Scallop Your Guitar (Standard Scallop, Frets 14-21)

261,680

287

233

Posted

Introduction: Scallop Your Guitar (Standard Scallop, Frets 14-21)

Art of Sound Contest

Runner Up in the
Art of Sound Contest

Hey again everybody.
I'm back, with another handy instructable if you're in the mood of cutting up your guitar even more.
This time I will explain how I scalloped my fretboard, and how you can too.

Scalloped fretboards are not very common these days, but have been around of hundreds of years (like the veena, an indian instrument with a mad crazy scalloped fretboard) Recently scalloped fretboards have been introduced to the world of electric guitars through plays such as Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, and Yngwie Malmsteen. However, they both use full neck scalloped guitars, and this instructable is for a standard scallop, meaning frets 14-21 are scalloped.

So what exactly are scalloped frets? Scalloping a fretboard is when you remove wood from the fretboard so that when the guitar is played, the fingers only contact the string, not the wood underneath, eliminating massive amounts of friction. It is much easier to bend strings with a scalloped guitar, and many guitarists do claim that scalloped fretboards allow you to play faster, as minimal contact with the string is needed (though I have not experienced this, nor have other guitarists I have talked to).

DISCLAIMER: I am not responsible for any harm that may come to you or your guitar. You can scallop you guitar beautifully with absolutely no previous experience as a luthier. Minimal experience with wood is suggested (we've all taken shop one time in school).

Take you time and be patient.
You might want to do this on that old guitar sitting in your garage rather than your brand new guitar

Thank you to everybody who voted in the Art of Sound contest!

Step 1: Materials

-A guitar
-Some duct tape, or masking tape
-A rounded metal file (meaning its round all around) Mine was about 5/16" in diameter at the widest section.
-Murphy Oil (any wood cleaner can do I think)
-A toothbrush
-Sandpaper of many variates of fine grit.
-Dremel with a buffing wheel attachment, or a buffing wheel of some sorts. (A rag can work too)
-Screwdriver
-Wire clippers
-New guitar strings

Step 2: Starting Off...

Find a nice working area with a lot of space.

Lay your guitar flat on the working table, and clip all your strings. I found it handy to scallop my frets right before I needed a string change.

Remove all strings and turn the guitar over. Unscrew the screws that hold the body and neck of the guitar. Not all guitars have bolt on necks, I find removing the neck easier so that you have more control. It's alright to scallop the neck when it is attached, just be cautious.

Recently people have asked me, "Why didn't you just untie the strings?". Yeah, you can unitie the strings and scallop your frets. My strings were getting old, and my guitar strings are tied so that I left little slack, which makes it very difficult to restring. Plus I restring my guitar about once to twice a month, so I just waited until it was convenient for me.

Step 3: Prepping the Neck

So now you're going to have your bare exposed guitar neck.
Cover frets 1-13 with tape, to make sure if you slip you wont scratch another fret. Its just a precaution, and its recommended.

Now I didn't do this, but you probably should
Cover each fret with a strip of tape, and trim the excess with a razor if you are worried about damaging your frets.
My frets weren't that damaged, and were slightly polished by the time I finish, but its an added form of security.

Step 4: Starting to Remove the Wood

My guitar only has 21 frets so that's where I started.

Basically you want to pass the file back and forth over the entire length of the fret, not one specific part, so that you are removing an even amount of wood.

Since your fretboard is curved, you also want to make you cut slightly curved as well.

You want to make multiple file passes, all next to each other, with different depths, to attain a curved effect.

It is easier to get the curved effect on the higher frets (the width of the fret is about the same as the diameter of your file), but as you get to wider frets, you will have to shape it using the multiple pass method.

Step 5: Continuing the Process..

Some tips when removing the wood.
As explained before, you will need multiple passes with the file when working on wider frets.

I filed a general channel in the center of the fret to start off. Then I filed channels on each side.

Step 6: Sanding!

When you have established the general shape, its time to move on to sanding.
Remember, sanding shapes what you cannot do with filing.
Filing just gets rid of the wood you cannot with sanding (you can but it'd take forever)

Sand with sandpaper starting at a low grit, and eventually make your way up to higher grits.
I started at like 80 and wound up at 400. I would advise you to go up to maybe 800 (I just didn't have anything higher)

Step 7: Cleaning!

After sanding, you need to clean all the gunk thats stuck on your fingerboard.
I used Murphy Oil, a great wood cleaner.'

Pour a thin line of oil on the fretboard, and use a toothbrush to scrub.
Scrub for a good amount, as you want to get rid of the gunk.

Step 8: Even More Sanding!

Now that your fretboard is cleaned of the gunk, run your hand across it.
Feels rough right? All that sanding gunk stopped you from sanding all the way. We needed to clean the fretboard so we can sand AGAIN.

Sand once more.

Step 9: Even More Cleaning!

We need to clean the fretboard again.
Go through the same process.

You should continue this cycle of sanding and cleaning until your fretboard is nice and smooth

Step 10: Buffing

Get your dremel with that buffer attachment (or even better, a buffing wheel), and start polishing your fretboard.

You could always use a cloth, but you would need massive arms for the amount of buffing you are about to do.

Buff until shiny.

Step 11: Admire

Pat yourself on the back if you managed to get this far.
After this mod I scalloped all the way down to my 12th fret.
Have fun playing your scalloped guitar!

