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If you have been playing electric guitar for some years, you probably have heard about Scalloped Fretboards. Made popular first by shredders like Yngwie Malmsteen and Richie Blackmore, scalloped fretboards are now a common alternative for players who want unique playability and tonal versatility. If you have wondered if modifying your guitars is worth it, this scalloped fretboard Guide will answer all your questions.
My Bottom Line Up-Front:
Scalloped Fretboards give players a unique way to express their playing beyond a regular fretboard. The main benefits are improved note clarity and separation, less pressure on the left hand, and the possibility of achieving microtonal bends by pressing down harder.
On the other hand, it limits the players to a specific way of playing, making it not a choice for everyone. Considering that the product is irreversible and costly, I’d only recommend you Scallop only the top frets of your guitars. A fully scalloped fretboard is excellent for achieving a specific tone but will prevent you from playing as you usually would.
I have a hard time deciding where you should or not. It’s an irreversible decision that might not be a good fit for everyone. I was extremely nervous when I decided to scallop my guitar. The experience taught me many things and demystified some common beliefs about scalloped fretboards.
What is a Scalloped Fretboard?
A fretboard is scalloped when the wood between the frets is carved out. The difference between a standard and scalloped fretboard is that the strings touch only the fret and have little to no contact with the wood. Less pressure is needed from the left hand to ring the notes, making it feel different.
The guitarist who made scalloped Fretboards popular is without a doubt the Neo-Classical Shredder Yngwie Malmsteen. Before him, however, John Mclaughlin of Mahavinshu Orchestra played a scalloped guitar to imitate South Indian instruments.
The whole of it was to have no wood under the fingers and alter the pitch slightly by pressing down harder as you would on a Sitar. A normal guitar would not be able to achieve the microtones and oriental feel only through normal vibrato.
Nowadays, scalloped fretboards are mostly used shredders that find the easier bending and sustained vibrato helpful. You will rarely see a blues guitarist with a scalloped fretboard.
There are fully scalloped fretboards and partial ones where only the higher octave is modified. Considering the pros and cons of scalloped fretboards, you will most likely encounter partial ones.
Scalloping is possibly the most severe and irreversible modification you can do to your guitar. I always recommend taking it to a very experienced luthier and never doing it yourself.
Scallop Fretboard Pros
- The strings feel lighter, and the left-hand doesn’t tire easily
- Bending is easier, especially on high strings
- Notes sound clearer and well separated
- Less contact with the wood meads slightly more sustain
- You have more tonal versatility as you can achieve a Vibrato effect by pushing down the strings
Scallop Fretboard Cons
- It’s an irreversible procedure, risky to do yourself, and costly to take it to a luthier.
- Devalues the guitar if you later want to resell it
- Chords are hard to keep in tune
- You are always required to play with a light touch
- Your playing dynamics become limited to a very soft touch
How Many Fretboards Should You Scallop?
If you want to have some of the advantages of a scalloped fretboard but still be able to normally play most styles and genres, consider altering only some of the higher frets of your guitar.
Technical guitarists usually only scallop the last four frets, from the 20th to the 24th of the guitars that many frets. This way, you can bend easily where typically it’s tough to it and get a unique vibrato enhanced by the high pitch of the frets.
Scalloping the entire second octave from the 12th frets upwards is considered ‘safe’ as not many genres play chords high up the neck. However, I would recommend scalloping only from the 15th or17th fret upwards to still fit in well with every style.
You can fit with any style, even with scalloped Fretboard; however, it will be harder and somewhat limited as more dynamic genres like blues, most rock, and funk. In heavy metal drops and heavy riffs are next to impossible to get in tune on the lower frets if the guitar is scalloped.
There is also the alternative of only scalloping the treble strings side of the fretboard so you can play heavy riffs with the bottom three strings.
I would suggest having a guitar neck completely scalloped f you are after a unique, almost oriental vibe and need a guitar only for that. If it’s your only electric, I’d still give an extra thought before scalloping everything.
Steve vai usually scallops the high frets of his Ibanez Jem. Belding many genres and playing styles in his music he cannot use a fully scalloped guitar. If you have only one great guitar that you decided to scallop, I’d suggest you do like him.
I only scalloped the high frets of my Ibanez as I only wanted to try how it felt. I don’t use that guitar often, so I thought it would be worth it even if something went wrong. Ultimately I’m grateful I did it. After a week of getting used to it, I could manage vibrato and string tension better on the 18th fret and above.
