Fretboards / Necks

The wood used for a guitars neck and fretboard play a part in the guitars sound. Various different woods can be used for a guitars fretboard including Wenge and Bubinga. However, the three most common woods used are rosewood, maple and ebony.

Rosewood – Rosewood is usually brown in colour and produces a fast and smooth neck. It has the warm tone that is favoured by many guitarists. It contains natural oils so its doesn’t require a finish. Rosewood is the most popular fretboard wood although this may well change in the future due to a new law called Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This new law effects the availability of guitars that use rosewood and
there are now restrictions on guitars using rosewood which stop them being traded between countries unless it has Cites certification. Bubinga along with other woods of the same genus are also effected.

Maple – is used on many guitars. It’s yellow in colour and produces a bright tone and is great for the guitars sustain. Unlike Rosewood maple must be finished to protect the neck from warping. The appearance of maple can vary due to how ‘figured’ the wood is. This can vary greatly with birdseye maple a particularly attractive and expensive option on high end guitars.

Ebony – is dark brown in colour and can sometimes appear black. It’s a wood that is very good for sustain, has a fast feel and has a bright tone.

Fretboards

The guitar on the left is a Telecaster with a rosewood neck. The ‘Tele’ on the right has a maple neck. In this case a birdseye maple.

The glued in neck joint of a Les Paul

A bolt on neck joint from a Fender Mustang style guitar

Neck Through Body

These can also be called neck thru or thru necks. These kinds of necks use one piece of wood which run through the whole length or the guitars body. The is called the ‘stick’. The side parts of the guitar are called the ‘wings’ which are glued onto the ‘Stick’. Some guitarists believe this method of construction increases the sustain over bolt on or glued necks. Thru necks also allow easier access to the higher frets as they don’t have a heel. One disadvantage of a thru neck over other necks such as a bolt is the difficulty in repairing the neck if it gets damaged.

Neck Profiles

There are 4 parts that define the feel and shape of the guitar neck. They are depth, width, radius (curvature of the fretboard) and profile. The profile is the shape of the neck. The profiles are named after the letters C, D, U and V due to the shapes of the necks resembling these letters. The shapes can often have variations such as ‘Hard V’ or ‘soft V’. The C shape is the most common neck shape and is found on most Fenders. Gibson guitars usually have D shape necks whilst guitarists looking for a fast neck for ‘shredding’ will be better off with a U shape neck. V shape necks are more suitable for guitarists that usually play with their thumb over the neck.

String/Scale Lengths

The string length measurement is taken from the edge of the nut to the bridge. The scale length is the measurement taken from the nut to the 12th fret which is then doubled. This Jackson shown below has a scale length of 25 1/2” which incidentally is one of the most common scale lengths and also found on the Fender Stratocaster. Other popular scale lengths are 24 3/4“ found on the Gibson Les Paul) and 25” found on PRS’. Heavier strings are often put on shorter scale length necks by guitarists because there is less tension than the longer scale lengths. With this in mind a Les Paul with 0.10 gauge strings would feel similar in regards to string tension than a Stratocaster with 0.9’s due to the scale lengths.the longer scale lengths. With this in mind a Les Paul with 0.10 gauge strings would feel similar in regards to string tension than a Stratocaster with 0.9’s due to the scale lengths.

Fretboard Inlays

The purpose of inlays is to help you navigate around the fretboard. One of the most common form of inlays are dots as seen on this stratocaster shown below. Gibson often have trapezoids as seen on the Les Paul. One of PRS’ trademarks is the bird inlays that their guitars usually come with. Note that electric guitars usually come with either 21, 22 or 24 frets. Some guitars don’t appear to have any fretboard markers although all electric guitars have markers which are visible from the player’s point of view.

Skunk Stripe

A skunk stripe is a walnut piece of wood found on the back of a guitar neck. Its purpose is to cover up the cavity created when the truss rod is installed in the neck of a guitar. Fender started this technique in the 1950’s. A truss rod is a metal rod that runs through the neck and can be adjusted to straighten the neck if required.

Frets

The frets on a guitar are metal strips that run across the width of the fretboard and divide the fretboard into sections. The act of pressing down on a fret effectively reduces the size of the string and its this that changes the pitch of the note. The shorter the length of the string the higher the pitch. Frets can be made of stainless steel or an alloy of mainly nickel and copper. Frets also come in different sizes including ‘tall and narrow’ ‘medium jumbo’ and ‘jumbo’.

Fanned Frets

Fanned frets look like a modern addition to the world of guitars but they actually appear on stringed instruments from over 150 years ago. The offset frets are used to create a multi scale fretboard. The benefit of doing this increases the tension of the bass strings allowing heavier strings to be used if you prefer a heavier tone. The tension of the lighter strings are reduced therefore making it easier to bend strings. Fanned frets are also considered to improve the guitars intonation.