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View Full Version : Rosewood fretboards vs Walnut fretboards.



Rllink
09-18-2017, 06:09 AM
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?

Ukecaster
09-18-2017, 06:40 AM
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.

bratsche
09-18-2017, 06:55 AM
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.

bratsche

JackLuis
09-18-2017, 08:41 AM
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.

Down Up Dick
09-18-2017, 09:36 AM
Maybe all ukers oughta play Fleas. Plenty of plastic on hand. :old:

spookelele
09-18-2017, 10:23 AM
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.

robedney
09-18-2017, 01:13 PM
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.

robedney
09-18-2017, 01:22 PM
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.

jer
09-18-2017, 01:58 PM
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

besley
09-18-2017, 05:45 PM
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.

southcoastukes
09-18-2017, 06:09 PM
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.

Hello Robert,

Sounds like you're doing a very thorough prototype process. Good luck.

I agree that walnut is too soft for a fretboard. There are plenty of (well played) vintage Ukuleles around with deep "pozos" (puddles) in the fretboards. I'd definitely go harder than walnut.

But building in Central America keeps us on our toes when it comes to tropical American hardwoods. Cocobolo is a dalbergia and as of the first of this year all are now restricted. Not in Appendix I like Brazilian, but any listing is problematic, apart from being an indication you should look elsewhere just as a matter of good conservation. But no worries, there are tons of other beautiful woods out there, as hard or harder than rosewood, in any color or figure you might need.

Graham Greenbag
09-18-2017, 11:51 PM
I'm wondering why Walnut as a replacement for Rosewood rather than some other wood, beside some perceived durability perhaps it's a mix of economics, availability and appearance but I just don't know. I don't see walnut used to make other things but perhaps I just don't notice, I'd though of it as expensive and rare already.

I can't see much of a percentage of players wearing a fretboard down and hope that I can manage to do so before 'I pop my clogs' - lots of playing for me, and after that it's someone else's small concern. For abrasion resistance might it be possible to 'lacquer' or otherwise surface 'treat' a fretboard and for worse wear, should it get that bad, build in such a way - I believe it's a feature of Flukes - as to facilitate fretboard replacement/renewal ?

I'm not sure how applicable the Janka test is to being indicative of the durability of fretboards but results I see on the web indicate a lot of hard woods and variation within species https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janka_hardness_test . Heck I've come across scrap wood, fallen trees and other stuff, that's so hard that I wouldn't want to have to make anything from it. I believe that some woods, Oak and Apple come to mind, have to be worked before they've seasoned much because they grow much harder as they age.

As a further 'aside' Bruko make Ukes with maple necks and integral fretboards, as far as I know there isn't a durability issue there. I think that the light colour wouldn't give enough visual contrast with white or clear strings for me - worth Browns are a poupular alternative - but if Wilfried Welti is happy to play a Bruko with a Maple fretboard then then the rest of us could rightly question our own reservations.

spookelele
09-19-2017, 03:47 AM
The problem with maple:

103146

Graham Greenbag
09-19-2017, 05:23 AM
The problem with maple:


That's rather a mess, never seen anything like that before. Abusive use? Wonder how and if it will clean up. My comment on Maple was only a 'aside' and I wouldn't want the OP to feel that I was diverting his thread.

Rllink
09-19-2017, 05:33 AM
The problem with maple:

103146

Interesting, in that I bought a Maple fretboard for my cigar box uke. I doubt that it will ever get enough use to make any difference. But is that example the norm, or is it the exception? It appears to me that fretboard has seen a lot of playing. I mean, a lot of playing. Would your average ukulele player ever even get close to playing their ukulele enough to wear it down like that?

Ukecaster
09-19-2017, 05:41 AM
The worn maple necks on Fender guitars were mainly due to the thin nitrocellulous finish they used back in the 50s. Believe it or not, Fender sells new guitars, with faux worn fingerboards like that, calling them "Relics", and folks pay big bucks for them, as it looks like they have a cool old vintage guitar. Finishes have come a long way since then (poly, UV, etc), and they won't get worn like that. Not sure what Bruko uses on their maple board necks, but bet it is very durable, and would never look like that guitar neck.

actadh
09-19-2017, 07:52 AM
I have some with no fretboards, just Maple necks, such as my Brueko and Zither Heavens. They look like new.

Others look like I eat greasy potato chips and then play, such as the Morado fretboard on the OXK.

spookelele
09-19-2017, 08:31 AM
That's rather a mess, never seen anything like that before. Abusive use? Wonder how and if it will clean up. My comment on Maple was only a 'aside' and I wouldn't want the OP to feel that I was diverting his thread.

It's from playing.. so I'm not sure Id call it abusive. They just get like that after a while.
The thing is.. any kind of finish/seal is going to wear.
Once the wood fibers are exposed, it will absorb crud.

Even on my rosewood, there's crud. I clean it with lemon oil each time I change the strings, and the cloth comes away with grunge.
You just tend to not see it so much because the grunge is similarly colored to the wood.

But with maple... it's not the same color as the wood.

As far as is that uncommon.. I don't think it really is. I've seen lots of fender necks like that.

spookelele
09-19-2017, 08:33 AM
To be fair.. electric guitar strings are all metal, which is going to be more abrasive than plastic.

But... I've become partial to low G with wound 3rd and 4th, so its a concern even on a uke.

Strumdaddy
09-23-2017, 02:00 AM
Even ebony fret boards can wear with enough play. Here's a Martin tenor (60's?).
I got it like this. I don't feel it at all when playing, and although I would prefer the wear not to be there, it is a sign that the uke has been played a lot - probably because it sounds so sweet and someone couldn't put it down.
I can't keep my hands off it either!

