If you’re interested in learning more about Osage Orange as a fretboard material, you’ve come to the right post!
Osage Orange as Tonewood
Osage orange is also called Maclura Pomifera or Horse Apple. There are a few other names. You may also know it for its unusual fruit (the horse apple). But what we’re interested in here is the wood.
This bright yellow wood has some interesting properties, and, in the context of music, it’s used mostly in woodwind instruments.
However, some have used it for guitars. Just like with woodwind instruments, its properties can work well for this purpose. It has a specific grain structure. It’s also very hard and elastic at the same time. This usually makes it a great choice for the back and sides of an acoustic guitar.
In fact, it’s incredibly dense and strong. It’s noticeably heavier than oak. And it’s also strong enough to be used as wood in a hunting bow.
Although not related to tone, it also has great aesthetic properties. As I mentioned, it’s bright yellow. And its specific grain makes it look very balanced and homogenous. In particular, I’d say it looks great on classical nylon-string guitars. But it can look great in other settings as well.
As the osage orange ages, it gets a more brown-ish shade to it. Its grain also resembles ash and oak.
Additionally, the osage orange wood is rot resistant. In combination with all of the other traits, it’s also a reason why French trappers used it some centuries ago. The particular name bois d’arc (translated as wooden bow) refers to it so don’t get confused if you hear that one as well.
In Tennesee, they call it Bodock. And in the mid-west, the name Bodark is pretty common. These are anglicized pronunciations of that French name, bois d’arc.
What’s interesting is that osage orange is often overlooked. Or at least it has been for quite a while. Guitar and other instrument manufacturers usually focus on imported stuff. The more exotic it gets, the more attractive it seems to be.
Osage orange, on the other hand, is so widespread around North America that people often just want to get rid of it. So it’s not uncommon to have it end up as firewood.
This may seem a bit unusual in a way since its properties make for a good tonewood.
The reason for rare use in instruments may be that you don’t often find osage orange grouped in one place. Some even grow standard tonewood trees for mass production. So although osage orange is widespread, it’s not as common to get it in large quantities.
Osage Orange Fretboard: Does It Work?
If you want a simple answer, then yes. Osage orange seems like it would work just fine as a fretboard material. As with almost any type of wood, luthiers could manage to make something out of it. Secondly, it’s hard, durable, and flexible.
In fact, I’ve found a few instances of Osage Orange used specifically on the fretboard like on this custom Dismal Ax electric guitar called The Salamander, on this Hyperion VLM bass, and on whatever this fretboard from DeMont guitars will be used for.
Of course, these are all on electric instruments where wood material matters less in affecting the sound of the instrument.
And although I can find a few forum posts about people reporting that they have acoustic instruments with osage orange fretboards, I haven’t been able to find any non-custom builds with this fretboard material.
Regardless, Osage Orange’s hardness can also impact the tone. There might be a slightly stronger attack. There’s that zing and snappiness to the tone. However, these are small nuances that are difficult to hear when something like the fretboard wood type is changed in isolation. In other words, it’s not like the fretboard material will completely change your tone.
As I mentioned, the wood is also pretty flexible. This is a great thing for a neck or fretboard. You could adjust the truss rod without worrying about damage.
On the other hand, you will likely only find this material used on custom guitars. This all comes down to availability. And, I assume a lot of luthiers aren’t very used to working with it.
Osage Orange Fretboard: Is It Really Worth It?
So yes, you can use it. Sure, it’s harder and potentially more difficult to work with. Some luthiers may even complain that it would affect the tools and machines in the longer run. But it’s a viable choice for a fretboard.
If you ask me, it can theoretically work for any part. Although such a guitar would probably be noticeably heavier.
But then we come to the next question. Is it worth it? As I’ve said, it’s not a very common wood for this purpose. So this would certainly affect the price and waiting time.
If you’re ready to pay for it, then, by all means, get someone to build it. But, in all honesty, you’d get very similar, or nearly the same, practical results with other standard tonewoods. So I’m not sure whether the price is worth it.
I hope this article has helped you think through this topic.
And if you want to read more about guitar materials on this blog, check out:
Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!