Apr 18, 2016

Adventures of a Squier Strat Episode VII - The Fretboard Awakens

A.K.A. How to (not) scallop your fretboard.  But fear not, this story still has a happy ending.

Lots of pretty pics and some decent tips below!

Let's pick up where we left off - if you missed the first part it's a bit shorter and you can find it here:

Shaping the fretboard was done by wrapping 60 grit sandpaper around a drumstick for frets 12-15, and a dowel rod for 16-21.  A small half-round metal file was crucial for shaping the wood right against the frets.

This part took ages and is the sole reason I'm not scalloping another guitar for quite a while.

Note - you do NOT have to scallop as deeply as I did.  While it looks even cooler with deeper scallops, the extra space doesn't really make it play differently and is more work.

More importantly, you run the risk of weakening the neck, or more likely sanding through the fret markers.  My twelfth fret dots took a bit of damage and are paper thin; however since your fingers no longer touch the fretboard, it's only cosmetic damage.

Finally finished shaping the fretboard, I opted to scallop from 12 to 21 only.  I'm glad I did for several reasons.
1)  Scalloping low frets is even more time consuming and easier to mess up due to the large area

2) Chords are slightly more difficult to play in tune on a scalloped board, so this doesn't affect chords and strumming generally.

3) I can still use a capo up to fret 11; capos on a scalloped fret go sharp.

Honestly though I'd still love a full scalloped board like Yngwie Malmsteen, the awful time commitment and risk of failing were the biggest reasons I didn't.  I think scalloping from frets 12 - 21 took about four to five hours, mostly just shaping the fretboard, and I'd expect at least ten hours total for an entire board, which doesn't sound fun at all.

After sanding with the 60 grit I went back over the board a bit with 100 grit sandpaper (still using the dowel rod).

By now our fretboard is nicely full of... wood dust and crap.  Let's fix that!

A toothbrush and a bowl of water works nicely to remove 99% of bacteria and prevent cavities, recommended by four of five dentists for your fretboard.

Now our fretboard is clean... but the water has made it uneven!  Due to natural variance in the wood, some of it will rise more than other parts, and it will become bumpy again.  Never fear, just time to hit it with a bit of 400 grit sandpaper and steel wool.

A bit of a problem here: all that mucking around with 60 grit sandpaper was sure to damage the frets a bit.  Most of the damage was on the sides (which doesn't affect playing or tone) but we'd best fix up what we can.

I used a sanding block and some fine sandpaper and went over the frets lightly to hopefully level out any inconsistencies first.

Some 000 steel wool to smooth out the frets and the fretboard as well.

Some 0000 steel wool to buff it back to near-stock consistency!

Wet cleaning once more~

Next up some mineral oil cleaning and oiling for the entire fretboard - makes it beautiful and even across the board, so to speak!

Putting it back together at last.  At this point I also seized the chance to fix the switch - the neck pup wasn't working and I suspected a piece of steel wool had gotten stuck inside the switch.  A couple blasts of compressed air (from my lungs) fixed it just fine.

Restringing.  Undoubtedly this was the laziest restringing job I've ever done, but they're only staying on for about a week until I get a new set of 0.09's in to replace them.

And voila!

It's hard to explain the joy projects bring at the end, I feel like a proud father.  I've had it finished for two days now to play around with the scalloped board and I love it, wish I had a fully scalloped maple neck but I can't be greedy.  

I'm most surprised because everything I've heard about scalloped fretboards is true, but so much smaller than expected.  Pushing hard will make notes go out of tune, but you would have to be pressing with a truly monstrous grip for it to be any significant issue in a song at all.  Bends are easier but not that much easier, and I only have to play with a slightly lighter touch.  

The feeling is very freeing and open, and dare I say makes playing more fun.  If there were no costs involved, I wouldn't hesitate to do this to most of my guitars.

Hope you enjoyed and that perhaps this helped you - and stay tuned, I ordered a replacement bridge and new strings, the adventure is far from over.

(Unfortunately I've exhausted all existing Star Wars references by this point though!)

Entertainingly enough, I even had a long break between the first three and second three parts of the series, although luckily this series stayed in order.

Questions, comments, complaints, suggestions?

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