To Scallop Or Not To Scallop?

There are plenty of myths out there about scalloped fretboards. You know the rumors: They help you play fast. Or conversely, they slow you down. Or they can make you play out of tune. Or they’re hard to play. What’s the truth? And what on earth are they for?

A scalloped fretboard is one on which the wood is filed down between the frets. When viewed side-on it looks like the area has been scooped out. This effectively increases the height of each fret and removes the playing surface so that the player is virtually ‘playing the frets’ instead of the fretboard itself.

The scalloped fretboard stretches back beyond the history of the guitar, to instruments such as the lute. The first modern day guitarist to popularise the effect was Richie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow, Blackmore’s Night), and soon Yngwie Malmsteen followed suit. Both of these players are known for their classically-influenced rock virtuosity, but you don’t have to be a shredder to appreciate a scalloped fretboard. But you do have to have good ears, because it’s easier to squeeze a note out of tune if you’re not careful.

The main advantage of a scalloped fretboard is that it allows you to really grab onto each note. Does this make it easier to play fast? Nope! It can actually slow you down if you’re not used to it. And it can very quickly alert you if your callouses aren’t quite tough enough! But it also enhances the clarity and articulation of each note. This is why shredders sometimes prefer scalloped fretboards: because it shows off the work they’ve put into developing their technique, and the effort they’ve put into sculpting their tone. It’s no mistake that players who like scalloped fretboards tend to favor pickups which clearly translate the player’s articulation. Yngwie’s signature Fender Stratocaster (with Seymour Duncan YJM Fury pickups) has a fully scalloped fretboard, while the Richie Blackmore model with Quarter Pound Flat SSL-4 single coils features a graduated scallop which becomes deeper towards the higher frets. And the ESP Horizon FR-27 features 27 frets, with scalloping from the 12th to 27th frets to allow more soloing finesse while the 1st-11th fret positions remain unscalloped for easier chording. This guitar has a Custom 5 in the bridge position and a slanted Hot Rails in the neck.

So is a scalloped fretboard for you? That depends, but it’s certainly not just for those with Yngwie-like levels of virtuoso neoclassical technique. Blues and country players often feel right at home with scalloped fretboards because the feel is more consistent with the tall thin frets often found on the guitars used by such players. And indie guitarists might find a new level of note separation and clarity for lush middle-of-the-fretboard chords when playing a scalloped-fretboard guitar. As with most guitar mods, tweaks or design quirks, it’s hard to tell if you’ll like it until you try it!

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17 Comments

  1. How does scalloped fretboard add ‘clarity’? Scalloped or not vibrating strings won’t ever conctact the fretboard

    1. When a fretboard has a rough or knotted point in the wood, it can create a tone-sucking “dead spot”, even if the fretwork is perfect. A scalloped fretboard is the opposite of this; it eliminates even ever-so-slightly dead spots and so results in a very lively sound across the entire fretboard.

  2. Thanks Peter! Im gonna have to go find one & Try it out!! Will we see you at NAMM at the Buddy Blaze Booth? It was great to meet You there last year! keep up the killer interviews & sendin out info & tips ! You Da Man

  3. Let me tell you what scalloping does frankly. Following a forum article on Ultimate-Guitar.com, I scalloped the last 5 frets of my 24 fret maple neck MIK Samick with extreme caution.
    What I found is that, on a normal fretboard, when you fret a string, the flesh of your finger tip will touch both the string and fingerboard. Hence, when you perform bends and vibratos, you will do so against the TENSION OF THE STRING + FRICTION OF THE WOOD. Scalloping simply eliminates the friction of the wood. Your finger tip floats above the wood. This truly gives ultimate control over a fretted note. Its so easy to bend strings, and you can do vibratos like a m*****.
    In my personal experience, there is no loss in sustain. Also, past the 10th fret, you really need to press the string down HARD to squeeze a note out of tune 🙂 Just try it on your own guitar. The first few frets can go out comparatively easy, but that rarely happens too.
    Try it. Its worth the risk.

  4. This has been up for almost two years and Ritchie Blackmore’s name still hasn’t been correctly spelled?

  5. And what about those, who only scallop between 20-24 frets? There are more and more guys doing this… and maybe I give a try, too.

  6. I spec it was developed to eliminate string buzz back in the day of lesser luthiers and wood friction is worth mentioning but could be addressed with wood treatments.

  7. I want to say that John McLaughlin was the first guitarist in modern times to bring scalloped frets back into light … not Richie B. ( who both are long time favs of mine ) . McLaughlin woke the world up with the Mahavishnu Orchestra years ago with speed runs before there was a word for it . He influenced Jazz & Rock to a new level … a modern time Cream in a way you mite say but a lil’ more intense with a fleeting jazz improv ability .
    With this new in site to music , also came the new in site of playing the guitar today . Deeply into eastern music , John brought the use of a modified sitar fretting system but as stated before scalloped frets have been around since the beginning of the gut string guitar … but now there was PICKUPS & stacks of MARSHALL’s involved .

  8. I also wanted to add the mechanics of scalloped frets . It does bring speed to the neck because it is a light touch fretting system . The strings can be allowed to be set to a lower level which takes less time to fret a note and stay of follow up or hang up on your fingers … in and out . You can dig into the string more easily and smoothly for bends and vibrato with the floating string system too . Chords become a more precise execution of mechanics … the degree of touch is the name of the game with scalloped frets . Your floating above the fret board .
    If your a heavy hitter or a lot of solid rhythm chords , I’d stay away from scalloped frets but if you have great control over your fretting hand ( finesse ) then try it , you mite like it .
    There are many debates over touching the fret board with flesh of your finger and string proves to be a sustain ( vibrating the neck ) or a deaden effect … Or does the string ring out openly with a bridging of the two frets and transfer thru the frets to the neck … some what like bridge and nut ?
    You tell me .

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