The Fretboard, or Fingerboard
The fingerboard, or fretboard, is the face of the neck where your fingers work their bass playing magic.
Since this part of the bass guitar will see a lot of wear, harder woods are used.
Most basses have a rosewood fingerboard or a maple fingerboard. Rosewood has a warmer, darker tone. Maple has a punchier, more percussive sound. These are all subtle differences, but differences nonetheless. Ebony, pao ferro and phenolic are also commonly used fretboard woods/materials.
This refers to the arc of the fretboard’s face. A bigger number means the surface is flatter. This will affect the feel of the fretboard and the strings will (or should) match the arc of the fretboard. If you are buying your first bass guitar, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern. Most fretboards are designed comfortably.
To help you keep your bearings on the neck as you play, fret markers are inserted into the fretboard at certain frets. These fret markers are called many different things: fret dots, inlays, position markers and fret markers. Some are prettier to look at than others. Often they are made of mother of pearl or pearloid.
Fret markers placed along the top edge of the fingerboard are called side dots. These are useful so you don’t have to crane your neck to see the face of the fingerboard. This will be of extra help when you are starting out. Most basses have side dots.
Number of Frets
Basses usually come with 21, 22 or 24 frets. Each fret is a note. The more frets you have, the more notes there are on each string. In most styles of music you won’t be playing in those upper frets much. If you plan to play a lot of solos, you may find them very useful. While you might not play the 24th fret a lot, having 24 frets allows you a little more physical freedom in those upper frets (18-24).
Fret size refers to the height and width of the fret essentially how fat a wire is used. Fret wire is usually classed as small, medium, or jumbo with some in-between sizes, too. These are sometimes abbreviated as J for jumbo, XJ for extra jumbo, etc.
Most basses come with jumbo frets. Bigger frets keep your fingers and the strings from touching the wood of the fretboard as much. This could slow you down though you might hardly notice it. This is not too important a detail if you are buying your first bass and you won’t have too many choices anyway.
Some basses have an uncommon option called a zero fret. It is a fret placed where the nut normally sits and the nut is moved back. This is because the tone of an open string is slightly different from the tone of a fretted note. By placing a fret where the open string is, your open strings have the same tone as all your other fretted notes. Once again, this is not an important thing to look for when buying your first bass.
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