Richlite fretboards – all you need to know

Richlite is not only a synthetic material made from recycled paper (or fiber composites and phenolic resin), it’s also the topic for many fretboard debates on many guitar forums. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Richlite fretboards and do our best give our thoughts on them.

In this text you will learn more about:

  • What is Richlite? 
  • Is Richlite more durable?
  • How does a Richlite fretboard sound?
  • Pros and cons with Richlite fretboards

Richlite fretboard on Strandberg guitars

Richlite fretboard is somewhat of a hot topic on most guitar forums. As with so many other product features, its mere existence divides guitar players all over the world.

One user said it best when yet another thread started up about Richlite versus woods.

“Oh boy, this topic. Prepare for an all out war to start on this thread.”

Several of the .strandberg* guitars feature a Richlite fretboard (more about that later), so we figured it’d be best if we sat down and took a deeper dive into this debated phenomenon.

The Boden Prog NX 6 Earth Green features a Richlite fretboard

What is Richlite?

Richlite is a durable and sustainable material made from compressed recycled paper or fiber composites and phenolic resin.

Commonly used for countertops, cutting boards, architectural features, and in our case, fretboards for electric guitars, Richlite is often appreciated for its environmental friendliness, strong and dense composition, and unique aesthetic that mimics hardwood or stone.

Richlite is considered by many to be easy to maintain, and develops a patina that enhances its character over time. It’s been around since 1943, but not that common on electric guitars until the start of the last decade. It’s used to make guitar fretboards thanks to its durable nature, and for its similarities to Ebony, which is a high end wood very suitable for electric guitars.

How is Richlite made?

To make Richlite, you simply soak high-quality paper layers with a special resin that is cut, and arranged by hand. Richlite’s texture comes from the random alignment of the paper fibers. For balance and stability, the sheets are carefully placed with the paper directions alternating. These stacks are then pressed together under heat to bond the layers and harden the resin. Finally, the panels are slowly cooled to create a solid, stable material. And voila, out the other end comes the source for endless debates all over the internet.

Fretboards on .strandberg* guitars

When this article is written (meaning that this information can change) the distribution of fretboard materials on our guitars look like this:

70 percent of our guitars have Maple fretboards
23 percent of our guitars have Richlite fretboards
7 percent of our guitars have Rosewood fretboards

The .strandberg* guitars that feature a Richlite fretboard are both built and designed for genres that need really fast and slick fretboard: the Boden Metal and the Boden Prog. Why? Well, we believe, as may others do, that Richlite is a great fit for playing fast.

Is Richlite more durable?

Naturally, this question depends on what you are comparing to. Overall, Richlite is considered to be be more durable than wood. A part of this is because Richlite is made out of both plant fiber and resin, and it’s namely the resin that makes the material so very durable.

Richlite is a great choice if you want to play fast – like strandberg artist Kevin Chartré

At .strandberg*, our fretboards come in Richlite, Maple, and Rosewood. If you rank these according to from most to least durable, it would look like this:

  1. Richlite is the most durable
  2. Maple is second most durable
  3. Rosewood is the least durable

Richlite is less affected by temperature partly due to its very high density. This means that neither big temperature changes, nor air humidity and moisture, will have any significant impact on Richlite. Fluctuations in temperature can cause wood to either expand or shrink, which does not happen with a non wood material like Richlite, which some argue contribute to its durability.

Remember that durability and hardness is not the same thing. Richlite happen to be both harder and more durable than wood (making it more resistant to scratching), whereas maple on the other hand, is more durable than Rosewood, but Rosewood is harder than maple.

How does a Richlite fretboard sound?

Before heading into this discussion, let’s remind ourselves that the fretboard itself does not have a very big impact on sound. While the material on the neck produce at least half of the overall acoustic sound of the guitar, the fretboard does not have this big of an impact.

