Tonewood Spotlight: Pau Ferro, Ebony, and Rosewood

By: Josh Lucas

“I don’t usually like a light colored board, but I really like the way the grain and figure turned out on this one,” my friend Shannon said as he eyed the Pau Ferro fretboard on a Cybele 102 NAT.

It’s true for me, too. I like the look of a pitch-black ebony fretboard–honestly regardless of the tonal qualities it may or may not have. There are exceptions, of course. But every time I see an ebony fretboard, you can bet I’m at least 75% more excited than if I’d seen another fretboard on the same guitar.

But what about the tone?

I think one of the main things we look for in a fretboard, whether we know it or not, is a bright, reflective tone that clearly projects whatever happens in our left hand–hammer-ons, pull-offs, etc. At first, many people are fooled by words like “bright” and “dark” when it comes to tone, and will often “hear with their eyes.”

While it’s true, some light-colored woods have a bright tone that really pops out, some of the darkest woods produce the brightest, glassiest tones.

Take Ebony, for example.

In the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, there is “None more black.” Yet I assure you, they don’t come much harder or tonally brighter than Ebony. To my ears it has a certain dryness, and an immediacy to the attack. At the same time, it has a very clear and smooth sustain. It responds beautifully to legato playing, and in my opinion is one of the most if not the most articulate fretboard wood available.

Rosewood has a roundness to it, and is a bit less dry tonally than Ebony or Pau Ferro. It still has a beautiful, bright voice that projects your tone superbly (all three woods do), but it’s easy to tell why its balanced voice has made it the choice fretboard wood of nearly every guitar manufacturer. It’s very user friendly from the guitarist’s standpoint, and is basically a must-have tonewood for at least one of our guitar’s fretboards.

Last we have Pau Ferro, which has a slightly warmer quality, balanced with the dryness and projection you get from ebony. It really lets the other tonewoods speak a little more, but still pops your lines to the forefront.

So those are the woods we use most commonly here at Andrew White Guitars. Any questions, comments, or suggestions–feel free to shoot me an email at