Maple vs Roasted Maple Guitar Necks: Is There a Difference?

Roasted wood necks are a relatively new development in guitar building trends and have become the next big thing recently. The idea goes that roasted woods are more resistant to absorbing moisture which makes them more stable, .but is there a difference? 

The differences between Maple and roasted Maple on guitar necks are rather trivial. The big sell is that roasted Maple is cheaper to buy because it doesn’t need a finish, is lighter, and is more resilient to weather. However, traditional Maple has been used for decades and that’s hard to change.

A guitar’s neck wood is believed to affect the tone of a guitar due to the density of the wood impacting the way that the vibrations produced by the strings behave. 

Denser necks create brighter tones with less sustain and softer necks are believed to do the opposite. Today we’ll look at Maple.

But if you’d like to take a broader look at the most popular tonewoods used in guitar necks, the following article might be of interest to you:

Maple necks

Maple is a dense hard tonewood as it is. It’s known for producing bright tones and in the context of fretboards, this means precise and articulate notes. As far as necks go it means they’re less likely to bend than some other woods.

In appearance, Maple is known to have a light toffee color to it, and when unfinished, it’s paler. The downside to unfinished necks though, aside from moisture is that they require a lot of maintenance.

You should get a  neck with a finish as this helps with its moisture resistance. In fact, finishes help with any wood’s moisture resistance, but the addition of a finish is pricier though and that’s sometimes a problem for buyers.

Maple necks offer a percussive feel with a fast attack and a brighter tone. The hardness reflects vibrations rather than absorbing them, which is what gives it that liveliness.

The density of the wood means maple is heavier, however, and on electric guitars, that can feel uncomfortable after a time, but its ratio of strength to weight is still pretty good. The density also means it will bare fewer vibrations while playing it.

A lot of guitars use maple as a staple for their builds, a few are even entirely built with it.

To name a few, there’s the Fender Player SeriesTelecaster, and the Fender Vintera Road Worn 50s Telecaster. A more unique model is the super rare 1976 Gibson Les Paul Custom with a Maple fretboard and the list goes on.

Roasted maple necks

Roasted maple necks are a relatively new development in the industry and while they’ve been around for a shorter time, they are beginning to become more widely accepted.

Roasting is a term that falls under a process called torrefaction, which is a process that is used to remove moisture and other liquids from the wood. This process also helps to make the wood more resilient to humidity and temperature changes in general.

Torrefaction aims to artificially age wood, so a roasted neck has similar qualities to a neck from a well-aged piece of wood. Depending on who you ask though, some of the benefits are all placebo.

Aesthetically, roasted maple is darker than normal maple wood and has been said to bear similar qualities to unfinished maple as far as smoothness, while still maintaining the moisture resistance of finished maple wood.

Another benefit is that due to the decrease in moisture, there is a slight decrease in the weight of the wood. The decreased moisture also brings a lot more stability to the wood.

Where this becomes important is when it comes to the styling of the neck. A flamed neck or a tiger-striped neck looks that way because of the grain of the wood and with more knotted wood, it’s generally less stable. Roasting that kind of wood helps to counter that problem.

While historically, roasted maple necks were reserved for more high-end guitars, it’s actually a cheaper process than adding a finish to wood, which is partly what’s making it more widely used. 

We’ve now started to see the roasted neck being used on more affordable models.

Ernie Ball’s Sterling range, Squire’s 2021 Contemporary Series, and Jet guitars- a smaller guitar brand offering roasted neck guitars.

Main differences between maple and roasted maple necks

The main differences between the two necks come down to looks. That aside, there are plenty of subtle differences both in the feel and the tone of the necks.

The lighter weight of the roasted maple makes for a bit more comfort, but both unfinished necks feel about the same.

The tone of each neck is very slightly different and you may even notice different qualities in each to the next person. The roasted maple seems to be brighter and has less low end while a normal maple neck is more rounded in the low mids.

Warmoth did a great comparison video and I’ve linked it here:

Which one is better?

For traveling musicians, the argument is made that moisture and different climates will affect the guitar neck a lot and while that is the case for some necks, the standard maple neck won’t likely face that issue. 

The exception is with a bare maple neck with no finish.

If you already own a maple neck guitar and it has a finish on it, you’re not going to notice substantial differences between the two necks. 

The finish on the neck is there to prevent moisture issues, but if you’re buying a new guitar, you might as well try out the roasted maple.

Even if you do buy a roasted maple neck, you should get a slight coating on it to further lock out moisture. 

As always, it’s a matter of preference.

The case for roasted maple necks

  • If you like a slightly lighter neck, you’ll like the roasted maple
  • The roasted maple neck is about as stable as a maple neck with a finish, but smoother to play on
  • The color of the neck is richer and warmer, depending on your preferences
  • If you like brighter tones, you’re better off with a roasted maple neck
  • Roasted maple necks cost a bit more than an unfinished maple neck, but are cheaper than a maple neck with a finish to it.

The case for maple necks

  • If you have a maple neck and it’s got a finish and you’re used to it, then don’t switch it.
  • Some prefer the pale yellow of normal maple
  • The tones produced by a maple neck are relatively warmer and rounder
  • A downside for the maple neck is the necessity for a finish if you plan on traveling, which is more expensive

Overall, guitar players and makers alike have a lot of positive things to say about roasted maple and it’s worth a try. If you’re still on the fence about whether it’s a gimmick that manufacturers are trying to push, here’s a review from another guitar builder on roasted maple: