Fretboards vs. Fingerboards: Is There A Difference?

Guitars and basses are full of intricate details and components that contribute to the overall sound and playability of the instrument, and one of the most essential ones is the fretboard or fingerboard. 

If you’re a beginner just learning about these parts, you may have already heard both terms, which can sometimes lead to confusion regarding whether there’s a difference between them.

While these terms are often used interchangeably, there can be some nuance depending on the instrument you’re looking at, and in this article, I will discuss some of the distinctions between fretboards and fingerboards and the role they serve.

What’s The Difference Between A Fretboard & Fingerboard?

When comparing the terminology and usage of fretboards and fingerboards, it’s important to be aware of the subtle differences between them.

One easy way to understand this is that all fretboards are fingerboards, but not all fingerboards are fretboards!

The term “fretboard” is predominantly used when referring to guitars and basses, while “fingerboard” is used more widely for other stringed instruments, like violins and cellos. 

However, since fretless guitars and basses exist, the term fingerboard would be more accurate for those instruments.

In terms of functionality, they serve the same purpose – to give the performer a surface to press down on their strings to produce different pitches. This occurs because your fingers will shorten or lengthen the strings to create higher or lower notes, respectively.

That said, a fretboard is marked with metal strips called frets, which divide the neck into different intervals. These frets help provide for more consistent and precise intonation and also serve as a guide for the guitarist, providing visual references for playing chords, scales, and melodies. 

On the other hand, a fingerboard, in the traditional sense of the word, won’t have these. While some fretless instruments may have lines or markers on a fingerboard to help assist you in playing notes accurately, it isn’t always the case, and players will instead need to develop their sense of pitch of intonation.

The lines on the fingerboard of this fretless bass resemble frets!

Conclusion

Although they’re used synonymously most of the time, fretboards and fingerboards aren’t necessarily the same.

You would still be correct if you call your fretboard a fingerboard, but the opposite isn’t always true because not all fingerboards don’t have frets. Nonetheless, you will have them if you’re playing a regular guitar or bass.

The more you know about your instrument, the better, and I hope this short article has shed some light on the differences between fretboards and fingerboards so that you can distinguish them when looking at other stringed instruments out there!