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Are Frailing Scoops Really Necessary?

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Feb 13, 2018 - 4:24 PM

tmjudd1 Players Union Member


200 posts since 4/1/2010

I've never played Clawhammer. Those of you who know me know that I'm building a gourd Banjo. I'll be learning clawhammer on this one. Is the 'Frailing Scoop' really a needful thing? I read that it is 'not', but would like your guys second opinions. My neck has been roughed out, the headstock decoratively laminated and the finishing touches are growing close. "To scoop, or 'NOT' to scoop... that is the question." I really like the looks of the frailing scoops, but do they actually afford any beneficial properties?

Feb 13, 2018 - 4:55:29 PM

597 posts since 11/7/2003

Do a search on “frailing scoops” and you’ll learn a lot of details about why some like ‘ em and some say they’re not needed. There are great players who don’t and great players who do. I play a scooped fretted banjo, medium high action and I think the scoop makes me a better player. I’m not a builder but if your neck is already carved without a scoop you may or may not have issues. I think most scoops are even with top of the head and if you’re gonna do a scoop it has to figure in to your neck design somehow. .... I think!!!

Feb 13, 2018 - 5:09:36 PM
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8558 posts since 11/28/2003

In my experience: frailing scoops are absolutely unnecessary - but completely addictive.

Feb 13, 2018 - 5:12:59 PM

Helix Players Union Member


11225 posts since 8/30/2006

Scoops? No. Maybe a raised 5th string on the bridge.

Define scoop. There are times I want a narrower neck there instead of a scoop, I could arrange a narrow inlay, too. I don't play too many notes that high with the 5th.

Feb 13, 2018 - 5:24:31 PM
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davidppp Players Union Member


744 posts since 1/9/2012

(Have you heard any stupendously great clawhammer banjo performed without a scoop?  wink )

I play mostly in double-C and really like to hit the first string at 22 and third at 21. (Some folks will cringe at that. ["There's no banjo above the fifth fret."] Others will doubt that a gourd banjo with non-steel strings should be played at the high end. Well, they're wrong. wink )  You can have a scoop that retains those as partial frets. As best I understand, it's the thumb part that's really relevant. In the accompanying photo, all frets were removed above 17, but the scoop could have been all thumb instead.

I have found that I don't play well enough or hear well enough to care about having a scoop or not. As a competent builder, you'll quickly realize that you can make your neck with a full complement of frets and consider scooping at some later date, e.g., after feeling comfortable with clawhammer and after trying someone else's banjo.

Feb 13, 2018 - 5:41:09 PM
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7947 posts since 2/22/2007

It's not about sound, it's for comfort. If you don't have any difficulty hitting the frets when playing over the neck then you don't need a scoop. But if you sometimes find that painful, scoop it! And if you play over the head then it does not matter one bit.

Feb 13, 2018 - 6:11:49 PM
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48567 posts since 12/14/2005

I agree with Mr. -e
You can always pull a few frets, fire up Ye Olde belch sander, and make a low spot, later on down the line, IF YOU WANT TO.

And if you never want to, you haven't done something you'll MAYBE later MAYBE regret.

Feb 13, 2018 - 6:53:11 PM

227 posts since 12/28/2014

Completely dependent on the player. From my understanding the scoop is to facilitate strumming/thumbing over the fret board easier and getting that 19th fret cluck harmonic without bashing your nail into fretboard. The large majority of clawhammer songs dont go past the 18th fret so it's a safe bet it will be fine.

Are you planning on fretting your gourd banjo? From the picture it looks like you already put what looks like a fret/fingerboard on and it's not sawn for frets yet so fretting it now would be... difficult at best. Most fretless players don't play past the 10th position so it's a bit of a moot point anyways.

If you decide to go with a scoop I've found a nice way to get a fancy and easy scoop is to run your fret board through your table saw taking a 1/8" cut like a router then clean the excess with a chisel. Looks professional and it will be guaranteed semetrical to your blades diameter.

Another option is to use larger frets then a lower crown for the "scoop" that way your action in the higher frets will be higher so you could still play up the neck in a pinch with a slightly more comfortable clearance for playing over the neck.


Feb 13, 2018 - 7:43:10 PM
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1957 posts since 9/25/2006

No. Ask Doc Boggs, Rosco Holcomb, Wade Ward, Stringbean, Grandpa, etc, etc, etc....

Edited by - revellfa on 02/13/2018 19:43:56

Feb 13, 2018 - 8:13:20 PM
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6752 posts since 1/7/2005

Feb 13, 2018 - 8:47:21 PM

597 posts since 11/7/2003

Originally posted by JimInAlabama

Do a search on “frailing scoops” and you’ll learn a lot of details about why some like ‘ em and some say they’re not needed. There are great players who don’t and great players who do.   I think the scoop makes it easier to play over the head.. 

