Joe Bonamassa Explains the Main Difference Between Maple and Rosewood Fredboards on Fender Strats

In his recent column for Guitar World, Joe Bonamassa weighed in on one of the most important discussions ever in the world of guitar — maple vs. rosewood fingerboards on Fender Stratocasters.

Now, while some may argue that the type of wood makes very little to no difference in tone, Bonamassa argues that maple fingerboards come with some important sonic advantages, at least from his perspective. He explains:

“Strats were first offered with maple fingerboards, and, starting in 1959, the guitars were available with rosewood fingerboards. One can argue that a rosewood ’board results in more of a Stevie Ray Vaughan-type sound.”

“I always refer to maple-neck Strats as the ‘Buddy Holly’ guitar and great players such as Eric Johnson, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix are also well known for playing maple neck Strats.”

And explaining his personal preferences, Bonamassa said:

“Personally, I’m more of a maple-fretboard Strat player. To my ears, the notes jump off it in a different way, as compared to a rosewood ’board.”

The discussion of what’s better, maple or rosewood, for fretboards on Fender Stratocaster guitars, has been present for a very long time. Presumably, we could go all the way back to the 1960s when rosewood fingerboards were introduced for the legendary Fender model.

Joe Bonamassa Plays His First Fender Guitars | Fender Artist Check-In | Fender

However, which one is “better” comes with two other potential issues to discuss. Firstly, the issue of tone and playing feel are purely subjective and come down to personal preferences.

Secondly, a certain portion of the guitar-playing population would simply argue that there’s almost no difference, or absolutely no noticeable difference, between different tonewoods on solid-body electric guitars, including neck and fingerboard materials.

But, at the end of the day, no matter where you stand on this, it’s pretty obvious that a huge portion of your tone comes from the fingers, right? Well, this is also a somewhat controversial topic but many guitar greats, including Joe Bonamassa, are recently speaking up on the matter.

Joe Bonamassa 1964 Fender Stratocaster | Guitar of the Day

In another recent interview, Bonamassa argued that, ultimately, it’s your hands doing most of the heavy lifting and that the instruments and all the accompanying gear are there just to help you out to a certain extent. In fact, Joe argued that you don’t really need any of the vintage or “boutique” stuff to sound great. He explained:

“You don’t need a Dumble. You don’t need a ’59 Les Paul. Those do help in the search… But it’s not a prerequisite for success.”

After saying that it all comes down to one’s sensibility, Joe was asked where he gets his sensibility to which he responded:

“I would say it’s the two Erics, Clapton and Johnson, right in the middle of their sounds.”

Joe Bonamassa | 1964 Fender Stratocaster Hardtail Custom Color Candy Apple Red

He also added how this is much more important than spending your resources on different pieces of gear:

“You can give me anything, any of those amps, and I’ll sit there and I’ll turn the cabinets around, I’ll twist knobs until at least a semblance of what’s in here [points to head] comes out of there – and it’s any guitar, any amp.”

He further added:

“If you have a really nice, thick tone, there is a weight on the instrument, there is a weight on the strings that feels really nice and you can really get into it. And you can vary the attack. You can vary the attack on the right hand where it blooms a little bit more, or you can turn it into a weapon where it’s real bright.”

Bonamassa borrows Rory Gallagher's Stratocaster to play Sloe Gin at the Royal Albert Hall

Discussing this further, Bonamassa gave an example of other people playing through his rig:

“That’s the thing, when I hear other people playing my rig it is way brighter than when I play it, so that’s just the tactility of the instrument, and these [fingers].”

And, ultimately, as Joe explains, it all comes down to what the audience wants. As he added:

“There are certain guitar sounds you can only listen to for three minutes and you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m fatigued, and I need a martini.”

Fortunately, these days, we have such an abundance of choice

Photos: Florian Stangl (Joe Bonamassa – 2013 World Tour – Meistersingerhalle Nuernberg – 11-03-2013 (-31534407)), Zophophop (Strat1997)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.