Pau Ferro vs Maple Fretboard

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by dbamta, Jul 12, 2013.

  1. dbamta

    dbamta Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2009
    I own two basses, one with a Pau Ferro fretboard and the other maple. It seems to me that the maple is bright but, the Pau Ferro appears snappier. The basses are the of the same brand and model but, one has DR Fat Beams (maple) and DR Hi Beams (Pau Ferro). Anyone had any experiences with Pau Ferro?
  2. bongostealth

    bongostealth Supporting Member

    Jun 3, 2011
    Atlanta, GA
    I love Pau Ferro! It's beautiful and sounds just right. Maple to me is just blah. But that's my opinion.
  3. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    I like both and have had both. In my limited experience, the Maple tends to be snappier and sharper. The Pau Ferro can get close to the snappiness of Maple but can ALSO be warmer and neutral. The Maple tends to be a one trick pony, but the Pau Ferro can be more flexible.

    I had a custom bass made for me and asked for a Maple fret board. It was suggested to me to go with the Pau Ferro for the reasons stated above, and I'm glad I did.
    UNICORN BASS likes this.
  4. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    IMO fretboard wood might make some difference in tone, but not NEARLY as much as factors such as pickups/electronics, body wood, strings, neck thru / bolt on, etc.

    Also note that two identical basses can sound different merely because of the natural tonal variation of wood, even within the same species. I had a pair of Fender Roscoe Beck 5 basses. Both were built in 1997, identical in every respect except the color of the paint. Both had pau ferro fretboards, which makes this analogy pertinent. :) But despite tonal similarity, they sounded noticeably different: one was a bit warmer and fuller, the other had more snap on top, even when freshly strung with identical strings.

    Point being: even if both of your basses were identical (aside from fretboard wood) and strung with identical string sets, you could not know for certain whether any difference in tone between them was due to the fretboard wood.
    butterfingers1 and TrustRod like this.
  5. zortation


    Dec 26, 2011
    Toronto, ON

    No such thing.
    butterfingers1 likes this.
  6. George Himmel

    George Himmel

    May 16, 2009
    Boston, kid!
    Former Manager, Bass San Diego
    I think it's arguable that fingerboard wood can have an equal effect on sound to bodywood or neckjoint construction. It has so much to do with the attack of the note, which counts immensely in the perception of sound, even if the body has more influence on the timbre of the sustain. Also, we had three Foderas in the shop a while back that were cut from the same mahogany, maple, and Brazzy blanks that had very subtle (detectable, but subtle) differences in sound that could be most directly attributed to the fact that they were three differing neckjoint styles.

    Aside from that small contention, I completely agree with Fuzz. And my perception of PF is that it is close to the sound of ebony mixed with Indian rosewood--a harder, brighter attack (though not as sharp as maple), with a warm, middy roundness. It is quite a versatile, and in my opinion underrated, tonewood.

  7. dabbler


    Aug 17, 2007
    Bowie, MD
    Hmmmm, I believe that fretboard material can have a larger impact than body wood. Because the neck vibrates more, is more compliant than the body. Even though the fretboard is only part of the neck, changing it would have a significant impact on its compliance.
  8. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    Thank you. You articated this point more clearly than I.
    TonyP- likes this.
  9. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    A agree with you about the sound diff between the two woods for frretbaord. Also between the two, only maple requires finish. Another vote for pau ferro as what Id prefer betweenthe two for both sound and not needing finish.
  10. zortation


    Dec 26, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    Pau Ferro is a great way to make a custom '70s j bass look like a '60s j bass. :)

    Pau Ferro/Ash...yummm
    TonyP- likes this.
  11. bassman10096

    bassman10096 Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2004
    I love the look and sound of the PF board on my Warmoth. The color is on the lighter, less red side of rosewood and the sound is snappy but full. I've heard that on rare occasions, people can be allergic to the oils in PF fingerboards, so if fingers are swelling and itching right after you start using PF, consider the (slight) possibility.
  12. Big John66

    Big John66

    Feb 12, 2008
    I swapped necks on my fretless Warmoth jazz a year or so ago. I had a maple/ebony neck that I thought I loved. I picked up a maple/pau ferro neck from the screaming deals section just to try. I was astounded by the difference.

