I want to mark the fretboard, so that I can easily identify the notes of the scale. For example, I want to mark the notes of the C scale on the fretboard so that I can easily play it without trying to remember each note. How can I do this without damaging the fretboard? (for example, would putting a sticker on the fret damage the wood?)

P.S. For those who are interested, I ended up marking the fretboard with some pieces of tape. I marked the pentatonic scale and after I got the hang of things I removed the markings. (Of course I was able to only mark a scale with a specific root, but once I know one, it's the same pattern pushed along the fretboard). I didn't remove everything though, I still have the roots marked. I will remove them after I know them by heart. I didn't see any visible damage to the fretboard, but I took the risk because the guitar wasn't all that expensive and it wouldn't make sense to keep a nice guitar that I didn't know how to play.

  • I agree that the real solution here is to simply learn the neck of the guitar better, but maybe your guitar simply doesn't have enough in the way of markings? You can get additional inlay stickers designed for just this situation. Mar 19, 2017 at 17:38

10 Answers 10


Simple. Don't do it. There are markings on the fingerboard that are there to help with ALL scales, not just C. It's the same syndrome as when learners write the note names on piano keys. Learning their positions is far better and not that difficult. And then you can use any guitar... And why does everybody (else) seem to be driven to use C major as a start place on guitar. Maybe that'll spawn an interesting question!!


There are a lot of ways to learn the notes, but marking up your guitar is bad idea.

  1. Find some blank fretboard charts, print some out, and mark up the paper instead.
  2. Start learning to play scales. Most importantly, say/sing the notes as you play them.
  3. When you play scales or melodies or whatever, try playing in different positions and directions. For instance, try playing on one string only. Or try playing the same thing in two different positions by shifting up the neck. Try playing diagonally up the neck rather just in the boxed scale pattern. Mix it up and, again, say and play the notes.
  4. Use an app or something to quiz you. Musictheory.net / Tenuto have fretboard quizzing.
  5. Even without an instrument or app of any kind you can work through any of the above mentally by visualizing it. It's a nice way to waste a few minutes while standing in line or commuting.

I'm 100% with Tim on this. It is a bad idea, as it will damage the wood of the fretboard, and doesn't teach you how guitars work at all.

That said, if you have to mark the neck for some reason, don't put any markers on the fretboard. Instead, put them on the edge (many guitars have fret dots here anyway) - you will see them when you look down at the guitar. The neck is likely to be lacquered, so will cope with sticky labels a little better. If you leave stickers on for a long time, you will still see damage though.

  • The glue from "permanent" stickers, generally vinyl ones, can contain a solvent in them that can affect lacquered fingerboards. The newer guitars generally don't have true lacquer on them, but a plastic or resin base finish that is more resistant. Mar 20, 2017 at 19:46

I agree that finger marking isn't the best way to go when learning your scales, but here is some more information:

The CAGED system of fingering has major scale patterns that use one finger per fret, making it fairly easy to look at the pattern on the page and replicate the pattern on the finger board. When using this system it is unnecessary to learn the note names first, as you play the scale by the relative whole and half steps, based around chord shapes.

Putting markings on your fingerboard to help with this, if you feel it is necessary, depends on what kind of fingerboard you have. It is common to use stickers or tape on violin finger boards, which is often untreated ebony, and I have put guide stickers on a guitar for a student that was having trouble identifying where to put his fingers on the frets.

Lacquered fingerboards (usually the light colored ones, such as maple) can be marked with painter's tape or automotive vinyl striping tape. Anything that is specifically non-residue temporary tape can work. Anything else and you risk discoloring or damaging the lacquer.

Untreated hardwood finger boards such as rosewood or ebony can also be marked with the non-residue tapes. You can find violin finger board marking tape for sale that can be cut into small squares.

I have also found that the glue from paper based stickers (like student reward stickers, color dots, paper stars etc.) can be removed easily with lemon oil and won't leave a mark if not left on for too long.

Do not use plastic based stickers, vinyl electrical tape, duct tape or any sticker or tape that is intended to be permanent. Again, you can discolor the wood, the glue creeps out and makes a sticky mess, and the clean up is a chore and potentially damaging.

If you aren't sure that your marking method is safe for your instrument, you should ask your local guitar technician or luthier.

  • I think pointing out to a student that the guitar will be permanently damaged is a good dissuader! Let's keep it that way!
    – Tim
    Mar 22, 2017 at 13:27

Despite all the naysayers here, it's perfectly fine to mark the fretboard with color-paper sticky dots or bits of narrow sticky colored tape. These items are applied to small children's violin & cello fingerboards all the time. They come off clean, with at most a bit of residue which can be rubbed off gently.

So unless your fretboard is made of balsa wood (JOKE!), grab some small sticky colored dots at your favorite stationer's (or Staples) and have at it.

  • 1
    You may have noticed that violins and cellos etc., have no markings at all on their fingerboards. I guess you have. Guitars are very different, in that there are already markings there on purpose. So, whilst I can understand that it is a help to beginners to have marks on the former instruments, please convince me of the mileage in doing the same for already marked instruments. -1.
    – Tim
    Mar 21, 2017 at 23:46
  • @Tim well, inlaid single and double dots are not as informative as placing 6 red dots under the 6 strings onto the frets which comprise a given chord, for one example. Mar 22, 2017 at 12:11
  • Informative, possibly. Educational, never! Especially when there is a maximum of only two frets between markers anyway. The object is to learn where the notes are. I don't believe that looking for red dots for notes teaches much at all - and the OP was asking about scales.On guitar that's a whiole new can of worms, as there are often two or more ways to play a particular scale, so does one add a plethora of red dots? It's like piano - D is always between the 2 blacks. Why bother marking it? Unmarked 'boards are rather different, especially for beginners,but dots still need finger-tweaking.
    – Tim
    Mar 22, 2017 at 13:19

Here's five options:

1) Take off the strings and use extra sticky 'full-stick' post-it notes.

