What Is the Purpose of Scallop Frets on a Guitar?

by Matt Gerrard

The fretboard of a guitar is normally flat between the frets. The fingerboard is created by inlaying strips of fret-wire into the solid board. However, some players have their fretboards "scalloped." This is where the space in between the fret wire is routed away, leaving a curved indentation. This design feature is quite popular with high-speed guitarists, known for "shredding." Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and John McLaughlin all play guitars with scalloped necks.

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Reduced Friction

When bending notes using a flat fretboard, the skin of your fingers is constantly in contact with the wood. This creates friction as you bend the string upward, as your fingers drag on its surface. Scalloping away the wood between the frets means that your fingertips never come into contact with the fretboard, and you're able to fret the note and bend it with much less resistance. This means that your bends take less effort, which reduces fatigue, making you more likely to hit the note you're aiming for.

More Clearance

The vibration of the strings is the lifeblood of a guitar's tone; anything interfering with the string's ability to vibrate will strip the tone of character and intensity. When a note is held down against a high fret, because the next fret up the scale is so nearby, there's a good chance the vibrating string will buzz against the adjacent fret. Scalloping the frets makes a tighter angle where the string meets the fret, creating slightly more clearance above the next fret along. This effect, coupled with the radius of the fretboard, means that large bends on the high strings won't get caught on the higher frets causing them to "choke."

Hammer-ons

Tapping your finger onto a ringing string and fretting the note without repicking it is known as a hammer-on. The string never actually comes into contact with the wood of the fretboard, as the soft flesh of your fingertip will fold around the string and "give" a little. Removing the wood of the fretboard allows your fingertip to travel further down below the surface of the fret. Theoretically, this allows you to create hammer-on notes with less pressure from your fretting hand, allowing you to play faster with a lighter touch. This is the reason that scalloped fretboards are popular with fast-playing "shred" guitarists.

Muting

Muting unwanted notes is always desirable as it makes your playing sound cleaner. When bending a high string upwards on a guitar with standard frets, the tips of your fingers will contact the adjacent string, muting it. On a scalloped fingerboard, your fingers are situated deeper into the neck, so they apply less direct pressure to the adjacent string, resulting in less overall resistance. Coupled with the reduced friction from the fingerboard, this often allows you to contact the next string along, muting both the adjacent strings.

About the Author

Matt Gerrard began writing in 2002, initially contributing articles about college student culture to "The Gateway" magazine, many of which were republished on the now-defunct Plinth blog. Since then, Gerrard has worked as a technician for musicians, educators, chemists and engineers. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in music technology from DeMontfort University.

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