    The ebony board was bright and even, with a almost compressed tone, but plenty of mwah. On the other hand, the pau ferro board is really warm and woody sounding, with great mwah and a really cool growly tone.

    Both necks are regular Warmoth construction, with maple shafts and steel reinforcement rods. I know there are a thousand variables in tone, but this instance really showed me me that everything counts. IMHO, YMMY, and all that stuff.
    TonyP- likes this.
  13. lomo

    lomo passionate hack Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2006
    +1000. Any difference in tone due to body or board wood is completely dwarfed by other factors (including string age and type and 2 degrees of rotation on the tone knob). It's like saying bugs on the windshield of a car makes it less aerodynamic, slower and theory and in a galaxy far far away, but not in any kind of real world musical context IMHO:D.

  14. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches

    Aug 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    For what it's worth my own experience is that ebony fingerboards have a distinct "ping" in the very high mids/low treble and a characteristic attack. I'd blame that on "hearing with my eyes" except that I owned one bass with an ebony fingerboard that lacked those traits whereas every other one I've owned has had it.

    Could I tell maple vs rosewood blindfolded? Maybe, maybe not and I'd probably lean towards not. But I'd guess I could tell and ebony fretted vs rosewood. Just my $0.02.

    Roger Sadowsky feels that fingerboard wood has a major impact on tone.

    From the luthiers roundtable in Bass Gear Magazine:

    Also, his assertions here match my experience:
  15. Joebone

    Joebone Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    California Republic
    Thanks for that roundtable link - great stuff!
  16. Wallace320

    Wallace320 Commercial User

    Mar 19, 2012
    Milan, Italy
    I completely agree:
    I'm into every wood in basses I own, so I concentrate on bodywood as well, yet I clearly understand how fingerboard essence impacts on tone
    I'm fond of maple 21 fret fingerboards, alder Jazz bodies and, possibly, Precision-wise splitcoils.

    I experienced ebony on Esp Surveyor and Frank Bello's, and on Warwick's Corvette fretless 5er, and Pau Ferro on Fender's active deluxe Jazz 5er, Ibanez Srx725 and Peavey Cirrus 5er

    Both were great, can't say which one's better. Then many of my basses bear rosewood fingerboards, but my favorite stay maple/flamed maple/bird's eye maple ones...

  17. lomo

    lomo passionate hack Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2006
    I agree it has an impact on tone, but IMHO by the time that tone is put in a live mix or eq'ed and tracked, the differences are negligible and completely dwarfed by other factors (strings, eq, technique, etc). I also believe that 2 pieces of the same wood can sound completely different, so broad generalizations about how a particular wood sounds are not useful (again, IME/IMHO), although it can be fun to discuss them, and many people spec basses as though they can predict what the bass will sound like based on the wood choice. I haven't drunk that Kool-Aid yet:p

  18. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Roger acknowledges that there is no consensus, not even among luthiers. I love Roger, and am a regular customer, but to my ears, body wood impacts tone more than fingerboard wood. F'r instance, I have three alder-bodied Sadowskys, one with a maple board, one with Brazilian rosewood, another with ebony. They're all wonderful, but the maple one is my favorite. For awhile I also owned an ash/maple Sadowsky. It was a nice bass but I sold it because it didn't have the magic of the others. Point being, if fingerboard wood were the most important factor I should have favored the two maple-boarded basses rather than the three alder-bodied ones.

    Maybe we're all right, it just depends on what we're listening for (shrug).
  19. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Completely agree. As zortation said, there's no such thing as two identical basses due to the natural tonal variation of wood even within the same species.
  20. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    I agree that it is difficult to predict what a bass will sound like to a pinpoint degree, but I think you can get a ball park idea of where a particular bass' sound is going based on woods and other factors. I disagree that any two pieces of the same wood are unpredictable. I have found (and have heard others as well say) that some woods are more consistant than others. IME, swamp ash is highly unpredictable from piece to piece. A great swamp ash is a beautiful thing. But some swamp ash pieces are dogs that just can't be EQed to my satisfaction. Alder has become my new favorite body wood and seems to be much more predictable.