Joe Bonamassa explains why he prefers Stratocasters with maple fretboards over rosewood

Joe Bonamassa playing a Fender Stratocaster with a maple fretboard
(Image credit: Mickey Bernal/Getty Images)

Joe Bonamassa has weighed in on the eternal maple versus rosewood fretboard debate, saying he prefers Fender Stratocasters that are equipped with the former.

The maple versus rosewood conversation is a fiercely contested topic for electric guitar players, with those favoring the latter citing its comfort and warmth as key benefits. Those in the maple camp, though, are all about that punchy note clarity that the lighter wood supposedly offers.

For JoBo, it’s the extra punchiness a maple fretboard brings to the table that he especially appreciates when playing a Strat, with the blues guitar aficionado telling Guitar World that rosewood ‘boards can offer a more “Stevie Ray Vaughan-type sound”.

“Strats were first offered with maple fingerboards, and, starting in 1959, the guitars were available with rosewood fingerboards,” Bonamassa wrote in his latest Guitar World column. “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,” he continued, “and great players such as Eric Johnson, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix are also well known for playing maple neck Strats. 

“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.”

It seems like a very diplomatic way to entertain the maple versus rosewood debate, and while many players will be ride or die for one or the other no matter what guitar they play, Bonamassa seems to approach the whole topic on a case-by-case basis.

Heck, you needn’t look far to find a photo or video clip of Bonamassa wielding a rosewood-equipped Strat on occasion, which if anything just further strengthens the argument that there truly is no right or wrong answer.

Along with Strats, Telecasters are perhaps the most popular hosts for the maple versus rosewood conundrum, owing to the volume of options available for both camps of players. 

Whether Bonamassa extends his maple philosophy to this platform is unclear, but if its notes jumping off the fretboard he’s after, it would make sense he’d pair maple with the twang of a Tele.

One player who would be at odds with Bonamassa’s approach here is Jason Isbell, who once told MusicRadar he favored rosewood because of its ability to “soften things up a little”.

To that end, the Telecaster-toting guitar star said he’d recommend beginner players start playing on rosewood fingerboards, because “there’s something very forgiving about rosewood”.

You can read Joe Bonamassa's full column in the current issue of Guitar World, which you can pick up at Magazines Direct.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.