Unleashing The Mysteries Of A Scalloped Fingerboard

Over the years there have been many modifications to the electric and acoustic guitar. One of the more radical ones is the use of a scalloped fingerboard. This is an irreversible modification that ‘scoops out’ the wood between the frets. This article will explain exactly why someone might do this, the benefits and drawbacks of scalloping and why this became popular in electric guitar playing.

Some History…

The idea of having little or no wood between the frets of a fretted instrument isn’t new in music. The South Indian veena (or vina) has been built this way long before Yngwie travelled beyond the sun. The Indian sitar (which came many years after the veena) has raised, curved frets with strings running above and below these frets. In many traditional Asian and Indian music forms, notes are bent by pushing straight down into the neck, rather than bent side to side as on a traditional guitar. This facilitates very wild bending that you hear in this music. However, this music is based in single notes played over sustained drones, and traditional Western harmony (music based on diatonic chords) is not used.

In Europe, early lutes were built with scalloped fretboards, probably as influence from the Eastern instruments. Traditional lute music, however, rarely took influence from the East, as wild bending techniques were not used. This suggests that the scalloping was merely ornamental, rather than something used to achieve a certain sound.

OK, not that far back. What about electric guitar?

The first electric guitarist to use a scalloped fretboard on a popular recording is someone Jeff Beck called ‘the best guitarist alive’: John Mclaughlin. John used a scalloped fretboard on his groundbreaking albums with the fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra (a Gibson ES-345) as well as his Indian-influenced band Shakti (an Abe Wechter-built 13 string built from a Gibson J-200). Mclaughlin used the scalloped fretboard for those unique Eastern bends straight down towards the fingerboard wood.

The next big player who used one was the great Ritchie Blackmore, from Deep Purple and later, Rainbow. Ritchie, who knew Mclaughlin, was influenced by the lute music of the British Isles. His exciting style used mostly single notes played very fast, mixed in with wild bluesy bends. His scallops were a little different as they were deeper towards the next higher fret and virtually nonexistent under the larger strings. These asymmetrical scallops helped Ritchie achieve his big bends and wild cello-like vibrato.

Yngwie Malmsteen is the one many guitarists today associate with a scalloped fretboard. His playing was influenced by Baroque violin and cello playing, and helps him obtain a similar vibrato. Being a big fan of Ritchie Blackmore helped too.

Why would anyone choose to play such a thing?

On a traditional guitar, you press the string down right behind the fret, and you feel the wood underneath your finger. The sounding length of the string is between the top of the fret and the bridge. On a scalloped fingerboard, you do press until the string contacts the top of the fret and no more. You don’t feel wood under your finger, and if you pressed any more, the note would go sharp. As a result, it requires a light touch. With less effort on the fretting hand, your arm can be more relaxed, and it causes less pain. Traditional bends are especially easy, as the strings glide along the tops of the frets easier, and your fingers don’t drag along the fingerboard. You can position your finger so you can get a little under the string as well. Vibrato is enhanced the same way- the string glides along the tops of the frets and your finger doesn’t drag along the wood. Bends can happen straight down too, although that is a little more difficult as the tension of the strings causes them to dig into the fingers. It is easy to add vibrato to entire chords this way, which is a neat effect.

Some guitars are offered with just the last few frets scalloped, for ease of bending- especially if the guitar has 24 frets.

All this sounds great, but what are the drawbacks?

The first drawback is that it is an irreversible modification. Modern luthiers scallop a fingerboard by using round or conical files between the frets. Go too deep and you will see the side position markers. You might go through the fingerboard into the neck, or worse, hit the truss rod. People inexperienced with files can chip or gouge the frets too.

Maple fingerboards have to be refinished afterwards, and if the fingerboard is an exotic wood, realize that scalloping will eat most of that away.

It isn’t something to do on an investment-quality instrument unless you never intend to sell it and make your money back.