Feb 13, 2018 - 10:19 PM

336 posts since 11/5/2010

Scoops can be nice, but I like the frets.If you have a nice and tight right hand they are unnecessary.Although... I do really like what Chris Coole did to his...

Feb 14, 2018 - 5:14:18 AM

87 posts since 2/7/2011

Scoops are the rage these days, like 12" rims. Optional, but cool.

Feb 14, 2018 - 6:05:49 AM
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Ken LeVan Players Union Member


10894 posts since 6/29/2005

I would say that if you play the upper frets a lot, a frailing scoop is a blocking issue because there are no frets there. 

If you don't play those notes, then a frailing scoop does no harm, and may be helpful to clawhammer players, which is why you see them on openback banjos but not bluegrass ones; 

(1) It allows those who frail above the fingerboard to do that more easily, and you get a different sound.

(2) Seldom metioned, but a frailing scoop changes the neck angle and raises the strings higher off the head where the neck meets the pot by the height of the scoop, and this is  useful to clawhammer / frailers.

For builders, I think it makes the fingerboard more interesting looking, and gives you a nice place for a special inlay, contrasting wood, etc.- call it a blank canvas.  It also allows a little "schnooly" in final setup of the neck in terms of scale length / bridge placement because it's a "no fret" space-there is a good 1/4" of possibility there.

In terms of popularity among clawhammer players,In the past year, I have had only one request for a banjo with no scoop.  I just sold one last week and the person who bought it wanted me to confirm that it had a scoop and was set up for clawhammer.

Feb 14, 2018 - 6:29:05 AM

10081 posts since 10/27/2006

I learned without one and developed a right hand technique that didn’t hit the frets. To each his own.

Feb 14, 2018 - 6:57:49 AM
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rudy Players Union Member


12587 posts since 3/27/2004

Ditto Ken's post.  He really said pretty much everything I was going to say, especially relating to the particular geometric challenge that's presented if you're working to get a higher amount of clearance over the head at the heel.

The scoop is an integral part of my design and I wouldn't build any other way.  I checks off all the boxes for what I consider results in an instrument that's ergonomically comfortable while at the same time adding a small amount of design element that says "uniquely banjo".

I had one person request frets all the way to the end instead of the scoop because he "needed" those notes.  I politely told him there were a raft of other builders who would do that for him.  He later told me that he was very pleased with having a scoop and didn't realize how little that he actually might use the frets beyond 17.

Is it necessary?  Very little in life is necessary; I really only build banjos in one design, focusing on what I consider to be the very best combination that results in the best possible instrument I can bring to the table.

Feb 14, 2018 - 7:00:43 AM
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United Kingdom

1513 posts since 4/29/2012

None of my banjos have one and I don't miss it. But if I was building my own gourd banjo I'd probably include one just so I had the option. Let's face it you are never going to fret a gourd banjo around the 22nd fret (how often above even the 12th ? Or lower ?) so it's not going to do any harm. And you say you like the look of them. Which is a good enough reason.

Feb 14, 2018 - 7:47:48 AM
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3252 posts since 5/12/2010

I like the look of a scoop, but I don't play over the neck, so don't put them on my personal banjos, and only put one on my banjos if someone requests it.

"(Have you heard any stupendously great clawhammer banjo performed without a scoop? wink )"

Ever heard of Dwight Diller?

Feb 14, 2018 - 9:13:41 AM
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1000 posts since 3/17/2007

Have you heard any stupendously great clawhammer banjo performed without a scoop?
(I know it was said with a wink, but: everyone before 1970.)

Feb 14, 2018 - 9:29:31 AM



3770 posts since 4/7/2009

i prefer a scoop, but its not necessary. in my case, its not about my fingers having problems over the neck, its my thumb hitting the side of the fretboard when playing over the neck. so its merely a comfort thing.

there are some "thumb only" scoops out there, which help retain the full fretting of the neck, but i can't find a picture at the moment.

Feb 14, 2018 - 11:09:16 AM

227 posts since 12/28/2014

I've seen a few dobsons and buckbees with brass and steel plates where the scoop would be but those are still uncommon and I think it was more for decoration than assisting in playing.

Feb 14, 2018 - 11:15:05 AM

3 posts since 12/24/2017

I like the sound I can get playing on the neck. So I like a scoop.

Feb 15, 2018 - 7:44:41 AM
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1000 posts since 3/17/2007

When pressed to comment on a book, Abraham Lincoln apocryphally said, "Anyone who likes this kind of book will find just the kind of book they like."

Feb 15, 2018 - 10:46:29 AM

830 posts since 1/26/2012

I think it's more comfortable to play over the neck, and the scoop makes that easier unless you have the instrument set up with fairly high action.

Feb 15, 2018 - 11:52:42 AM
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6233 posts since 4/7/2003

 This guy didn't think so !

Feb 15, 2018 - 1:40:47 PM
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254 posts since 6/12/2016

I play over the 19th fret comfortably without a scoop BUT I dig the look so i scoop ‘em all!

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