The Fender Stratocaster, first introduced in a 1954, is an iconic electric guitar that has been in continuous production since its inception. The first generation of Strats had a maple fretboard. In 1959, Fender switched to a rosewood fretboard. Current Strats, including the popular American Standard and Mexico models, are usually offered with the choice of either rosewood or maple. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
The first generation of Fender Strats, generally considered the period from 1954 to 1959, featured a one piece maple neck and fretboard. The 1957 reissue Strat, one of Fender's most popular models, uses the one-piece maple neck.
According to "The Fender Stratocaster," by A.R. Duchossoir, the move to the rosewood fretboard happened in 1959 after the introduction of the Jazzmaster guitar in 1958, which was the first Fender instrument with a rosewood fretboard glued onto a maple neck. The change was made on the Strat partly Fender had trouble getting polyesters for the neck material and the lacquer on the one-piece maple necks wore through quickly and became discoloured.
In 1965, Fender was acquired by CBS, who made several changes to the guitar line-up. In 1967, CBS began offering the Strat either with a rosewood fretboard or a maple fretboard glued onto the neck. In 1970, CBS changed that to the original one-piece maple neck design.
Most players find that the maple fretboard has a bright, somewhat piercing tone, similar to the popular Fender Telecaster guitar. The rosewood fretboard has a darker, warmer tone. Many Strat enthusiasts like to have one of each to change the sound they get on different songs.
A rosewood fingerboard is probably the most common on all guitars. With rosewood, the player frets the string against wood. With maple, the neck and fretboard are covered in lacquer. Some players feel that the rosewood neck plays slightly faster, and prefer the feeling of wood under their fingers, instead of lacquer.
Because the maple necks are covered in lacquer, they are more prone to wear and to showing signs of age. Some players like that, as it gives the guitar a "road used" look.