Recent changes to the laws surrounding the use of certain types of wood for instruments have seen many of the main manufacturers looking for more sustainable materials.
Historically, rosewood has been one of the most popular used materials for fretboards. However, due to the new regulations, a worthy competitor has emerged – pau ferro.
Differentiating between rosewood and pau ferro can be confusing, as both materials have various pros and cons. In this guide, we’ll thoroughly explore the differences between these two popular tonewoods, and compare the old with the new.
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Pau Ferro vs. Rosewood – An Overview
In 2017, CITES introduced a law that restricted the trading of rosewood across certain borders. Up until this point, a large percentage of guitars used this wood, predominantly for fretboards.
The restrictions were initially met with great concern in the guitar-playing community. For decades, rosewood was revered for its exceptional playability, distinguished appearance, and unrivaled tone.
Amongst the alternatives that were tipped to replace rosewood were ebony, maple, and perhaps most significantly, pau ferro. This material has rarely been used on instruments in the past, and many guitarists were skeptical of its ability to produce the same quality that rosewood had for such a long time.
If you’re reading this article, you probably also have doubts about whether pau ferro is a worthy replacement for rosewood. Let’s take a look at how the two tonewoods compare across the board.
The Differences Between Pau Ferro & Rosewood
Pau ferro is a sustainable wood type that has been used by manufacturers such as Fender on their modern guitar models. But how does it compare to the trustworthy and much-loved tonewood, rosewood?
Here is a breakdown of the main qualities of pau ferro:
- Considered to be a sustainable material
- Used by Fender on their entire Mexican range
- Tight grain
- Sharp tone
- Fast attack
- Warm sounding
- Bright tone
- Smooth feel underhand
Here is a breakdown of the main qualities of rosewood:
- Most commonly used fretboard wood
- Indian and Brazilian varieties
- Exceptional durability
- Rich, warm tone
- Evens out harsh frequencies
- Naturally oily finish
- Extremely soft and smooth
As you can see from the comparison, pau ferro and rosewood share several qualities. Conversely, there are also some noticeable differences between the two fretboard materials.
In truth, pau ferro is very similar to rosewood. To the untrained eye and ear, it would be easy to mistake one for the other. However, some slight differences add up to make a significant difference.
Firstly, pau ferro has a tighter grain than rosewood. This affects its appearance, and also results in a slightly snappier tone with a sharper attack. Rosewood is slightly softer sounding when the note is initially struck.
In terms of warmth, pau ferro and rosewood are evenly matched. Both wood types produce an immersive, thick tone that is strong and prominent across the frequency range of the guitar.
The appearance of the two wood types is noticeably different. Compared to rosewood, pau ferro is significantly lighter in color. It has a caramel-colored pattern running through it, whereas rosewood is more subtly patterned.
Why is Rosewood So Popular?
Pau Ferro is a good alternative to rosewood, and many leading guitar manufacturers are using it as they adjust to the regulations that have been placed to ensure sustainability.
Still, many purists believe that rosewood is the ultimate choice for guitar fretboards. Although it’s rarer to find these days, it’s still quite popular and seen on numerous premium guitars like these. There are still many reasons that it is considered to be the premium choice.
Rosewood’s incredible durability is undoubtedly one of the main reasons it has been so popular. Some tonewoods sound and feel great initially, but fade over time. Rosewood remains consistent for long periods.
It also provides a complementary tone for any instrument. Electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitars, and many other instruments benefit from the inclusion of rosewood in their composition.
Pau ferro may not be quite capable of reaching the extremely high standards set by rosewood, but it comes very close. As a sustainable alternative, it is a brilliant option for guitars and other instruments.