Marke Speer from the band Khruangbin is an excellent example of how a fully scalloped guitar sounds and can be used. Hist’s playing style is very oriental-oriented, and he rarely plays any full chords, making it ideal for him.
Does a Scalloped Fretboard affect tone?
Directly it affects note clarity slightly as the string only touches the fret and has fewer overall contact points with the wood. The difference thought might be so small that it does not account for much difference. You can have a more transparent tone on a guitar by changing strings and replacing old pickups with better ones.
On the other hand, the way you play with a scalloped fretboard can affect the tone. Playing with a soft touch to not detune the string affects your sound like it would on a regular guitar. Since vibrato feels different, you are most likely to sound slightly, not like you usually would until you get used to it.
Does a Scalloped Fretboard Help you Play Fast?
Speed is probably the greatest myth built around the scalloped fretboard. A scalloped fretboard doesn’t help you play faster. The string feels lighter due to not touching wood, and in the long run, it might help you develop a better technique. Scalloping can make you play slower until you get used to it.
Notorious players that use scalloped fretboards such as Steve Vai and Malmsteen are known for their speed. Malmsteen has a very advanced alternate picking technique and highly light touch, making him fluid at high speed. He scallops his custom Strat cause he wants to achieve note separation and a unique fluidity.
Speed is dependent on the combination of right-hand picking and left-hand dexterity. Scalloping the fretboard will make tension lighter on the string but not as much as affect your speed. Too little pressure on the left hand for some players can be awkward and slow them down.
If you want to scallop your fretboard to play faster, you should not do it. There are other things to improve in your playing and your guitar that you could do.
Is Scalloping the Fretboard Dangerous?
Scalloping the fretboard is a tricky procedure that I don’t advise doing yourself. Even if you are great at another aspect of guitar repair, scalloping requires a true professional who knows guitars well and is also an expert in working with wood.
The main risk is filing too deep and damaging the neck permanently. You could expose the trust road and ruin the neck if you don’t know when to stop filing. Buying a new one is your only alternative in that case. Another risk is damaging the frets by filing too close to them. The perfect concave shape of a scalloped fretboard is not easy to achieve, and there’s also the issue of the finish of the fretboard that is taken off and needs redoing.
An excellent way to go with the procedure is to buy an already scalloped neck or a spare one and scallop it before replacing your guitar’s original one. It might cost more, but it’s safer, and you can use your guitar’s original neck on another body if you end up liking the new scalloped fretboard.
There are many brands from which you can buy an already scalloped neck. A great company that ships already scalloped custom fretboards is Warmouth. For something more casual Modern C Shape Neck is a great example of a quality one you can install on your guitar.
Guitar Models With a Scalloped Fretboard?
Nowadays, you can purchase a guitar already scalloped out of the shop. It’s the safest way to do it with the most authentic result. However, not many models come with a scalloped fretboard except for some custom shop or signature guitars.
This golden standard of Scalloped guitars is the Malmsteen Signature Stratocaster. Apart from having a perfectly scalloped neck by Fender luthiers, this is an excellent premium versatile guitar.
The Seymour Duncan YJM Fury pickups are designed to handle more gain than the standard Strat, setting it apart from the other US Made Strats.
This small guitar manufacturer might not be well known but produces excellent quality guitars, mainly for heavy music.
The CLARUS is a very versatile model packed with all you need to play rock and metal with. I would compare it to a custom shop Ibanez from its characteristics. It features, among other premium parts, a fully scalloped Zebrawood fretboard.
This Kirk Hammet Signature model has scalloped frets from the 17th fret until the 24th. The neck is an extra thin U-shaped with a rosewood fretboard is made for a player that favors speed and comfort.
The active pickups, locking tuners, and Floyd Rose make this an ultimate shredders guitar. Everything about this guitar is premium so expect a very high price.
Question: How much does it cost to Scallop a fretboard?
Question: How to play a scalloped fretboard?
Question: What is the difference between Jumbo frets and Scalloped Frets?
Final Thoughts on Scalloped Fretboards
If you decide to go all the way with scalloping, make sure you leave your guitar in safe hands. A good luthier will do an effortless job and make the guitar feel great. Remember that once you do it, there’s no going back!
Either modify your guitar or purchase an already scalloped neck, but don’t expect it to make playing ‘easier.’ It indeed has some advantages for technical players. Still, some drawbacks come with it that limit your playing.