If you’re curious about Richlite vs ebony as a guitar fretboard material, check out this post to learn more about them!
I’m no expert on these materials, but as a long-time guitarist, I thought I’d do some research and discuss them here on the blog.
And if you’re curious about other guitar materials, check out my post on Corian as a guitar nut material.
A Fingerboard is present on most stringed instruments. It’s a relatively thin strip of wood glued to the front side of the neck. Strings go over the fingerboard, or in the context of a guitar, a fretboard, and this is where you’re supposed to press the strings down to change their pitch.
It’s also important to note that fretboards can be fretted or fretless. And although guitar is usually a fretted instrument, you can also find fretless ones.
Fretboards and their design make a huge impact on the performance of an instrument. At first glance, a fretboard just looks like a straight rectangular piece of wood. But there are many different aspects of a fretboard that contribute to its performance. For instance, every fingerboard comes with a specific radius that makes the instrument better or worse for different purposes.
There’s also a visual impact, changing the overall looks of a guitar. And fretboard material can also impact the tone. However, this is more debatable. There’s definitely some impact, although it’s far less noticeable on electric guitars.
In almost all cases, fingerboards are made out of wood. Particularly, laminated wood. And sometimes, you can find guitars with carbon-fiber fretboards.
But there are three most common types of wood for this purpose. These are:
Maple fretboards are usually present on maple necks. In fact, the entire neck and fretboard are usually from the same piece of wood. On the other hand, rosewood and ebony are typically used as separate pieces of wood. Also, they are more common and less expensive.
Of course, there are plenty of different subcategories here. There are different kinds of maple, ebony, and rosewood. They differ in physical and sonic properties. And they differ in price.
These are the most common fingerboard materials. But in some rare cases, you can also find other stuff. For instance, there’s the so-called Richlite. It is relatively new to the world of musical instruments, and I’ll discuss it in the sections below.
Richlite vs Ebony Fingerboards: Which Is Better?
With all this said, let’s compare Richlite and ebony. Many have wondered how these two materials compare and which one is better. Let’s dig into it.
When I say Richlite, I’m referring to paper composite panels. Yes, paper. However, this is a composite material. It consists of cellulose and phenol-formaldehyde resin. Its manufacturing process includes the use of recycled paper.
The name Richlite is actually that of a company. They’re the first ones to implement this material for use in instrument fretboards. But it’s generally an industrial material with widespread use.
Paper composite fretboards are a new thing. Some are a bit suspicious of their quality. However, the material has proven to be pretty durable. And it seems to withstand anything that a regular wooden fretboard can.
One of its main features is improved density consistency. This impacts the material’s acoustic qualities.
But its huge advantage and the most important one is moisture resistance. Yes, different wood types have specific acoustic qualities. But on the other hand, they’re pretty sensitive to environmental factors. With Richlite, the risk of moisture-related damage is almost non-existent.
In fact, you don’t need to use any moisturizing or protective oils. It doesn’t even absorb these oils.
Richlite has found use even among some big-name brands. For instance, Gibson has released numerous Les Paul models with Richlite fingerboards over the past decade or so. And here’s a video explaining why an old high-end brand like Martin has decided to go with Richlite fretboards on some of their models:
Compared to rosewood and maple, ebony is far less widespread. Nonetheless, this wood is favored for its high density and general durability. In some aspects, you might compare it to maple.
However, its acoustic properties are a bit different. Ebony is the brightest-sounding tonewood. Additionally, many favor it for its aesthetic features. It’s dark, making a great contrast with maple necks.
But, compared to other woods, there are two downsides that come with ebony. For starters, it’s more expensive than most fingerboard materials. And, it’s also a bit sensitive. Due to its sensitivity, it typically can’t be used in mass manufacturing. Instead, it has to be laid down by hand. Needless to say, this adds more to construction costs.
This issue is due to ebony’s brittle physical features. In this regard, it’s a bit more sensitive compared to other woods. Yes, its grain is very dense. But it breaks if handled the wrong way. At the same time, it’s durable when it’s on the instrument.
And it handles moisture issues much better than most woods. Because Ebony has significant natural oils, it requires less care in the long run compared to other materials.
Ebony is a high-quality wood making it common among many high-end guitars.
Richlite vs Ebony Fingerboards: How Do They Compare?
These days, Richlite is one of the main alternatives to ebony wood. And, of course, it’s not the only composite material that found its way into the world of guitars. But it’s becoming more and more common as a fretboard material.
This is not a surprise. Firstly, a material like Richlite is easier to handle. It’s really durable and requires no special maintenance. It may be a bit tricky for luthiers due to its brittle grain. However, this is of no concern to an average guitar player.
It has some significant advantages compared to other types of wood. For example, Richlite requires no oiling at all. It’s a composite material that will outlast any type of wood.
Both Richlite and ebony are dark. Despite being a composite material, Richlite resembles ebony. It takes a very trained eye to differentiate the two. If you care about the looks, there are no differences here.
Another similarity is that both of these materials are typical of high-end guitars. You won’t find ebony wood on a cheap guitar.
Finally, I’d also add that Richlite is more eco-friendly. Sure, ebony wood is not in scarcity. But Richlite is made from recycled paper. If you have environmental concerns about the impact of your instrument, Richlite may be the better choice.
At the end of the day, it comes down to personal choice. But my personal opinion on the matter is that composite materials are the future.
Richlite vs Ebony: Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you understand the difference between these fingerboard materials!
As usual, let me know in the comments if you have any further questions!
I’ll do my best to answer them!
Very useful article thank you. I purchased a Gibson Les Paul Custom a few years ago without realising that it had a Richlite fretboard instead of ebony. I was a little disappointed when I found out, but I’ve been happy with it and you have reassured me further. Thanks, Trevor.
I’m happy to hear that, Trevor! Richlite definitely has its benefits!