Guitar fretboard materials have always been a hot topic of discussion amongst gear heads. Whether you’re after great looks or outstanding tone, one thing remains constant about your fingerboard- it needs to be high-quality and durable.
Rosewood, ebony, and maple have always been tried and true, but what about something new and different?
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Introducing – Jatoba Wood
Jatoba wood is a fretboard material that many may not have heard of, but that is quickly changing. It compares most similarly to rosewood, which is a good thing. Rosewood is getting close to becoming endangered, and regulations are becoming more strict to protect it.
Once treated and ready for a guitar, jatoba has a dark brown appearance with hints of red to it. Its hardwood nature means jatoba is generally left unfinished, (there is no clear protectant over it).
Since it is a relatively dry wood, this means it will require a little extra maintenance to keep it from drying out too much. Jatoba is a relatively strong wood, however, so just a little care can go a long way.
In the tone department, jatoba leans to the warmer side, with a little sharpness in the mid-range. The extra mid-range makes it a prime candidate for overdriven and high gain sounds. Solo work will especially benefit from this to cut right to the front of a mix.
Rosewood vs Jatoba
As you might guess, these two are pretty similar. In looks and in tone they share a lot of the same properties. The differences are subtle and you may have to look close to find them.
Rosewood, while also a warmer sounding wood, lacks the midrange character of jatoba. It makes up for this in a different way with a slightly fuller bottom end.
There’s less upkeep with rosewood, as it’s naturally more oily and less porous. You’ll also notice a smoother appearance when up close, compared to jatoba.
Be aware that rosewood has a moderately higher cost than jatoba. It’s to be expected since rosewood is less common and has tighter regulations surrounding it. Expect to find jatoba in place of rosewood on a lot more entry-level to mid-range priced guitars in the near future.
Maple vs Jatoba
Here we have the opposite end of the spectrum. Maple and jatoba are very different in appearance and sound. When it comes to a choice between the two, personal taste is going to play a huge role.
We already know a bit about how jatoba sounds, and maple is about as far from jatoba and rosewood as you can get!
Maple is well known for its brightness, with a sparkling high end that can really shine with clean tones. It’s not without a decent midrange, but it’s not aggressive like that of jatobas.
Maple has a very light-colored and smooth appearance. It’s much softer than jatoba, and even more so than rosewood. Because of this, maple always has a clear finish over it to protect it. The benefit here is that there’s almost no upkeep, just keep it clean and you’re good to go.
When it comes to cost, there are a lot of factors that can drive up the price of maple. Flame, birdseye, or quilting will make it a more expensive option. The particular species of maple can also affect the price, but generally, plane maple will be similarly priced to jatoba.
Other Uses of Jatoba Guitar Wood
Most commonly, jatoba is being used as a cheaper and more sustainable alternative to rosewood for fingerboards. Many guitarists feel it’s actually an improvement over rosewood in this regard, but what about the rest of the guitar?
Generally, the body of the guitar is probably not a place you’ll find jatoba. With the exception of some custom shops, rosewood has never been a popular choice for the body itself.
There have recently been a few bass guitars to offer jatoba as part of their neck material. Expect these to have an even more pronounced growl in the mids. Some examples can be seen in the Ibanez SR605E or the ESP LTD B-204SM.
So, is Jatoba Actually Any Good?
The age-old question: “is such-and-such good for my guitar?” Well, the only one who can really answer that is you! If you’re looking for a rosewood alternative that’s a little more aggressive, I’d say you’re heading in the right direction.
The extra midrange is what’s really appealing to many, especially those of us who want to rock the house. Jatoba is really going to sing with distortion, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a light crunch or a chunky metal rhythm sound.
For lead work, that midrange may even become a necessity in time. Jatoba has a real chance to become the next “holy grail” that guitarists are after. Its durability and cost-effectiveness are simply added bonuses to the killer sounds it can offer.
Where Can You Get Your Hands on a Jatoba Fretboard?
ESP has also begun offering several guitars as such, even acoustics! Check out this TL-6FM to get a great idea of how great jatoba can really look.
What to Expect Going Forward
In the future, it’s likely we’ll see more and more brands offering jatoba fretboards. With rosewood being more regulated (and even more costly as a result), many brands already have these available on their low to mid-price range instruments.
It wouldn’t be surprising to get to a point where rosewood is only offered on top models, with the price tag to match.
The question is, do you want to stay traditional with the same old sound we all know and love? Or do you want to crank it up a notch with something a little different?
Ultimately, the choice is yours. Follow your ears and find what best suits you, your music, and your playing style, and you can’t go wrong.