If you’re interested in doing this, then you should bear in mind that the following qualities/items are a prerequisite.
A Cheap Neck. Don’t do this to your main guitar the first time around, do it on an old guitar you don’t use or rescue one from a pawn shop and work on that. I did it on this Samick I’ve had knocking around since the late 90s when I found it in a guitar shop in Portsmouth, UK. To this day I have no idea what model it is, but now it’s a scalloped one, so if you recognize it let me know in the comments.
Patience. I’d place this above woodworking skills because to get it right, and avoid the temptation just to rush through it, requires a mammoth amount of patience from the outset. This is going to take you 3-5 days from start to finish the first time, so don’t get any ideas about starting in the morning and playing a perfectly scalloped fretboard by the evening.
Woodworking Skills. If you can use a circular file, you can scallop a fretboard. There’s not much to the scalloping technique itself, as you’ll see if you watch someone doing it properly. I’ll admit it does take a few frets to get a feel for it, but there’s no advanced carpentry going on.
Tools. You’ll need some round files (not the half-rounded ones). I used two different sizes, one being a little smaller in diameter to get closer to the frets; a couple of clamps to hold the guitar in place while you scallop, some fine sand paper to smooth out any roughness, lemon oil, rags, masking tape, and plenty of elbow grease.
First, you should remove the neck and clamp it using a couple of vices (with cloths as buffers so as not to damage the neck), then put two layers of masking tape over each fret wire, scoring on either side so that you’re left with just the tape covering the actual fret wire. In his videos, Claus doesn’t do this, but I thought it would be a good idea to minimize any damage from dings with the file (and I was right).
When you’ve taped up your frets, you’re ready to start scalloping. I started on the fifth fret as it had a dot marker which I read would disappear, so I thought this would be a good place to start to get the general depth right. For the filing itself, you don’t need to exert too much force as the file will do most of the work for you, just make sure you’re consistent across the fret.
Once I’d done the first two frets, as you can see in the picture, I relaxed a bit because it didn’t look half-bad. This is the fifth and sixth fret filed down to the level of the dot marker. You’ll see the tape held up fairly well, and certainly prevented a fair few dings. If you do accidentally ding the fret wire, don’t worry as I found the perfect tool for getting rid of most minor dings. You can of course start wherever you wish, or just do a partial scallop from the twelfth to the top fret, but since I’d already decided to do the whole fretboard anyway, I started in the middle.
From here on in it’s simply of question of patience as you start to get an idea of how long this is going to take, and it is time-consuming, I won’t lie. On the third day, I had done around thirteen frets which included a lot of inspecting, going back and leveling frets etc. Admittedly, I didn’t have all day to be scalloping fretboards, which was a good thing as I probably would have gotten impatient and botched it sitting there filing for hours on end.
At this point the neck was playable, and after five days I was itching to try it out. If you have more patience than I do, you should probably apply a proper finish and do something about the dot markers, if only for the guitar to be more aesthetically pleasing and to protect the fretboard. So, I found some strings that I had lying around, which were probably 9s judging by the tension (I usually play 8s) and restrung her.
I have to say, I loved the feel of a scalloped fretboard, even a hack one like this. Bending and vibrato are an absolute dream, and it allows you to create so much more sustain on every note. Contrary to popular belief it is actually harder to play faster on a scalloped fretboard; I think I heard Yngwie Malmsteen also say this in an interview. I had read that chords go out of tune and that if you press too hard your notes will go sharp, but found none of this to be true. If you press abnormally hard, or you have a ridiculously heavy touch, then you may find notes going sharp but other than that there’s no difference. It’s actually easier to grab chords on a scalloped fretboard, and I found that it really made rhythm playing much more comfortable for some reason. I don’t think you have to have a particularly light touch either as you can really dig in with those bends. It could be my imagination but I found it transformed the tone of the guitar, made it much more resonant, and even fattened it up a little. I think this is more to do with the natural sustain you get from the scalloped fretboard.
I loved it, it didn’t take long to get used to and the painstaking process was very much worth it in the end. If you want to have a crack at this, don’t listen to the naysayers; it is something you can do yourself, just make sure you have the right tools and that you’ve done your research.