2 People Made This Project!

Recommendations

  • Science of Cooking

    Science of Cooking
  • Pocket-Sized Contest

    Pocket-Sized Contest
  • Trash to Treasure

    Trash to Treasure
user

We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.

Tips

Questions

235 Comments

Thanks for this post. It may help new generation of guitar players to became an virtuoso.

When I was young I was fascinated how Richie played and made one for my self. Actually I've got a big help from my neighbor who was very good carpenter. So all process took about an month. After that I spent about 4-5 month to get used to it but have no regret. I played on it about next 5 years until I changed my career and dropped a band. Thanks again

What is the point of scalloping frets?

They make bends easier, because your fingertip can get more purchase on the string.

They also force you to use a light touch, 'cause deathgripping a scalloped neck will pull your notes sharp.

Do you think this could also be done with a bass?

Could be, but the main advantage of this is to get more purchase for bending, which isn't something I've seen done often on bass (though I very well may not be looking in the right places)

I write this as an amateur luthier.
I've constructed 5 guitars from from lumber in addition to the maintenance I've performed, including several re-frets and one scallop job on several others.

This can be very dangerous to the integrity of your guitar neck. Aside from the potential damage to your frets, you're taking away the stability of the neck.

- frets:
I'm surprised you didn't damage your frets.  The author did a very nice job here but remember, even if you don't gouge up your frets,  you're pulling wood away from the sides of the fret slots. I've seen lower-quality fret boards where the wood was over dried [probably low in natural oils] and it became quite brittle during a re-fret.  One import Charvel in particular [beautiful neck geometry] flaked off quite a bit of rosewood when I was pulling frets.
If you're going to do this, at the very least mask off your frets.
Be very careful and deliberate when filing or grinding down fretboard and keep an eye on the taped frets for any signs you're tearing up the tape.

- Neck stability:
There are two main reason why your neck stays straight. You probably have a truss rod down the middle which can be adjusted to create tension to counteract the force caused by the strings. A typical set of guitar strings will pull about 65lbs, more in some tunings and more with heavier strings.
The other thing keeping a neck like this straight is the lamination of the rosewood and the maple. Like plywood, it's stronger than a simple board. It's also no coincidence that luthers typically pick different woods for the neck and fretboard. Fretboards are usually constructed of harder woods than necks.. the neck is less likely to bow forward because of this [a forward bow requires compression of the harder wood].  
So, what happens when you start removing mass from the fretboard? You're decreasing the effectiveness of laminating the fretboard to the neck by removing fretboard mass. This isn't such a big deal over the neck heal [fret 16+ in this instructable example] but it'll be more pronounced in the more distal range of the neck.

My recommendations:

-  Be VERY careful unless you're also comfortable replacing damaged frets.

- Be VERY careful because you're more likely to damage the fretboard if you have to refret a scalloped neck.

- Don't over-do the scallop. The reason to scallop is to pull the fretboard away from the strings so your fingers don't drag on the board. You don't need to dig out more than necessary for this. - scalloping, especially on wider spaces [lower frets] will cause you to deflect the string more when you push too hard and it'll affect your pitch. It'll do it for the same reason that a high nut will mess up the intonation [more on the lower frets than upper].

- A partial scallop will leave more neck mass, which is good. But, it also creates an uneven amount of mass [rigidity] down the neck. This isn't so bad if you keep the scallop to the higher frets since necks tend to bow around the middle [bend a long stick an see where it arcs the most]. The truss rod will also, for the same reason, provide the most effect in the middle [9th-ish]. What you don't want to do is make the neck more rigid at one end than the other because the truss rod force will have a uniform grade from the middle to the ends and you want your neck to have the same. If you want to scallop farther down than 15.. you might want to make the scallop less shallow as you get to each larger fret span.

- You can't predict how deep the fret markers will be. If they're phenolic plastic, they'll probably be thicker than a mother of pearl marker will be. If you want to scallop deep.. be increasingly mindful of this as you go down. Right before you sand through them, they should start to get translucent. If you've MoP markers, you probably won't be able to go as deep as the neck shown here.

- A tip on doing it.. Get a set of dowel rods of increasing diameter and wrap them in sand paper. Not only can you dial in the arc for the scallop better, you get to change your grit and even turn the rods to sand with the grain when you're doing the finishing sandings.

Just a couple things to say here:
1. If you are relying entirely on a 1/4" thick piece of rosewood, ebony or some other pretty wood to keep your guitar from bending or breaking, you are probably doing it wrong.
2. I agree with you wholeheartedly on the fret markers and truss rod thing, but if your guitar has no truss rod and mother of pearl fret markers, it is probably an expensive antique and if they do this mod to one of those, you can help me hunt them down if you want.
3. This mod wouldn't really be for use on an old classical guitar, more like a newer one made for shredding and the like, Most of which do have adjustable truss rods.

I probably wouldn't do this unless I was building the guitar myself and knew the materials going into it. But, your guitar is your guitar and what you do with your companion is your decision.

Nice job, by the way.

looks nice.

Looks good. I did this once on a friends Jackson DInky. Except I just used a Dremel tool with those little drum sander bits for the whole job. That way you don't go across the grain. That got the job done in no time, and it came out clean enough that my friend was able to sell the guitar. I wonder how it's done at the factory.

they use what is basically a drum sander controlled by a computer, but very few factories make these features, as they are expensive and difficult on Mass Production....