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Thread: Fretboards and tone

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    Toneologist voggin's Avatar
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    Default Fretboards and tone

    All this talk about Gibson's new fretboards, whether richilite, baked maple or laminate, got me wondering:

    My ES 339 has a rosewood board. It feels very nice, but I wonder how much it contributes to the tone of the guitar. The body is laminated maple, with a maple centre block. The body connects to a mahogany neck. When I fret a note, the string comes into contact with the board, but the string itself vibrates the note only for the length of it that is past the fret.

    It seems to me a lot of tone would come from the vibrations of the top (like an acoustic) and from the maple block in the body. There would also be a tonal impact from the nashville bridge and the frets. You can feel how the connection of the neck to the body would have some sympathetic vibration (similarly, a bolt on v. glued in.) But I have a lot of difficulty seeing how the fretboard contributes much to the tone.

    I can see there being, theoretically, a difference on a strat or a tele, in that a single piece neck/fingerboard is different than a two piece because of that vibration, but I don't see how a laminated rosewood board would be any different than rosewood. After all, it already is a laminate attached to the neck.

    And if there is some subtle difference, wouldn't it simply be a matter of the boards density? So a less-dense material like rosewood would have some characteristic different from very dense ebony. But richilite and baked maple are very dense like ebony, so why would they be "inferior?"

    Add to all that the guage of strings, pickups and other electronics, isn't the fretboard contribution to the tone either negligible or non-existent?

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    Ultimate Tone Slacker jtougas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    All I can tell is that the all maple neck I used to have a Kramer Classic (strat copy) meant that I could never... *quite*...get that trebly biting edge off the tone of the guitar. Bridge pickup could be used as an icepick.

    I used 250k pots, I used pickups with more output to be less chimey, I used single-coil sized hbs. Different amps. After all was said and done, I mangled that poor thing.

    No dice.

    Picked up a Strat with a rosewood fingerboard - voila.
    "Screw regulations. Bring the noise."

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    Toneologist Gypsyblue's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    Quote Originally Posted by voggin View Post
    I have a lot of difficulty seeing how the fretboard contributes much to the tone...isn't the fretboard contribution to the tone either negligible or non-existent?
    Stop thinking about it and get out and play (or better still: actually own) some Strats and Teles with both maple fretboards and rosewood fretboards and you'll hear it for yourself. There is quite a difference in tone, resonance and feel. Hearing is believing. Of course if you're plugged into a Hyperdrive Distortion pedal that's overdriving the heck out of your guitar signal all the time you may not hear the difference. But I think even under those conditions that you would.

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    Ultimate Kitten Puncher King IzzO)))'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    You can still hear the snap of a maple board with high gain, you can def feel the difference too. Makes more a difference than body wood in my opinion.
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    . Aceman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    I think the neck material is probably the number one item, with the board adding a noticable flavor.
    Quote Originally Posted by jon the art guy View Post
    Aceman, your advice was a rich tapestry of hard-fought research, blood, sweat and tears and the homespun wisdom we've all learned to expect and relish from our itinerant face-painted lunatic. I would like to award you a internet trophy for "best comment on a proco rat discussion". Let it be written in the annals of history; Aceman sure as heck helped.

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    Toneologist voggin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    Like I said in my post, I understand the effect of all maple neck/fretboard v. rosewood on a strat . But when you take a guitar like a les paul, say, which is mahog neck and body, maple cap, and a thin fretboard, I suspect the impact of changing the fretboard material is significantly less. And I would suspect a two piece rosewood fretboard would not be audibly different from one piece.

    My question came up because I was surfing around the MyLesPaul site and people were talking about different fretboard materials as though it was some sort of war crime to be prosecuted in the Hague.

    It would be cool to do some sort of tonal test, but there would probably still be too many variables between two guitars, even the same model, to be conclusive. I wonder if Gibson did anything like that when these other boards were being developed? Anyone with inside knowledge on the forum?

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    Super Toneologist dystrust's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    Quote Originally Posted by voggin View Post
    Like I said in my post, I understand the effect of all maple neck/fretboard v. rosewood on a strat . But when you take a guitar like a les paul, say, which is mahog neck and body, maple cap, and a thin fretboard, I suspect the impact of changing the fretboard material is significantly less. And I would suspect a two piece rosewood fretboard would not be audibly different from one piece.
    The type of guitar really doesn't matter as much as you'd think. By the above logic a ES-335 and ES-355 would sound identical (they don't) as would a Les Paul Standard and a maple cap Les Paul Custom.

