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

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

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

Picture of 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)
-Wire clippers
-New guitar strings

Step 2: Starting Off...

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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

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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

Picture of 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..

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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!

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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!

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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!

Picture of 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!

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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

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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

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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!


kotermak (author)2017-06-05

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

freeza36 (author)2012-05-20

What is the point of scalloping frets?

mavericgamer (author)freeza362017-04-11

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.

tsvoboda (author)2011-10-23

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

mavericgamer (author)tsvoboda2017-04-11

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)

MattW88 made it! (author)2016-04-18

Completely finished my Strat from frets 12-21, turned out amazing in my opinion and I couldn't be happier with it. Can't understand why more people don't like scalloped fretboards, playing it is a freeing experience.

Anyway, great tutorial, I shared pics and some extra tips I learned along the way on my blog that might help you out:

MattW88 made it! (author)2016-04-15

Awesome tutorial, wish I had paid more attention to this before I started!

Slow going at this point but turning out pretty cool, I'll post updates when I finish :)

sbandyk (author)2013-01-21

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.

BadPuns (author)sbandyk2014-06-30

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.

etkoehn (author)2013-11-03

looks nice.

ntagn33 (author)2009-06-20

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....

Hazzard2theworld911 (author)2012-02-20

man, you mangled those frets.... I did this, but I used a Drill press with a sanding drum, and it turned out wonderfully

powercow244 (author)2012-01-15

this seems really cool and awesome but... sorry, I don't wan't to destroy my guitar ... it means a lot to me and if i messed up... i would be really sad.

xntrick (author)2012-01-11

very cool, i was going to have my superstrat scalloped by some guy on ebay but i may have to try this. I already have a YJM type of strat and the scalloped neck is such a treat to play, the more i play it the lighter my touch becomes.

FrozenIce (author)2011-10-30

HAHAH THATS SOO COOOL!!! :) do u think doing it to a clasical would be usefull or good?? and reply would be usefull :P :)

HTWTUSA (author)2011-08-09

Been playin' for over ten years and never even seen, heard of or considered this option...

just did it to my Artcore AF85 an I gotta say, after a couple of days getting used to it, I can freaking SHRED riffs faster than ever, with crystal clarity... (went all the way down to the 4th fret).

Thank you so much for allowing me to take my playing to a whole other level!

I've printed this 'ible and taken it and my Ibanez to my axe-smith...he'll be doing the mod on my other rigs for me, and possibly offering it to his other clients.

5 stars...all the way...good job!

itsachen (author)HTWTUSA2011-08-09

Thanks for the feedback!

I'm glad the mod worked out for you. One note though, I'm not a full blown luthier though (just a DIY'er who plays guitar), so I didn't mention how to properly finish and treat the wood after you file it. I'm sure your axe-smith (awesome word btw) will know what to do though.

Rock on my friend!

HTWTUSA (author)itsachen2011-08-09


To finish mine out, I just re-sealed the rosewood with a nice wood conditioner, followed by two coats of Minwax ultra poly with a run of 1000 grit between and after. Then I rubbed the whole board down with some super hard beeswax before I restrung it....

Plays like a rocket...xD

HTWTUSA (author)itsachen2011-08-09

I'm actually a master carpenter, so the finish work was easy...I just never thought to mod my frets...*facesmack*...

But, seriously man, other than beating on my guitars every day for the past 10 years, nothing has ever improved my game as much as this did.

Thanks a bunch.

BobMarleyFan (author)2011-06-11

I wouldn't clip the strings, the change in tension could damage your guitar, instead, loosen them and take them off or at least take most of the strain off of them and then clip them, plus this prevents strings from flying every where

asdfcrow (author)BobMarleyFan2011-07-18

The change in tension will not damage the guitar, provided you aren't using 12's. Guitars are built from stronger stuff than that. However, it probably is a good idea to loosen them, I just unwrap mine.

itsachen (author)BobMarleyFan2011-06-12

Correct, I just didn't write "loosen strings" before clip.

