various other design features including bridge material, body and top wood, neck wood, electronics, strings and even the playing technique of the player and the gear it's runnign thru.

    But as a general idea - maple fingerboards will predictably contribute a DEGREE of top end sizzle and snap to the overall bass design.

    Of course . . . . I could be wrong - just not about any of the basses I've owned. ;)
  15. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    i say we get over it and start making basses out of styrofoam, paper mache', and plastic.........................
  16. Jeff Rader

    Jeff Rader Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2000
    Lone Star State
    Everything makes a difference. All other things being equal (and they never are...), the fretboard can have a subtle effect on the tone. Although I would bet most could not distinguish the difference in a blind (unbiased) test.

    Picking up an instrument an seeing it has certain characteristics generally means it will sound like you "expect" it to. Not exactly an unbiased observation...

    Bottom line, if it sounds good to you, it probably is.

  17. BenderR


    Jun 1, 2004
    Tucson, AZ
    I think you have made an interesting point here. A huge variable in how an instrument sounds is the player. It is my opinion that we respond in real-time to the response of an instrument and make subtle variations in our technique to achieve "our" sound. With this in mind I could easily be convinced that an individual could make an unconscious contribution to the sound because of expectations that they bring to the table. In this situation I guess it could be feasable that someone would sharpen their attack when playing a maple fingerboard bass because they were expecting that type of sound.
  18. jeff schmidt

    jeff schmidt no longer red carded, but my butt is still sore.

    Aug 27, 2004
    Novato, CA
    My first guitar was a plastic electric guitar - with plastic frets. And little stickers for the fretboard to show where the notes where.

    I wore those frets down. Then I used it as a stage prop to smash in one of my monthly garage gigs for the neighborhood kids. They were horrified. By the music - not the guitar smashing. I think they were glad I smashed at least 1 of my guitars!

    I was 12. :D
  19. Jeff Rader

    Jeff Rader Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2000
    Lone Star State
    My opinion is the player is BY FAR the most significant variable. Biases and the expectations that are unconsciously set are powerful.<O:p</O:p

    I had a very good teacher at one point that demonstrated this to me. We had a discussion about the impact of different woods. He had an old 4 string Sadowsky Jazz, ash body, maple fretboard, light string gauge. We also had a Fender jazz with an alder body and rosewood board that was a smoother sounding instrument (for whatever reason) that had a heavier string guage. He made a few quick adjustments on the Sadowsky and adjusted his touch and you would have swore he was now playing the Fender. Talent combined with a great ear is a powerful thing!

  20. jeff schmidt

    jeff schmidt no longer red carded, but my butt is still sore.

    Aug 27, 2004
    Novato, CA
    I think there's some truth to this.

    But it does not explain those times (far more in my opinion) where your expectations of an experience with gear were completely dashed by the actual experience itself.

    This phenomenon can be summarized with the words surprise and dissapointment.

    I experienced this just yesterday.

    My expectations of how much I'd like Aguilar cabs were pre-formed completely by:

    A:) People I respect using them (Patitucci, Willis)
    B:) Rave reviews in trades
    C:) Rave reviews here on TB

    I walked into the store convinced I'd be walking out with Aggie cabs (expectation). After playing around with them and various amps and other cabs I was totally not impressed (dissapointment).

    Did the cab change? No. Why did my expectations not impart iteslf on the cab? I had every reason to EXPECT these cabs to sound great.

    Here's where subjective meets the objective.

    The Aguilar cabs have an objectivly quantifiable sound.

    My like or dislike of that sound - as is yours - is completly subjective.

    But the actual sound of the cab does not change.

    So my expectation did not change the sound of the cabinet otherwise I would own them today.

    ps . . . I ended up choosing the AccuGroove Tri210L in case anyone is wondering.

    PPSS = to your point about the Sadowsky and the Fender being made to sound the same in the hands of a master. I cannot doubt the mastery of your instructor - but by and large Sadowsky basses are designed to play and sound like Fenders to begin with.