Maple and rosewood are two commonly used woods in the construction of guitar necks and fingerboards. Besides the obvious visual differences, the physical properties of the two woods have some differences. Ultimately, there is no "superior" choice. It comes down to personal preference, but depending on your chosen genre and your playing style, some of the physical properties could influence your decision one way or another.
Neck Versus Fingerboard
The woods used in the guitar's construction heavily influence its tone, and while maple and rosewood are very common choices for fingerboards, it's important to understand that they may not constitute the entire neck. The fingerboard is the surface that the frets are set into, where your fingers rest when you play. The neck is the curved section at the back that sits in your palm. The neck and fingerboard may be constructed from a single piece of wood or from two entirely different pieces, with the fingerboard applied as a 3 to 4 mm veneer. If they are two separate pieces, the wood used for the fingerboard will contribute little to the sound, but more to the feel and appearance of the guitar.
Solid, one-piece maple necks are seen frequently on lighter Stratocaster and Telecaster-style guitars that posses a bright tone. Maple is a hard, close-grained wood that is smooth and glossy to the touch. Maple will wear a little more slowly than rosewood, but if the neck is a single piece, it will be harder to replace the surface to combat the divots and pits that can occur over many years of playing.
These are seen on thicker, Gibson-style guitars, which are usually constructed from mahogany. They have a heavier, darker tone, and the rosewood fingerboard suits this. It's a softer, more open-grained wood that feels a little more rough to the touch and wears quickly. However, because of its softness, it is rarely used in the construction of the neck, usually being applied as a veneer. As a result, a competent luthier can remove and replace it if it is damaged or excessively worn.
If you use a fingerboard lubricant such as FastFret, maple fingerboards are preferable as their closed grain prevents it from seeping into the wood. Rosewood will benefit more from a gentle acidic cleansing agent such as lemon oil to remove oils and grease deposited by the fingers. Maple fingerboards are normally finished with a varnish, where rosewood ones tend to be bare wood. Some players find this glossy finish helps them play faster, others find it tacky and sticky and prefer the "silky" finish of rosewood. As with most aspects of guitar design, there is no clear winner. It comes down to the player's preference, and if you're considering one or the other, the best solution is to play both and see which you prefer.
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