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Thread: Rosewood fretboards vs Walnut fretboards.

  1. #1
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    Default Rosewood fretboards vs Walnut fretboards.

    This subject is being talked about in another thread, but I think it deserves its own. I noticed that Kala is saying on their site that they discontinued importing ukuleles with rosewood fretboards as of July 1st, and that they are instead importing ukuleles with walnut fretboards. Why is rosewood such a popular material for fretboard? I wonder if there is any difference between rosewood fretboards and walnut fretboards, other than the wood is a bit different in color?
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

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    Rosewood is hard, and looks good. It now restricted for shipment overseas due to the CITIES treaty, as it is considered endangered. Lots of manufacturers are now using alternate tonewoods for the fretboard. I've seen Kiwaya using walnut, while Martin is using sipo and morado. Maybe some ears could hear a difference, but I probably couldn't. Walnut often appears lighter in color. Probably most important is hardness, to prevent wear from fingers and nails.

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    I don't like either wood for a fretboard. Too light in color, and both often have unsightly pores. I like dark (for maximum contrast) and dense (for durability), so I'm naturally a sucker for ebony fretboards. I'm surprised that so many expensive ukes have rosewood.

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    I just bought a new Caramel Pocket Uke and Choirboy asked me if it had a walnut fret board. According to Caramel's ad it is rose wood but... It is a lot lighter in color than my other rosewood fret boards and could be walnut? Of course for only a $29 Uke it might be most anything. I did oil it but it soaked the oil right up and didn't change color much. It may take a couple of more coats to do that.

    I've seen Ukes with Maple fret boards and they should be plenty hard enough to resist fingernails.

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  6. #6
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    rosewood has a hardness in the 1200's
    walnut has a hardness in the 900-1000's

    i think it's a matter of durability more than tone. I don't think the fretboard does much for tone, as the neck is mostly determined by the actual neck wood, and not the fretboard veneer.

    On the one hand... you might think.. the frets take most of the wear and they're metal. But if you look at old instruments... the fretboard actually does wear and can go concave between the frets. I think it's more an issue when you do things like bend where you're really pushing on the string, and subsequently it's rubbing the wood between the frets.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by spookelele View Post
    rosewood has a hardness in the 1200's
    walnut has a hardness in the 900-1000's

    i think it's a matter of durability more than tone. I don't think the fretboard does much for tone, as the neck is mostly determined by the actual neck wood, and not the fretboard veneer.

    On the one hand... you might think.. the frets take most of the wear and they're metal. But if you look at old instruments... the fretboard actually does wear and can go concave between the frets. I think it's more an issue when you do things like bend where you're really pushing on the string, and subsequently it's rubbing the wood between the frets.
    Durability it is, and walnut -- to me -- doesn't make the grade, it's just too soft. We did make a violin with a walnut fingerboard because the customer wanted it to match his mandolin. I addressed the hardness concern by saturating with epoxy under pressure and then a top coat to resist abrasion. We'll know how well it worked in a decade or two.

    And, I'm just finishing up a series of uke prototypes. Some of these had hollow necks with a sound port at the head-stock, some had hollow necks sealed-off from the main body and some had necks filled with epoxy mixed with phenolic micro-balloons (to simulate the density of wood). From my experience having done this I can say that the density of the neck makes quite a noticeable difference in the instrument's voice. The winner, to my ear, was clearly the filled neck.

    I would imagine that a lot of uke importers consider the fact the most of the instruments they sell will never be played much. Lots of stuff we consumers buy never sees a lot of use. How many here have some sort of exercise equipment that mostly acts as a dust magnet? From a marketing/sales perspective it makes more sense to put the money into appearance as opposed to sound quality and durability. A study of those who purchased violins revealed that people bought primarily on the basis of three criteria, in decreasing order of importance: The maker's name, appearance and -- lastly -- the sound.
    Robert Edney
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by JackLuis View Post
    I just bought a new Caramel Pocket Uke and Choirboy asked me if it had a walnut fret board. According to Caramel's ad it is rose wood but... It is a lot lighter in color than my other rosewood fret boards and could be walnut? Of course for only a $29 Uke it might be most anything. I did oil it but it soaked the oil right up and didn't change color much. It may take a couple of more coats to do that.

    I've seen Ukes with Maple fret boards and they should be plenty hard enough to resist fingernails.
    Lots of "rosewood" varieties around, some entirely unrelated to Brazilian rosewood, which most consider the real thing. Brazilian is on the most restrictive CITES list. Cocobolo is probably the closest real thing that doesn't seem to be listed by CITES but is still hard to find and pricey. The harder varieties of maple really are quite good -- hard, dense, easy to finish and holds frets well.
    Robert Edney
    Robert@ElixirViolins.com

    Much more interested in playing the ukulele than making violins just now...

  9. #9
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    I can understand the durability issue on an unfretted instrument like a violin, cello, fretless bass, etc. That said....I'd say if a person is wearing out a fretboard on a fretted instrument, their technique is wrong. A person should press just hard enough to make clean contact between the string and the fret for clean notes. I certainly don't have that mastered myself, but it's what I go for. It sure helps intonation out a lot too, especially on a ukulele.
    I guess the exception to that would be if a person actually wants to bend a note sharp for some reason, so they press harder.....but usually people that want to do that get a scalloped fretboard....or bend the normal way.

    I know walnut is plenty hard enough to hold frets as it has been used on various instruments. I doubt anyone could truly tell a tone difference in a walnut fretboard vs. rosewood or ebony mated to a mahogany neck...or maple. I'm sure somebody out there claims they can though. :P

  10. #10
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    I would think more and more builders might move to composites, such as the Richlite that Gibson uses - and Enya for that matter - on their fretboards. My main electric right now is a 2002 Gibson CS-356, with a beautiful ebony fretboard. But the new 2018 version of the CS-356 (for $4400!) comes with a Richlite fretboard, and I would be very hard pressed to tell them apart.

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