Do maple fretboards sound different compared to rosewood?
Are there tonal differences between the two? Let's find out.
Above is a Fender Deluxe Players Strat, which does have an all-maple neck option.
My first guitar, the '89 Squier II Stratocaster, does have that traditional one-piece all-maple neck. I posted a video for it recently:
In all honesty, I've always preferred electrics with one-piece maple necks. To me, they just feel correct. Yes, it's totally true that I have owned guitars with rosewood fingerboards, which includes my Jazzmaster, but I've always liked the maple best.
At some point, possibly this year, I will be picking up another all-maple-neck electric.
Do all-maple necks sound different on an electric compared to rosewood?
No, and they never have. Why? Because the neck is not where the pickups are.
It's my honest belief that the reason some players think these two fingerboard materials sound different from each other is because of the visual and not the physical.
Rosewood fingerboards have open grain while maple fingerboards do not. The maple board is sealed because as I've said here before several times, if it weren't, the wood would quickly discolor, turn green and look like total crap in short order.
I have seen some guitar players drastically change their playing styles after switching from a guitar with a rosewood fingerboard to one with maple. The guitars could be brand new, identical to each other and have everything be exactly the same save for that the fingeboard material is different, and the player significantly changes the way he plays on switch from one fingerboard wood to the other.
Why does the player's style change so drastically from one fingerboard material to the other? It's the visual. The maple board is not only lighter in color but also shinier because it's sealed. For many players, that visual will send a message to the brain to play differently. The neck is grabbed more tightly or loosely. Picking becomes harder or softer. Notes are bent more or less.
Take away the visual however, and the player's style does not change.
If you don't believe me, go with a friend to the guitar store, pick up 3 Strats with 1 maple and 2 rosewood and perform a blind test. I guarantee all 3 guitars will sound the same, provided they all have the same electronics.
Why 3 guitars? Because it makes the player think more about it. If you only use 2, that's not enough of a sample.
In the end, go with what you think looks best
Fingerboard material alone does not dictate what an electric guitar will sound like. You're not going to get a "lighter" or "darker" or "cooler" or "warmer" sound based on the fingerboard wood.
Choose a neck that feels right in the hand and looks good to your eye.
Maple fingerboards work on any electric, even for "metal" guitars like this Jackson Pro Soloist SL2M:
I'm showing this particular guitar to prove that the Soloist, a guitar obviously built for rock soloist players, does the job with maple just as well as it would with rosewood.
Similarly, a Strat with a rosewood board would get just as much "jangle" or "chime" as it would with a maple board.
There is no tonal difference between the two fingerboard materials.