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maple vs. rosewood (or other) fretboard?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Bill Brasky, Nov 26, 2000.

  1. I was wondering what kind of difference the fretboard makes to the sound of a bass. I heard that it affects the tone, but to me it seems like this would be pretty insignificant compared to other things. I mean, the strings don't even come in contact with the fretboard (on a fretted bass that is) and it seems whatever changes the fretboard makes to the tone of a bass would be pretty small compared to what the body is made of or what kind of bridge and pickups it has. I guess it would make a lot more difference on a fretted bass.

    I'm getting a new bass soon (a Stingray 5) and have a choice between maple and rosewood. I read in some posts here here that maple is good for funk and slapping kinds of sounds. Right now, I'm leaning more toward the maple (for the sound, and I also like the look of it better).
  2. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson SUSPENDED Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    On a lot of basses, the strings don't come in contact with the body, either:D Some people don't think the body wood makes a difference... not me.

    The composition of the fretboard, neck, body and hardware can have an effect on the ultimate sound of a bass. I find that I like the sound of a Maple board for slapping but I also like Ebony, Pau Ferro, Rosewood, Wenge and some composites... and they all sound different. The Maple sounds more aggressive to me, the Ebony more compressed.

    Get a bass with woods that lean towards the sound you want and electronics will be less of an issue.

  3. true, but when you pluck the string, you can feel the body vibrating as the pitch resonates through it. It seems to me like it would make a bigger difference than the fretboard, but then I don't really know so that's why I was asking.
  4. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    Bill, this is a subject which has been greatly(and hotly as well!) debated here at length many times.

    I suggest you do a search using something along the lines of your topic name or maple vs. rosewood.

    Now, my take on this is, maple is brighter and snappier, rosewood is darker and more subdued.

    I am putting on the asbestos suit as I say this, but I have many times played a maple version and a rosewood version of the same bass back to back, from Fenders to Peaveys to Stingrays to Pedullas, and to my ears anyway, there is a difference.

    [Edited by embellisher on 11-26-2000 at 08:31 PM]
  5. No need for asbestos embellisher, I've got a bucket o'water right here if you get a little toasty.

    You are right on about the maple - snappier - is a good term for it. I rather like maple as a fretboard for just this reason. It just gives you another weapon in the arsenal.

    Bill, think about this - the strings are anchored at two places - the bridge and either the nut or a fret on the neck. That makes each of these points just about the most important in terms of getting sound out of the bass. Another important connection is the neck attachment. Combine these with the body wood and you have all of the components that make a particular bass sound the way it does acoustically. Very important. Now, all you've got to do is to get a pickup that translates that nice acoustic mixture into a signal for amplification.
  6. Old Blue

    Old Blue

    Mar 18, 2000
    I know some of you guys have MUCH better ears than I do. To me, the question of maple vs rosewood was more cosmetic than anything else. Plus, I think there's a definite difference in the feel of the two. But I've never been able to HEAR any differences in tone due to the fretboard.
  7. kevin_5656


    Nov 18, 2000
    I'm in a similar situation in planning for a stingray 5 and wondering about the fretboard.

    Last week I saw bass player on the TV show "Austin City Limits" using a Stringray 5 with maple fingerboard. And yesterday I saw a similar "inimate and up close" music show where the player used a Stingray 5 with a rosewood board. (the former player was with Lee Ann Womack and the latter was with Cheryl Crow). Both tones sounded great, but I can't rule out that amp/board eq'ing might have played a big part as well.

    I'm probably going to go with a maple fingerboard because my other bass has a rosewood board, and I want some variety.

    My theory as to why different fingerboard woods sound different is that when you fret a string, you are technically suspending it between two pieces of metal, each attached to wood. One of the pieces of metal is the saddle of the bridge and the other piece of metal is the fret. Both pieces of metal are going to vibrate, and how they do so greatly influences the tone. Softer fingerboard woods will absorb the vibrations around the fret, whereas harder or stiffer woods won't absorb much(perhaps this helps sustain as well?) I suspect that maple is stiffer than rosewood and ebony is the hardest of all three.

    ...anyways, just a thought... thx for listening.
  8. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    I'm also a subscriber to the theory that harder woods return more energy to the string and thus impart a brighter tone with a faster attack. Thus, rosewood yields a slightly subdued attack with warmer tone whereas maple yields a characteristically snappy sound. One thing: if you go with maple, prepare to live with some visible cosmetic wear. A maple fretboard looks great, particularly with a blue finish, but it gets dirty mighty quick.
  9. Bil and Kevin, I recommend going with the maple fingerboard. I like it for the looks, a more livey sound and the FEEL. It's something I can't really put into words but the maple just feels better under my fingers.