2) Buy a guitar neck, lets say a broken strat neck, on ebay for $20 and mark it up anyway you like.

3) Google images ... get a picture of a neck, Photoshop the notes, print it out, 300% if you like, and put it on the wall because you want to eventually get it without having to see the fingerboard facing up.

4) No neck at all. Loose leaf paper. Draw the lines. Sometimes scales, sometimes fifths, sometimes thirds, whatever, doesn't matter mix it up, roll dice, etc. ... 'flash card' method.

5) Tune the B and E to C and F and see how the circle of fifths easily lays onto the board. The strings high toward low, F toward E are fifths, the other way fourths. So every other string going lower is a letter higher ... F (1st), G (3rd), A (5th), B (7th...a seven string guitar) ... C(2nd), D(4th), E(6th).

Then see the notes by number - the note position in the scale (C major to start): F(4) C(1) G(5) D(2) A(6) E(3) B(7)

So the numerical pattern of fifths by note position is 4152637 ... I call that the 'number circle of fifths'.

On the first fret it's now: F#(#4) C#(#1) G#(#5) D#(#2) A#(#6) E#(#3) B#(#7)

or G♭(♭5) D♭(♭2) A♭(♭6) E♭(♭3) B♭(♭7) F♭(♭4) = E C♭(♭8) = B

This lets you see the intervals ... make a major chord shape ... 1 3 5 ... same all over the fingerboard ... a single patter instead of five different patters because the two high strings were adjusted to make the strings all fifths/fourths.

This doesn't have to be permanent ... this 'all fourths' is great for learning and composing ... not for open chords, strumming.

No shortage of pros who say they should've learned it this way. Far easier to switch from a manual to automatic car.

  • Not when it decides it wants to be in a certain gear, and that's not what I want!
    – Tim
    Nov 2, 2020 at 7:29

For anyone looking for opinions on this, here is mine:

· I think it is really useful to look at the fretboard and be able to find the notes at a glance as when looking at a piano keyboard. Probably most guitarist learn the notes on the fretboard based on patterns (CAGED, scales, etc.). That is perfectly fine, but for me it is not intuitive enough.

· Marking the notes of C major scale seems to be a logical way to be able to find each note as easy as in a piano. The perfect option for me would be custom placed dot inlays marking the C major notes all over the fretboard instead of just frets 3,5,7,9,12,15... Those latter ones can be still found in the neck side. A luthier or someone a bit skilled should be able to do this:

. Also buying a super cheap guitar to try what works for you can be interesting before damaging a good instrument.

· As others commented here 4ths tuning is also interesting to make the fretboard more intuitive, so that any interval/chord/arpeggio/scale pattern can be used all over the fretboard. The disadvantages of this tuning are loosing open chords and barre chords and of course dealing with a guitar repertorie 99% based on standard tuning.

· Also interesting, hybrid tuning:

. Appart from the custom frets used on the video, that tuning can also be achieved by tuning the 4 lower strings to Eb, Ab, Db and Gb, and fretting them on the 1st fret with a banjo capo (leaving B and E strings unfretted), so that open position gives E,A,D,G,B,E but still keeping all 4ths tuning. (Not my idea, check the 1st comment on the video link).


Besides on old lap steels and violins, I don't see that done a lot. You should have fret position markers on the fretboard than on the sides, which should do a lot to orient you. I do suggest you map it out on paper or other means, rather than on the fretboard.


Marking the fretboard is not a problem ... if following a good procedure and using quality products.

[NO] – DON'T USE READY-MADE STICKERS FROM EBAY Most fretboard stickers bought online are not the best solution. They use strong, generic sticker adhesive.

[YES] – USE INDUSTRY-TESTED, LOW-TAC, THIN-LINE MASKING TAPE But if you use industry-grade, well-tested thin-line masking tape, which leaves absolutely NO RESIDUE when removed, then you have a neat solution that helps you navigate the complicated world of the guitar fretboard.

So, get thin-line masking tape used to protect delicate surfaces during painting work. Thin-line tape is 8mm wide. You can get it in good hardware stores. Write down on tape each note of the corresponding fret and string, put in position and repeat for each fret. Low-tac masking tape uses a special, non-permanent type of adhesive that leaves ZERO residue. I tested some tapes on very delicate paper surfaces, which are more sensitive than fretboard, and it leaves no residue. Some masking tape strip may begin peeling off by itself, so just replace it with a new one, or, when you learn the positions. So yes, it's doable, it's not a bad idea at all, just use proper tools made exactly for the delicate materials.


Suggesting that marking a fretboard in anyway is somehow damaging to either the instrument or the provincial methods of teaching music is a bit of crap. It does suggest however, that one might have either the wrong instrument, or the wrong teacher. Both of which are not good. Kinda like finding your way through Paris without a map. You could get around, but it would take you forever and you still wouldn't learn French. What exactly is the opposition to faster simplified methods of memorization? Visual methods? They don't make us stupid. They make us less likely to need any one teacher. A good thing especially since many teachers and many methods are typically a better form.

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