Whether you’re an acoustic busker just starting out or a seasoned touring shredder, you must make sure you have the right tools to get the job done. So. for all the guitarists out there curious about their options for gear, read on!
In August 2019, the guitarist community collectively breathed a sigh of relief when it was decided by CITES to exempt musical instruments and accessories from its ban on rosewood. This had something of an unintended effect – posing the question, Pau Ferro vs rosewood.
Any guitarist worth their salt will know it’s all about the playability and tone. Your fingers spend so much time dancing around the neck of your guitar, it ought to be made of a material you’re comfortable with and like the sound of.
And for any beginning guitarists out there shopping for their first axe, here are some words of advice. Ultimately, it’s all about what feels good to you.
Before we dive in, I’ll tell you why the build of your guitar is so vital. A guitar is more than just a hobby or even a potential career. It’s an investment. So you should make totally sure you know what you’re looking for, and what you want out of your guitar.
What goes into the construction of a guitar is extremely important From the style and features to the materials, all these parts work together to create something extraordinary.
And what is a guitar (mainly) made of? Wood! The type of wood your guitar is made of has a huge impact on the kind of sound you can tease out of it. The tone, aesthetic, and feel of your guitar are best noticed in the neck.
A neck can be made of many different types of wood, each with their own attributes, positives and negatives. For the sake of brevity, we’re going to focus on two of the most popular neck wood options: Pau Ferro and Rosewood.
There’s a lot to consider about these two woods, so I’ll outline them for you here to allow you to make a more informed decision when it comes to your precious instrument. Let the battle of pau ferro vs rosewood begin, and let’s see who will come out on top!
That being said, let’s start with the classic making a triumphant return: rosewood. It’s considered a classic, safe option. Let’s dive a little deeper. Some instruments you might run into sporting a rosewood neck include many of Fender’s flagship models – Stratocaster. Telecaster, and the Jazzmaster.
Don’t worry bassists, we didn’t forget about you! Even Fender’s classic Precision bass and Jazz bass can come equipped with rosewood necks, PRS, Music Man, and Taylor also have an affinity for rosewood.
So why is rosewood such a staple in guitar builds?
In short, it’s the most common for a reason – rosewood is a very sturdy and versatile wood. Especially known for their strong sustain (meaning, the length of time a string vibrates, extending the length of time the note sounds) and exceptional versatility, rosewood is a force to be reckoned with.
Playing on a rosewood neck incites a rich tone with balance and warmth. It also has the peculiar quality of being able to dampen harsher tones, bringing your highs down to a more consistent level.
Even rosewood’s naturally oily consistency has its benefits; it requires very little in the way of upkeep, whereas with other neck materials you might find yourself having to apply lacquer or another treatment to keep your fingerboard in tip-top shape. It’s relatively stain-resistant compared to other neck woods, so you can rest easy on that front.
Expert Tip: Many guitarists prefer the feel of rosewood beneath their fingers, finding it easier, smoother and more satisfying to play. This, along with the aforementioned natural dampening qualities, makes rosewood a great wood choice on your first guitar.
If you’re interested in how rosewood might look, it can usually be distinguished by its minimal wood pattern. To the naked eye. it has a smoother look. Rosewood also tends to be darker in color.
Let’s highlight some of the most common types of rosewood you might find on the neck of your guitar.
- Indian rosewood
- Brazilian rosewood
- African rosewood
Indian rosewood is one of the most common types of rosewood you’ll run into, and it’s often used as a substitute for its more expensive and rarer cousin, Brazilian rosewood, African rosewood, perhaps better known as Bubinga, sports a reddish tint and is favored for its clarity.
With the lift of the CITES regulation, you can expect many guitar manufacturers once again embracing rosewood in their builds.
Pau Ferro is something of a dark horse on the scene. In the past, it wasn’t used as extensively as rosewood in a guitar build, but those who wield an axe with a Pau Ferro neck swear by it.
Pau Ferro was more used in the back and sides of a guitar due to its hardness and durability, but with rosewood’s temporary ban. was developed more to replace rosewood in the neck. These days, some Fenders, Rickenbackers, and Gibsons come with a Pau Ferro neck.
First and foremost, Pau Ferro has a brighter, snappier tone. It’s a bit harder, with a crisp sound and faster attack, thanks to the tighter grain. It offers similar levels of sustain to rosewood. However, because Pau Ferro is less dense than rosewood, less frequencies are absorbed into the wood, giving extra clarity and a more distinctive sound.
Visually, some might find the pattern and lighter color of a Pau Ferro neck more appealing. The lighter hues found on a Pau Ferro neck tend to attract the eye< especially in conjunction with nice body color. In addition, the grain pattern on a Pau Ferro fingerboard tends to be more pronounced.