Postscript624 (author)2009-06-28

Is the dremel necessary? I don't have a lot of power tools (read as: I have a power drill and that;s it) and I don't really want to have to go buy one. Is it desperately important to dremel polish (or polish at all) the scalloped frets?

norsehorse (author)Postscript6242009-07-01

I did mine without polishing and it was fine. Afterwards I just oiled the neck and the color came back to normal.

TheMaker888 (author)norsehorse2011-06-13

the color changes cause the wood shavings get into the smallest indents in the fret board, the oil cleans the powder off :P

jeff-o (author)Postscript6242009-07-15

It's worth buying a Dremel in general. It's an extremely useful tool to have.

jpman (author)2011-03-18

what do you mean when your fret board starts to bevel??
i have an ibanez S
i dont think it has that

dodeca (author)2010-11-21

I suggest going to you local kitchen collection or other cooking store and get a half round micro plane i have also seen them in high dollar tool catalogs but i got mine cheaper at K.c . only cut into the wood not out of the wood

classicrocker182 (author)2010-11-10

You can eventually buff and use uber fine gritted sand paper and get the frets looking nicer but this 'mod' is for performance

BFMV93 (author)2010-11-06

how far should u file down to the fret?

itsachen (author)BFMV932010-11-06

I'd say 1/16" to 1/8" is fine. Closer to the 1/16" though

BFMV93 (author)itsachen2010-11-06

Alright thanks man i appreciate it

BFMV93 (author)2010-11-06

ive been playing scalloped frets for about 4 years now and this instruction uve made has deffinetly helped to do it RIGHT lol. and i believe it does make you play faster. i play speed metal and thrash on a gibson explorer

itsachen (author)BFMV932010-11-06

Thanks dude!

!revenge! (author)2010-10-27

i've heard that if you remove the strings of a gibson guitar, the neck will bend because the tension is lost. so is it actually possible to do this on a gibson lp guitar?

itsachen (author)!revenge!2010-10-27

Removing the strings is kinda different than removing the wood. Strings are responsible for a great deal of tension, which explains why the neck bends. Taking a bit of wood off the neck won't significantly damage the structural integrity of the neck

!revenge! (author)itsachen2010-10-27

yes i know that, but if you want to scallope your guitar, you will have to remove the strings. because the tension is lost, the neck can bend.

itsachen (author)!revenge!2010-10-27

You only remove it for a short amount of time. I think it would be insignificant

!revenge! (author)itsachen2010-10-28


the_burrito_master (author)2010-10-19

Nice, I don't play guitar but for the short times that I've picked one up I've really seen the need for this. If i were to play I'd do this.

PieMaster777 (author)2010-10-10

by curved do you mean up and down? If so, then does it matter if it is curvy because the point of scalloping is to remove contact.

BigMac96 (author)2009-07-01

Would it be useful to scallop the frets on a bass?

moogbeatz99 (author)BigMac962010-10-05

not really.....

rocketkid (author)BigMac962009-12-24

if you bend on it then, sure.... lol personally, ive never tried bending notes on a bass, but i mean, if u have enough muscle to pull that off, it would probably be badass...

dfwsupergeek (author)rocketkid2010-09-23

It's not hard at all to bend notes on bass. I could never get the range of bend out of them, but bending is no problem. Especially on my Aria Pro Integra Bass, which I broke the truss rod on years ago. I wish there was an instructible on how to fix those...
Oh, well- life goes on!
Again, great job!

Clayton H. (author)rocketkid2010-01-20

Billy Sheans bass is half scaloped. and its not that hard to bend a bass string.

cj72396 (author)Clayton H.2010-04-29

 I do a lot of bending in my bass solos, and it's not hard in the slightest.

puzzledones (author)2010-09-24

I had a Vox Guitar back around 1969 that had all the frets scalloped. Sold it at the time to buy my first Trumpet.

itsachen (author)puzzledones2010-09-24

Wow. Interesting story...

About This Instructable




Bio: Student, guitarist, tinkerer I've always loved tools and working with my hands. Coupled with a DIY spirit and intrinsic frugality, I try to bring ... More »
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