103222

southcoastukes
09-24-2017, 02:52 PM
Lots of good posts here! Let me just add to what I posted earlier. Spook posted something on Maple fretboards. We've never gone to wood that light, and never finished our fretboards, as maple fretboards usually are. But we have gone fairly light. Nicaraguan rosewood is a light orangeish color that has worked well for us.

But there is one other element to consider when you go toward the lighter end of the scale in color. The photo of the Maple fretboard shows what happens with steel stings, a bit of neglect and with traditional nickel alloy frets. Even with the lesser wear of classical wound strings, what can happen is that the nickel in the fret alloy itself wears off onto the fretboard and creates a lot of the discoloration. Finishing the fretboard can keep this from getting out of hand quickly, but then eventually you'll need a recoat of your fretboard finish.

We use a fret material called EVO Gold. It's a bit harder than nickel alloy; a bit harder than it really needs to be on an Ukulele. But we like it because we use a lot of traditional design elements in our instruments, even though they are not reproductions in any sense. The EVO Gold looks a bit like old bar frets.

So if you're going to the lighter side on your fretboard, the EVO can keep a cleaner look. We've found that with a medium-light color and these frets, a finished fretboard is not needed. So less maintenance down the road. You'll still need to keep things clean. Spook's suggestion of a cleaning with every string change (change strings often!) will keep things looking lovely.

70sSanO
09-24-2017, 07:50 PM
I have a couple of ukes that have fretboards made out of jatoba (I think). I know the wood started with a "j", but I'm not exactly sure of the exact species. It is nice looking reddish brown color with some lighter streaks.

John

FuzzeeSock
04-16-2018, 09:54 AM
Hi all
i've been looking for a thread like this one about the new Walnut Vs Rosewood fretboards. I don't know if others have the same feeling as me, but I really don't like the new walnut freboards and bridges that are on the import line of ukes on Luna, Kalas and Lanikais. I have not seen them on other brands yet, but all the new Lunas, Kalas and Lanikais i've played this year have them and I feel like it's a step back if not two. I understand that the CITES restrictions made this come about, but the Walnuts, at least the way Kala and lanikai have done on theirs, are way too light. but more importantly, i feel like they look so unfinished, cheap, not durable and makes the whole uke look unfinished. It's very weird for me. Also they feel so soft to the touch, they feel like Balsa wood that I used before in Model Making. The Lanikai solid mahogany concert i have now uses this lighter walnut and from my view point looking down, i can't see the pearl position markers as they just disappear in the light walnut.

Also there's not enough contrast unless i use darker strings. but still, mind you, i'm no beginner either and I can hold my own when playing, but i still like to see my frets when i look at the fretboard. The lighter walnut, i can't see the frets.
Gosh i miss the dark nice smooth feel of Rosewood and Ebony. Anyone else feel this way too?

I know Kanilea and Islanders have also Walnut on the new ones, but they at least stain them dark, as shown on some of the NAMM 2018 videos. So that's awesome.

Anyone have a recommendation on fretboard oil i can use to darken my walnut fretboard without having to use stain? Right now I use Boogie Juice, which is great as a conditioner. But for darkening, it only does it slightly.
I will try Music Nomad F-One next. but if others have great success with this, let me know....and your thoughts on the new lighter walnut fretboards we now see everywhere.

strat4me
04-16-2018, 04:06 PM
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.

I'm told by many luthiers that Martin has stained their Rosewood fretboards for over 50 years and others followed thinking that is what the market wanted. The Rosewood on the fretboards is usually black. But compare that to the Rosewood color on the back and sides. I have many Martins and am not complaining at all. Just passing on what I understand to be true.

Nickie
04-16-2018, 04:42 PM
The only time I ordered a totally custom uke, it had an ebony fretboard.
Now I'm less picky about the color.
If ash is hard enough to build baseball bats, wouldnt' it be hard enough for a fretboard?
Or is it too heavy?
Maybe a luthier will chime in here....

Ukecaster
04-16-2018, 04:56 PM
I'm told by many luthiers that Martin has stained their Rosewood fretboards for over 50 years and others followed thinking that is what the market wanted. The Rosewood on the fretboards is usually black. But compare that to the Rosewood color on the back and sides. I have many Martins and am not complaining at all. Just passing on what I understand to be true.

Really? Never heard that, but I have seen those stains mentioned before, but never tried it. I love the look of jet black ebony, but I'd be afraid it might look too black, and fake, on a lighter rosewood or walnut. Also, that it might eventually rub off on your fingers later, if not covered with a clearcoat, and don't think I'd want clearcoat on my fingerboard.

http://www.stewmac.com/Materials_and_Supplies/Finishing_Supplies/Colors_and_Tints_and_Stains/Black_Fingerboard_Stain.html

M3Ukulele
04-16-2018, 05:39 PM
My Tiny Tenor , solid top, has a walnut fretboard and bridge. Dark colour, looks and feels great. I can’t imagine, the play it would take to really discolor it or put put scallop groves in it. That must be a lot of playing. I have ebony tenors and rosewood. I don’t feel the difference. I guess only many, many tears will tell.

I’ve treated new walnut fretboard once with lemon oil by Dunlop and the walnut took it well just like all my rosewood guitars. I’ve had maple , fender fretboards. I would not hesitate to have maple on a ukulele. Gibson has done some baked maple to get a darker colour, it looked fine.

Point is, there are ukes and meant to be played. I think Walnut is fine. I think in future richlite etc will be fine.

Interesting thread and great perspective’s being offered. I don’t mind trying lots of different materials. My Sapele Opi had a mahogany fretboard and it felt and played fine. With all the restrictions, I think we will see lots of alternative.