The good news is that there are good luthiers out there who do scalloping so you don’t have to. Warmoth Guitar & Bass Parts sells necks that are pre-scalloped and finished for the most popular guitar styles. Fender’s Ritchie Blackmore Signature Stratocaster features scallops as well as two Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound FlatsYngwie’s signature Fender guitar features deep scallops and three Seymour Duncan YJM Fury pickups.

Playing-wise, there is a lot to consider as well. You must either must have or develop a very light touch with the fretting hand, otherwise it can easily sound like every note is out of tune. Chords are especially problematic, and if it is difficult to keep one note in tune, simple open chords can become a nightmare as the fretted notes can easily pushed too hard, sounding sharp against the open strings. A scalloped fingerboard feels completely different, as differences in neck radius have less of an impact, and a part of the neck is simply gone.

Isn’t just having tall frets the same thing?

In my opinion, it doesn’t feel the same at all. It feels like tall frets, not like a scalloped fingerboard. Tall frets also wear over time, so the differences become greater as time goes on. Personally, I find it much harder to adjust to tall frets than a scalloped board. You get the ease of bending of a scalloped board, but you can’t bend notes by pressing down very far, and bending individual notes in chords (a very cool effect) doesn’t work at all.

My journey with a scalloped fingerboard

My scalloped Silhouette Special next to an almost identical SUB1. Both feature the same pickups: APH1 and a Custom Custom.
My scalloped Silhouette Special next to an almost identical SUB1. Both feature the same pickups: APH1 and a Custom Custom.

I was always a B
lackmore and Mclaughlin fan, and got into Yngwie later. I loved their wild bends and vibrato, and one thing they had in common was the scalloped board. I tried the first version of the Yngwie Strat in the early 90s, and from that time, I vowed I would own a guitar with a scalloped board one day.

I bought a Music Man Silhouette Special in the early 2000s with the intent of having the fingerboard scalloped. Not trusting my skills, I sent it to a luthier who had done it many times. This is, and has been, my favorite and main guitar for many years. It is also the only one I had scalloped (so far). I have always had a light touch with both hands, letting the pickups and amp work harder than I do. The scallops suit my playing style very well, and when I play this guitar, my left hand is certainly more relaxed. I have noticed this carrying over to my other guitars too- it helped a lot with the tension I hold in the left hand. Now, I only press down (on any guitar) just enough for the strings to contact the top of the frets and no more. This relaxation has allowed longer playing times, and dare I say it, a bit of a speed increase without all of that energy expended.

Nowadays, many great guitarists are using partial or full-scalloped fingerboards. Who are some of your favorites? Have you ever tried a scalloped fingerboard?

Join the Conversation


  1. I have a warmoth scalloped neck and I love it. It plays awesome and had no problems adjusting. I have no problems with chords going out of tune. I use 10-46 gauge strings.

  2. Very informative article. The first player I heard of who used this type of guitar was Matthew Montfort of the world music group Ancient Future.
    Scalloped-fretboard guitars used in Vietnamese music also have this kind of fretboard; those are called “lục huyền cầm” or “ghi-ta phím lõm” (literally ghi-ta “guitar” + phím “fret” + lõm “sunken”).

        1. This is on the Archive of Future Ancient Recordings, which has over an hour of music on it, including three studio tracks and the rest live. The plan is to fill up several discs with live and studio tracks. But we need to raise more money to pay for more music: we are at 13% of our goal. It’s a bargain to support the project at: http://www.ancient-future.com/afar.html. You get everything already there and everything we record in the future for the archive.

  3. I had an early 90’s Malmsteen Strat and it was hands down the fastest guitar I have ever owned. One day I will get another scalloped guitar but it will be a tele with 2 fender noiseless cobalt strat pickups and an Seymour Duncan Humbucker in the bridge position, needs a strat hard tail bridge also.