    I've never played a 339, but I have a lot of experience with 335s and they tend to react to construction differences more like an electric than an acoustic. I would expect a 339 to behave similarly, maybe even a bit more so due to the smaller body.

    Quote Originally Posted by voggin View Post
    My question came up because I was surfing around the MyLesPaul site and people were talking about different fretboard materials as though it was some sort of war crime to be prosecuted in the Hague.
    I wouldn't worry to much about what they say over there. I used to post there about a decade ago, but the general cork-sniffing snobbiness got to me and I left.

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    Something Cool uOpt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    This is a frequent topic for hot discussions. To my ears a Strat with rosewood board is brighter than all maple if you just make sure you change no other thing at the same time. John Suhr said the same thing. There's a huge discussion on TGP about the John Suhr quote.

    I think people are frequently mislead into thinking the opposite because all maple necks are more common on Strats that have 50ties appointment all over the place, and often have thicker necks. As a tendency rosewood boards are found on 62 style Strats if not outright modernized Strats with fatter pickups, 2 point trem and the like.

    I also wonder what the skunk stripe does, in particular if you have both skunk stripe and rosewood board.

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    Conjugateologist sosomething's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    I have a 339 too - awesome guitars!

    I won't presume to be an expert on what wood has what effect (outside of a few general trends I've noticed in the guitars I've owned and played), but I'll drop a little tidbit in response to the first post in the thread..

    ...your strings never contact the fretboard.

    Your finger might, but the string doesn't.

    If it did, you'd be bending the note so sharp that you'd have to be tone-deaf not to hear it, and bending and vibrato would feel like sanding wood. This is a common misconception a lot of people have because they feel the string under their fingers and the fretboard under their fingers, they think the string is against the board, but it never is. It's pushed into the meat of your fingertip and not as far down as you think. I've had people who've played for 30+ years argue with me about this until they got home and saw that I was right.

    Anyway this is way too much post for too little info (and a derailment, besides) so carry on!
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    Mojo's Minions DrNewcenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    On Gibson Fretless Wonders (mini-me frets) the string does rest on the board. However, the only part of the string that matters is pinched at the fretwire itself, so touching the board is irrelevant.
    Quote Originally Posted by Brown Note View Post
    I'm soooooo jealous about the WR-1. It's the perfect guitar; fantastic to play, balances well even when seated and *great* reach for the upper frets. The sound is bright tight and very articulate. In summary it could only be more awesome if it had **** and was on fire!
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    Mojo's Minions jmh151's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    Quote Originally Posted by sosomething View Post
    I have a 339 too - awesome guitars!

    I won't presume to be an expert on what wood has what effect (outside of a few general trends I've noticed in the guitars I've owned and played), but I'll drop a little tidbit in response to the first post in the thread..

    ...your strings never contact the fretboard.

    Your finger might, but the string doesn't.

    If it did, you'd be bending the note so sharp that you'd have to be tone-deaf not to hear it, and bending and vibrato would feel like sanding wood. This is a common misconception a lot of people have because they feel the string under their fingers and the fretboard under their fingers, they think the string is against the board, but it never is. It's pushed into the meat of your fingertip and not as far down as you think. I've had people who've played for 30+ years argue with me about this until they got home and saw that I was right.

    Anyway this is way too much post for too little info (and a derailment, besides) so carry on!
    If the string NEVER touches the fretboard, how do you explain those instances where a fretboard is played soooo much, that right before it needs to be refretted the fretboard develops a slight scallop? I've seen it many times.

    I have maple, rosewood and ebony fretbaords. On the Charvel with monster 6100 or 600 size frets, sure, I never touch the fretboard. But on my Les Paul Custom where the frets aren't that high, I definately touch the fretboard- it's more likely to happen on the looser scale of a 24 3/4 scale neck than a tighter 25 1/2 neck. The Ebony has a much sleeker feel than Rosewood.

    While we all sit around here questioning whether it has an impact on tone, top luthiers like Paul Reed Smith, John Suhr and Tom Anderson (and many others) believe every little bit contributes to the overall tone- and they have players with sensitive ears that can tell the difference- whether we can or can't is a different story

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    Conjugateologist sosomething's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    Quote Originally Posted by DrNewcenstein View Post
    On Gibson Fretless Wonders (mini-me frets) the string does rest on the board. However, the only part of the string that matters is pinched at the fretwire itself, so touching the board is irrelevant.
    That's true - with the tiny vintage-style fretwire, all bets are off.

