A controllable heterostructure consisting of ZnO nanorod arrays with attached Ag nanoparticles at only one end has been synthesized via a facile and convenient galvanic reduction method. Scanning electron microscopic images of these nanostructures showed good selectivity of Ag deposition on the tip of ZnO nanorod arrays. The formation of these regular AgZnO heterogeneous nanorod arrays can be explained by a localization of the electrons at the ends of the ZnO nanorods after the electron transfer step. By tuning the reaction time and the concentration of silver nitrate, the density of Ag nanoparticles on the tip of ZnO nanorods can be well controlled. Owing to the introduction of Ag nanoparticles with different densities, the resulting AgZnO heterogeneous nanorod arrays have been proved to be a versatile substrate for surface-enhanced Raman scattering not only for common organic molecules but also for label-free protein detection. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.