  4. I’ve played a Scalloped Neck Guitar and Absolutely HATED IT!!! You’d have to be Ritchie Blackmore or Yngwie to play one of those Funky Feeling Things. My Buddy has one fingering that thing is awful. Maybe it’s just me and my lack of skills but I hated playing that thing. To each his own!!!

  5. I have two six string bass guitars, each with partially scalloped finger boards. ( above the 12th fret) i love it, i know people will say ‘ i shouldnt be playing up there anyway’ but i make use of the scalloping. It really benefits playing at speed and string bending, especially on a big neck. Don’t forgett, Billy Sheehan has a partially scalloped fongerboard on his signature bass model!

  6. If having scalloped fretboards mean you sound as bad as that pudgy middle aged in the video then count me out.

  7. I have a scalloped strat and a superstrat with jumbo frets. The jumbo frets certainly give you more control but it is not the same. The scalloped neck gives you a far better grip on the string and you can use a much lighter touch.

  8. Tried a scalloped fretboard and didn’t like it. But I wonder how much craziness a capo would play on one of those things.

  9. Question: how does having a scalloped fingerboard effect tapping? does it make it easier or harder, sound weird, etc? Also, does anyone have any experience with scalloped fingerboards on a bass?

  10. I have been playing scalloped fret boards for 30 years and later designed my own raga-guitar with mobile frets. Long ago, I realized I would never want to play again with wood under my fingers restricting my playing style. As strange as this may seem to the majority of guitarists; I would recommend scalloping for advanced players on any style of guitar. Try, feel and hear , you may never wanna go back to the stiff old fretboard .

  11. Just to mention Uli Jon Roth here who used scalloped necks since the 60s and also he is just worthy to be mentioned as he is the greatest most underrated player ever. And that’s Jason Becker’s opinion, not mine.

  12. I’m not much of a guitar player at all, just keep an old beater in the basement to fool with every now and then (A $40 Academy electric). But I decided to try to scallop the frets, I did frets 13-21 with a Dremel using 1/4 and 1/2 inch sanding drums. It turned out better than I thought it would and feels very nice, I had never touched a scalloped fretboard before that, but it feels good, doesn’t seem like it’ll take long to get used to. I would recommend playing one before doing it to your own guitar, but it is not difficult if you TAKE YOUR TIME and have the right tools to do it.

  13. I’m considering having scalloped frets for certain guitars. For example, I have this 24-fret (or 25.5″ scale) guitar with what I guess you could call a “non-reversed” headstock, in that the tuner for the highest string is farthest away from the nut and creating more length and thus tension needed for the string, that mixed with the fact that I like strings to be sturdy (in the case of Standard E, usually an .011-set), so that’s quite some push needed to bend higher notes in the sense of typical Rock and Metal solos and so forth.
    However, since my playing-style is quite intense, though I have backed off over the years, I’m quite firm with my fretting-fingers. I’m worried I’ll mess up my playing. To be honest, I don’t make a lot of contact with the wood anyway. I don’t like that feeling and insist I grab onto the strings only. – But, perhaps just scalloping the highest region, or going from very shallow at the first frets to a little deeper at the very highest would be a good remedy.
    The thing is also, I actually like to use the frets up to the 24th, very rarely I’d like even more, but I do melodies and chords in the higher regions, which I try to be precise about anyway. But I don’t know, again, if it would mess it all up with significant scalloping and I’d always get at least one sharp note or something. I think probably the barred notes with the index-finger might be the worst, especially the higher strings, because I tend to press down as hard as possible as to not get any muted notes. – So it’s difficult to determine…
    Maybe shallow to deeper from the 12th fret and onward could be a thing…
    On top of that, I’m not sure if some details like the inlays would become a problem (as in, destroyed or removed). I don’t have the most expensive guitars, but still.

    1. I’d recommend you put it off until you can try it on another guitar. Or get a very inexpensive guitar to try scalloping (I had someone else do mine). I noticed some chords being out of tune initially, but I adjusted to it. It will force you to use much less effort to fret, and will minimize your motion (always a good thing). Watch Yngwie or John McLaughlin play…very little motion. Also, some people love just the last few frets scalloped. I went for the whole thing.