    Quote Originally Posted by jmh151 View Post
    If the string NEVER touches the fretboard, how do you explain those instances where a fretboard is played soooo much, that right before it needs to be refretted the fretboard develops a slight scallop? I've seen it many times.

    I have maple, rosewood and ebony fretbaords. On the Charvel with monster 6100 or 600 size frets, sure, I never touch the fretboard. But on my Les Paul Custom where the frets aren't that high, I definately touch the fretboard- it's more likely to happen on the looser scale of a 24 3/4 scale neck than a tighter 25 1/2 neck. The Ebony has a much sleeker feel than Rosewood.
    The string touches, or your finger does?

    I never said your finger didn't touch. The opposite, actually.
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    Toneologist voggin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    Quote Originally Posted by uOpt View Post
    This is a frequent topic for hot discussions. To my ears a Strat with rosewood board is brighter than all maple if you just make sure you change no other thing at the same time. John Suhr said the same thing. There's a huge discussion on TGP about the John Suhr quote.

    I think people are frequently mislead into thinking the opposite because all maple necks are more common on Strats that have 50ties appointment all over the place, and often have thicker necks. As a tendency rosewood boards are found on 62 style Strats if not outright modernized Strats with fatter pickups, 2 point trem and the like.

    I also wonder what the skunk stripe does, in particular if you have both skunk stripe and rosewood board.
    That's very interesting. I never considered the different profiles of maple/maple and rosewood strat necks before.

    I wonder, then, if a lp's profile ('60s or '50s) is a bigger tonal issue than baked maple v. rosewood, and not simply a matter of comfort.

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    Something Cool uOpt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    Quote Originally Posted by voggin View Post
    That's very interesting. I never considered the different profiles of maple/maple and rosewood strat necks before.

    I wonder, then, if a lp's profile ('60s or '50s) is a bigger tonal issue than baked maple v. rosewood, and not simply a matter of comfort.
    Neck thickness makes a difference. I don't think it overrules the particular pieces of wood used but it probably overrules a detail like whether you have a solid rosewood board or have a 2-layer board. Theoretically this could be tested by sanding down a thick neck, but...

    Personally my theory of the day is that thick necks have a higher chance of sounding good whereas thin necks are more sensitive against getting hit with a bad piece of wood.

  15. #15
    tonello
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    I'm not sure about tone woods and such. I think neck wood has more to do with it than fretboards.

  16. #16
    iismet
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    Quote Originally Posted by sosomething View Post
    ...your strings never contact the fretboard.

    Your finger might, but the string doesn't.
    nonsense - or - what am i missing?

    Quote Originally Posted by sosomething View Post
    If it did, you'd be bending the note so sharp that you'd have to be tone-deaf not to hear it,
    The string pinches at the fret - unless you push or pull it from its natural center you should get great coupling and monster, in tune tone - or - what am i missing?

    Quote Originally Posted by sosomething View Post
    and bending and vibrato would feel like sanding wood.
    why are there deep grooves in the fret board of my 64 330

    on a separate note - why are there very noticeable grooves on the fret board of my 2003 Guild. the grooves run longitudinal, curiously in the same direction and right underneath the strings.

    I agree as you bend away from the natural center line, the string may lift from the board.


    Quote Originally Posted by sosomething View Post
    This is a common misconception a lot of people have because they feel the string under their fingers and the fretboard under their fingers, they think the string is against the board, but it never is. It's pushed into the meat of your fingertip and not as far down as you think.
    grooves

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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    My experience after owning a couple hundred guitars and working on many, many more, is that fretboard material absolutely makes a big difference, not only in tone, but in feel, both real and in a psycho-acoustic sense.

    Personally I much prefer rosewood, which is warm and smooth. I find maple has something in the tone that bothers me, and ebony is very spikey and thwacky, my least favorite of all. Those characteristics show up no matter what body and neck wood is used, though those things make a difference.

    Next thing would be neck wood. Mahogany necks sound like mahogany necks. Maple sounds like maple. Doesn't matter what body wood you stick on them. Put a maple neck on a mahogany body and you lose that 'mahogany' guitar tone instantly. Sounds somewhat generic.

    Also, the overall mass of the instrument matters. Bigger, thicker body/more mass = bigger tone. You can make an all mahogany Carvin with rosewood board and they are STILL bright guitars because the bodies are so tiny. Conversely, an all maple guitar made the same way but with a larger body size sounds warmer, which seems counter intuitive at first.