Expert Tip: In terms of upkeep, pau ferro is considered a closed-pore wood, which means it cleans up well, though it lacks some of the more stain-resistant qualities of a rosewood neck.
There is another category we’ll judge these two guitar materials on – sustainability. The reason rosewood temporarily fell out of favor was due to sustainability concerns.
Rosewood has historically been overharvested, perhaps due to its uses in not just guitar builds, but other types of instruments, furniture, jewelry, and perfume. It is the world’s most traffic product and therefore has been protected for many years now.
Pau Ferro, by contrast, is marked as “of least concern”, and doesn’t suffer from the same scarcity that rosewood does.
Therefore, you might find rosewood materials, including, of course, a neck and fingerboard, to be a bit more on the pricey side compared to Pau Ferro.
So let’s compare the two options, Pau Ferro and rosewood do share some similarities. After all, Pau Ferro took the place of rosewood when the latter was harder to come by.
Both Pau Ferro and Rosewood:
- Have similar playability. Both are smooth and easy to wrap your fingers around.
- Are easy to maintain and repair. Their quality won’t fade noticeably over time. That is. unless you’ve had some pretty wild gigs recently…
- Have impeccable sustain. Harder woods tend to have stronger sustain.
- Are smooth and easy to play. A newbie can easily work the fretboard of either wood.
- Are stylish and pleasing to the eye. Basically, in this category, it all comes down to whether you prefer the lighter pau ferro or the darker rosewood.
- Can have any neck shape. C shape. U shape, and V shape, for the uninitiated.
- Can be used with multiple different wood types. As in. a mix of pau ferro and mahogany, or rosewood and maple.
- Are widely used in a variety of different situations and by many different players.
As you can see, these two woods are more similar than you might think at first glance. Sure, to the untrained ear very little difference can be detected in terms of sound and tone, especially because both sound relatively balanced, but the more you play and listen the more you begin to see just how different these options are.
For beginners, neither option is preferred over the other. As we highlighted, both are easy to pick up and play thanks to the hardness, strength and softness of the wood, especially on the fingerboard.
What really sets them apart from one another?
We went over the qualities of both neck types, and the similarities of the two. Now it’s time to highlight what sets them apart from each other, and why you might be inclined to choose one over another.
- Has a warmer tone with more pronounced lows
- Is slightly more durable
- Has a brighter tone with more pronounced highs
- Has a faster attack
These are the critical qualities that set rosewood and Pau Ferro apart from one another. Pau Ferro and rosewood do have more similarities than they do differences, so as a musician. I determined the key component that differentiates the two is the sound you get when you play them. Tone is such a big part of your guitar playing.
It’s said tone is in the fingers (or pick), and that’s true, to an extent, but the right materials tend to favor certain tonal qualities. Generally, if you want a warmer, slightly more mellow tone, a rosewood neck is for you. If you favor a brighter sound and harsher attack, spring for a Pau Ferro.
Now, just as an aside, I feel the need to include a slight disclaimer here. While the qualities of Pau Ferro and rosewood are quite well defined, you will never know until you play a guitar for yourself. Wood is a natural, mutable thing, so it has its blemishes and inconsistencies.
Expert Tip: Keep this in mind when you’re looking and listening for your own guitar. Each tree tells a story, and so does each guitar. No two guitars will ever sound the same, and that’s a wonderful thing!
To wrap this up, when it comes to Pau Ferro vs rosewood, it’s clear that both neck options are totally viable. Everything you can do on a Pau Ferro neck guitar, you can do just as easily on a rosewood guitar. These two woods were considered interchangeable for a while. So how could you ever choose between the two? If you’re still weighing the pros and cons of both wood types, shall I declare a winner?
Drum roll, please!
And the winner is…
Sorry, was that anticlimactic? In truth, the decision is yours to make! It always was. The most important thing to consider when it comes to your guitar is how it feels and sounds to YOU – after all. you’re the one who will be playing it for years to come!
Just because you drop loads of cash on premium gear doesn’t mean you get a skill boost as well. Many guitarists play with crappy cheap guitars, especially when touring, so they don’t have to worry too much about damaging a more expensive guitar.
So don’t worry about getting the most expensive materials, just go with what sounds good to you. What fits in your hands nicely. What makes you break out into a smile when you play it.
But don’t just take my word for it – try them out yourself! Play a guitar constructed with a rosewood neck, and then play one with a Pau Ferro neck Play a wide variety of guitar licks as well, to really stress test a guitar. Listen closely to the sound, and think of which you prefer.
Be mindful of how it feels in your hand, and how it feels to play. Is it easy to move about the fretboard. or are your movements more choppy than you’d like them to be? Does your hand fit around the neck snugly, and is able to slide up and down the neck with ease?
All these options to consider don’t mean a thing if the material just doesn’t feel right to you. Go with your brain and your guts. A guitar is a friend for life, so make sure you’ll stick it out till the end.