    2. I would be very surprised if you didn’t love it. the removal of the fingerboard under the strings causes the strings to actually feel more taut while you’re pressing them because, and I don’t know the physics here, the finger is not stopped by the fingerboard before the string can reach it’s tensile capacity, i’e’ there’s still slack in the string and that slack is a feeling i hate hate hate! It’s like when strings are thin for the scale length, 9s on a les paul? no thanks! But 10s on a scalloped fender scale feel like 11s when you’re fretting but when you’re bending it feels better and easier because you’re not dragging along the fingerboard, and with the wood gone, you can get in and almost under the string so your authority with bends goes through the roof! your fingers hit the strings and stick!

  14. A few years back, I picked up a Squire “Strat” for cheap that has a rosewood scalloped neck. It’s not a very high quality instrument, and I’ve tended to neglect it, but I just wiped off the dust, polished and cleaned the fretboard, restringed with 9s (I usually use 10-12s on my other guitars), and I’m really enjoying it. There shouldn’t be a concern about pulling notes out of tune, because if you are using that much pressure, you are pressing too hard on whatever kind of neck you are playing. I’m not inclined to scallop a neck myself, so my other guitars should be safe, but I’d really like to get a better quality guitar with a scalloped neck.

  15. I have scalloped three of my maple necks in the last few years. I play country and pop on a scalloped neck black guard tele. No one I know has ever played a scalloped tele (Jazz goes to my 335 as does a share of the commercial gigs) but as far as I know I’ve never seen anyone play a scalloped tele. Im surprised John V doesn’t and I bet dollars for days that the only reason is because the shred-gen (of which I was a very willing participant) stigmatized a perfectly valid modification to the instrument!
    One the residual impacts of the scalloped neck is a type of chambering of the tone in the way that a semi hollow body does. You can call me crazy but the timbral impact of not squeezing both sides of the neck allows the vibration to move more freely up and down the length of the instrument. Having played these guitars before and after the scalloping was done, I can guarantee that in all three cases the tone has shifted to a more transparently resonant and very vibey thing. It’s not alway perfect for the job so I have one un-scalloped maple neck and I have my old 335 but I have a scalloped tele, strat and offset special (the shell pink one) and they get played a lot!

  16. I have scalloped a few Strat style guitars (a few old Schecters and recently a Squire Strat). I’ve been playing them for years and love it. I really like feeling the string and not the wood. It takes a little getting use to, but not much. I did it because of Ying Yang back in the late 80’s and never looked back. I don’t play that kind of music much anymore, but I also like the scalloped neck playing more indie Rock, and even Country licks. The only draw back I see, besides the no-turning-back factor, is when you are looking down the neck to check it, it’s hard to really see the straightness of the neck. Some of the tools used for neck work are not usable either.

  17. I have Telecaster Thinline with 22 scalolped maple frets. No way to return to regular one, it feels like jumping in fresh wather at very hot summar day. For must time i play chord melody jazz standards at it.

  18. I resurrect broken and low quality guitars regularly, or maybe I should say irregularly. For example I took a 1958 U.S made harmony stratotone semi-hollowbody and modernized it with EMG (passive) and other modern hardware, grover tuners ECT, and it now is one of best shred guitars I own, action is unbelievable. Anyways I self scalloped a guitar I pulled from a trashcan on the street. I won’t say the brand but it’s bout as budget as u can get. When I originally resurrected this guitar it turned out so good that I felt it would be ideal candidate to try scalloping. It was a rough job, but successful. I can’t stop playing it, even my sloppy sweeping is enhanced. I’d NEVER do this to one of my expensive guitars, but I look forward to buying a scalloped fretboard guitar very soon to go with my self scalloped “blue special” it changes the tone and very much requires light touch but every player should try it at least once

Leave a comment


Your Cart