    Body wood does make a difference, all other things equal. The "big 3" alder, ash, mahogany (real mahogany, not the fauxhogany sh*t most companies try to pass off as mahogany) all sound good and have their charms. Basswood has a certain mushyness to the tone I have never cared for at all in any format, and I've owned a few, though some seem to like that mush. Even fauxhogany (Nato, agathis (Asian fauxhogany), sapele, Khaya (african fauxhogany)) sounds much better than basswood to my ear.

    Personally my theory of the day is that thick necks have a higher chance of sounding good whereas thin necks are more sensitive against getting hit with a bad piece of wood.
    Seems intuitive, however I've seen absolutely no evidence for this in the real world. I've seen just as many great sounding skinny necks as large necks, maybe more actually. Makes me wonder if they make the necks thicker to compensate for iffy wood, and use the solid, stable stuff for the skinny ones. Given that I use 13-62 or 14-65 strings at standard pitch and prefer skinny necks, you'd be hard pressed to make the case that skinny necks are less stable, given I have a large number of them that stand up to more than twice the string tension your average neck sees.
    Last edited by RayBarbeeMusic; 05-08-2012 at 03:53 PM.

  18. #18
    iismet
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    Quote Originally Posted by RayBarbeeMusic View Post
    Given that I use 13-62 or 14-65 strings at standard pitch
    baby - that is a serious left hand

  19. #19
    Conjugateologist sosomething's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iismet View Post
    nonsense - or - what am i missing?



    The string pinches at the fret - unless you push or pull it from its natural center you should get great coupling and monster, in tune tone - or - what am i missing?



    why are there deep grooves in the fret board of my 64 330

    on a separate note - why are there very noticeable grooves on the fret board of my 2003 Guild. the grooves run longitudinal, curiously in the same direction and right underneath the strings.

    I agree as you bend away from the natural center line, the string may lift from the board.


    grooves
    Fingertip contact over time can discolor a fretboard and, over a greater amount of time, begin to wear it down. You don't need string-to-wood contact to make that happen... though I'd have to seriously question the material of the fretboard or technique of the player if they are truly digging grooves into the fretboard after just a few years. That's insane.

    Try this - go grab a guitar and fret the low E string at one of the lower frets like you normally do while you play.

    Now, squeeze down on the string as hard as you can.

    Does the note raise in pitch when you do that?

    If no, you need thicker strings or a lighter touch in general for normal playing.

    If yes - and I'll bet it does - you figure it out.
    Last edited by sosomething; 05-09-2012 at 06:52 AM.
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  20. #20
    iismet
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    Default Re: Fretboards and tone

    Quote Originally Posted by sosomething View Post
    Fingertip contact over time can discolor a fretboard and, over a greater amount of time, begin to wear it down. You don't need string-to-wood contact to make that happen... though I'd have to seriously question the material of the fretboard or technique of the player if they are truly digging grooves into the fretboard after just a few years. That's insane.
    My acoustic was purchased new. ebony fret board - played daily for 7 1/2 years - it is not discolored - it has measurable grooves.

    My Guild was purchased used in 2011 with no grooves - played daily for 1 year - rosewood fretboard - has measurable grooves.

    Quote Originally Posted by sosomething View Post
    Does the note raise in pitch when you do that?

    If no, you need thicker strings or a lighter touch in general for normal playing.

    If yes - and I'll bet it does - you figure it out.
    If it does, it seems one would intonate to comp the height of the fret, thickness of the string, and the players normal clamping force of the fretting hand. You are suggesting the amount of force required to press the string to the board is enough increase in tension for the pitch to go sharp - makes sense - millions of players over hundreds of years and most any one can pick up a good guitar and sound in tune - all with varying degrees of fret hand strength.

    I maintain the difference in clamping force increases the mechanical coupling of the string to the fret thus enhancing tone and the difference in pitch is inconsequential as it is compensated at the saddle and over all design of the fret board. Any sharpness I hear in the bass strings is from poor technique where I am pushing or pulling the string sharp, away from it's natural center line.

    All of my guitars get a professional setup. The luthier has no idea how I play. No-one has ever said "your junk sounds sharp". My tuner does not show any particular fret to be sharp. All of my guitars have grooves in the fret boards. It is not from my finger tips, rather, from my finger tips grinding the string against the board - fret hand clamping force.

    It would be interesting to know how high the fret would have to be to increase the pitch a noticeable amount based on ones ability to push it to the board.

    Do we provide more downward force than what is provided at the nut when the string is normally tensioned? Are we even able to achieve that?

    or - what am I missing?

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