    Plus, it looks really cool. :D

  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I can definitely hear a difference - I don't like the sound of maple - too bright. Even worse in this direction is graphite - I tried some Status basses with graphite fingerboards and they sounded like maple only more so. I think Ebony is the best compromise - not too bright but very clear and very hard wearing. I usually end up with pau ferro and I do like the warmth of this. My feeling is that maple and graphite over-emphasise the "noise" element of playing - finger noise and any position shifts, for example.
  11. bassics


    Nov 27, 2000
    Newark, Ohio
    I could be wrong, but in my experience, the species of wood
    used for the neck, body, and fretboard makes a huge difference on an acoustic instrument, but not nearly as much of a difference on a solid body electric. There is a difference, and it's noticeable when played "unplugged",
    but it's not really going to come through the amp.
    I personally have a Series 10 4 string with a p-j pickup
    configuration, I play through a Peavey MK IV amp head and
    2x15 cab. I use a Boss GEB-7 active EQ foot pedal to bring out the lows and highs without overpowering the mids.
    and on my other amp channel I use a Boss ME-6B effects
    processor for the goofy stuff (experimenting).
    As almost any bassist will tell you this is hardly high-tech, state-of-the-art equipment, but it works, in the studio, in my living room, or in a small venue. Obviously,
    I won't be playing any large gigs, but if and when I get to that situation, I'll get a better rig.
  12. Yertle The Turtle

    Yertle The Turtle

    Nov 15, 2000
    I like rosewood necks on basses and maple on guitars. Personal thing I suppose, maybe cause I dig treble-ended guitars and mellow bass ...?
  13. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    Bassics, first of all, welcome to the board!

    I'm afraid that I must disagree.

    IME, the wood and construction of a solidbody electric bass are almost as important as the electronics, effects and amplifier.

    When I try out a bass, the first thing that I do is plunk around on it unplugged in a quiet part of the store(if I can find such a place!;)). If the sound doesn't grab me, it doesn't get plugged in.

    I can guarantee you that a well constructed bass made out of high quality tone woods will sound better than a plywood cheapo with $400 worth of electronics and $2500 worth of amplification and effects.

    I am not a tweaker, I set the controls on my amp and leave them, just do a little fine tuning with the tone control(s) and my own personal tone controls at the end of my hands.

    Like Michael Tobias(I think it was!) and Roger Sadowsky both say, if the bass doesn't have a great sound unplugged, no amount of electronics or effects will change the original sound, they will just amplify it and compensate for it.
  14. Stingray, you inadvertantly posted your picture backwards. There aren't that many lefties in use, are there? :)
  15. I forgot how odd that must look to everyone! What a pain it is, though. The Music Man took almost 7 months!

    Have you heard of Bill Zolla? He made the 5 string conversion neck on the Jazz bass. Only one I know of that does it. He was kind of a jerk, but the neck is sweet!

  16. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson SUSPENDED Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Nice strings...is that a Lightwave?
  17. bassics


    Nov 27, 2000
    Newark, Ohio
    hey Stingray, yours is the first bass I've seen with the
    Zolla 425 neck (right?) how do you like it? is it worth the bucks?
  18. Saint


    Mar 2, 2000
    DC - USA
    I don't know if this is quite right, but I believe your theory about the resonance of the wood is correct.

    When I bought my Ken Smith, I spent nearly three hours choosing between 3 basses: maple w/ pao ferro, walnut w/ pau ferro, and lacewood w/ ebony. I loved the look of the lacewood, but the ebony fretboard was too resonant and bright, picking up every squeak; it gave the bass a more Alembic-like tone. There was no doubt in my mind that the pao ferro was much warmer and also more forgiving. I ended up with the Walnut/Pao Ferro as a compromise between the too bright and the too subdued (for my needs anyway).

    I also want to point out that a fretboard that is coated with polyurathane also makes a big difference in the sound.
    For instance, the Rickenbacker 4003 has a coated rosewood (?) fretboard and this contributes to its unique sound. And, of course, Jaco put marine epoxy on his jazz bass in order to alter its sound.

    Clearly, fretboard material can make a big difference in the sound of a bass.
  19. bassics


    Nov 27, 2000
    Newark, Ohio
    hey Embellisher, good to hear from you again. now let me clarify my earlier statement by asking, will your audience notice the difference in sound between a maple or rosewood fretboard? I think not. My experience has been that most of the crowd is barely sober enough to realize that your actually playing! I'm coming from the standpoint of an
    amature garage band type musician, obviously, if you are in studio, you want strictly the best tone. but, it seems to me, playing in bars would require less demanding equipment,
    especially considering that sometime some drunk is going to fall into your amp, or knock your axe to the floor, or, and I've witnessed this one, spill his/her beer all over your amp head!
  20. The neck is great! I bought mine about 4 years ago for $270, but it looks like he's jacked the prices up a bit. Definitely worth the bucks but almost not worth the aggravation. Bill had told me he could also get me whatever HW I needed, so I ordered tuners and a bridge as well. The whole thing was supposed to take a month and a half, and it ended up taking almost 6 months, and I never got the tuners. I DID get my money back for the tuners along with a letter of apology (after threatening to report him to consumer affairs or better business bureau or something :rolleyes: ), but he was just tough to work with. Never had too much time for me on the phone and when he did he was abrupt and unfriendly.

    Maybe ordering a right handed neck may have been easier, or ordering online.

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