When discussing how materials connects to sound, there are many other parts of the guitar, or accessories, that have a significantly larger effect on sound, such as pickups, amplifiers, strings, guitar effects and so on.

If you want to learn more about how woods affect sound, we’ve written about it here.

The main factors behind sound are the construction, building materials, and pickups as well as the overall component and build quality.

The Boden Metal NX 8 Black Granite features a Richlite freboard

More maple than Rosewood

Let’s also remember that the differences in sound not only are small, but also mostly noticeable when the guitar is not plugged in, in other words, we are primarily discussing acoustic sounds and not electric sounds.

That being said, some argue that that Richlite does not affect the sound of the guitar unplugged either.

At strandberg, however, we think that Richlite has a bright and snappy sound quality to it, similar to a plain maple fretboard, and quite different from the darker, warmer and rounder tone of Rosewood.

In terms of playability, some guitarists may notice a difference in tone and feel between Richlite and traditional wood fretboards. While Richlite can offer consistent performance and stability, some players may prefer the natural resonance and tactile experience of wood fretboards.

Pros and cons with Richlite fretboards

Before we enter this (sensitive) territory, it’s important to remember that pros and cons are very subjective. That which some guitar players value, others might discard.

So, bring out the grains of salt before reading any further.

Slick and fast feel

Some guitars players claim that Richlite, thanks to its smooth surface, is more suited for slick and fast playing than other fretboards. And we just happen to be one of those. The two different .strandberg* guitars that feature a Richlite fretboard are the the Boden Metal and the Boden Prog, both built and designed for quite advanced and fast genres.

More resistant to temperature fluctuations

As we stated earlier, since Richlite is a man made material (made from compressed recycled paper or fiber composites and phenolic resin) so it’s more resistant to both moisture and big drops or rises in temperature. While both Maple and Rosewood may expand or shrink in different temperatures, Richlite does not. However, it’s debatable if this has any bearing since we’re only focusing on the fretboard in this article, and not the neck itself or the body.

Less maintenance

Richlite is a durable material, which requires no special conditioning, oils, or cleaning products. To clean your Richlite fretboard, just wipe it down with a soft cloth. And while some guitar players enjoy doing other stuff than clean their guitar, others might miss it.

Don’t miss our guide on cleaning your fretboard

The Sälen NX 6 Tremolo Plini Edition features a Richlite fretboard

Cons with Richlite fretboards

Less organic feel

Some guitar players might miss the organic feel and looks of natural woods like Rosewood and Maple. Since Richlite is manufactured, it doesn’t contain any of the natural lines and patterns that woods have. Also, many guitar players enjoy to maintain and care for their instruments and since Richlite does not require any of that, some people might miss it.

Non traditional

Even though Richlite as a material (and as a brand) has been around since the 1940’s, many guitar brands started using it for fretboards in the 2010’s. So, if you are a guitar player with a passion for tradition, then Richlite might throw you off. And even though the feel is quite similar to Ebony, Richlite is synthetic, which also might rub the the traditionalists the wrong way.

Further from craftmanship

Some guitars players argue that since Richlite is synthetic, it’s also one step further away from the craftmanship and artistry that often surround the production of wood fretboards. Richlite fretboards tend to look the same, while the wood on traditional fretboards differ from each other, because of the natural variations in the material.


As for all discussions about sound, feel or playability, it always comes down to personal preference. While some guitar players appreciate the slicker feel and non traditional approach of Richlite, others might enjoy the natural soul of real woods.

If there’s anything that has become abundantly clear, it’s that opinions divide. On nearly every online guitar forum, you’ll stumble into discussions about Richlite versus wood.

And that’s a good thing. It’s something we value a lot, since passion is what keeps us (and everyone, really) going forward.

We hope you enjoyed this guide on Richlite. If the fretboard material is what’s keeping you from making a decision on your next purchase, the best thing is (as always) to go somewhere and try out guitars with the different fretboards, to see what you like.

Strandberg Magazine

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