Fret dressing a new neck

After my experiences of fret leveling/dressing an old neck I felt equipped to have a go on a new neck. Initially I had expected that a new neck wouldn’t need dressing, but I was having trouble getting the action down as low as I’d like and the advice on TDPRI was that all new necks would benefit from it.

I adjusted the truss rod to level the neck, masked it up, and covered each fret with a black permanent marker pen.

A very light pass with my leveling tool and it was very apparent that a leveling was required. It was nowhere near as severe as the leveling of the old worn neck from yesterday, but there were still significant high and low spots.

Here I’ve finished the leveling and am about to start crowning. Note: just as I started I remembered that I was going to be making lots of metal filings in close proximity to a big magnet (the pickup) so I masked it off to avoid a difficult cleaning job.

I’m still without a proper crowning file and so it was more finger punishment with my kludgy home-made tool, but I’m very happy with the end result.

Making a headstock decal

There was a problem with the neck pickup of the left-handed Telecaster I built a couple of weeks ago so Rob dropped it off with me a couple of days ago. The eBay vendor was most helpful and the pickup is on the way back for replacement. While I’m waiting for the new part I took the opportunity to add a headstock decal.

I did this by printing the reversed design on to laserprint waterslide paper and then colouring in the letters with a liquid gold pen.

Once the ink was totally dry I soaked it in a saucer of warm water and applied it to the headstock. After letting it dry I shot it with a couple of coats of clear nitro-cellulose lacquer and it is done.

I’m really happy with the result. I hope Rob will be too.

Finishing a guitar with Danish Oil

The thing that I find most important to getting a great finish with Danish Oil is to make sure that the first few coats penetrate into the wood as deeply as possible. To help this process I make sure that the work room is good and warm and that the piece sits in there for a couple of hours to come up to temperature. I than put the unopened tin of Danish Oil into a bowl of hand-hot water for 5 mins.

Once it has warmed through, I give the can of oil a damn good shake and decant a little into an open-topped container.

Using a lint free cloth I apply a generous coating of the oil, allow it to sit for a few minutes and wipe of any excess. I give that coat 10-20 minutes for that to soak right in and if the surface still has dry spots then repeat. It usually takes me two or three coats to get to this stage.

Now that the wood has soaked up as much as it is going to, the next stages are to build up the depth of the finish. I allow the piece to dry for at least 4-5 hours between coats.

I use a fine piece of wet and dry abrasive paper (1200 grit), dip it into the oil, and then moving in small circles, very lightly work it into the surface of the wood. I found that if you listen carefully you can actually hear the noise change once you’ve smoothed the surface. Once I’ve gone over the whole surface, I give it a wipe down with the aforementioned lint free cloth and hang it up to dry for 4-8 hours. I go round this loop until I’m happy with the depth of finish (I always give it at least 6 or 7 coats).

In between coats, I return the unused oil back into the tin and tie up the rags and wet and dry into a plastic bag to keep them from drying out.

After the final coat, it gets left for 12-24 hours and then I treat to a good beeswax polish. Job done.

As I write this I’m onto the fifth coat on the Telecaster and I should have coats 6, 7 and 8 applied today. Tomorrow afternoon will be final polish, assembly and set up.

In between coats I’ve been using Inkscape to try out various ideas for a headstock logo. Overlaying it onto a picture of the head, this is what I’ll probably be going with. I’ll be using the same technique with laserprint water-slide decals that I used on the Shaftesbury refurb.

Preparing the Telecaster for finish

Today I double-checked that the veneer repair looked ok, and then sanded the body with 180 and then 240 grit paper, making sure I removed all of the swirls and marks left by the rougher paper.

Next I dry fitted all of the components and made sure all of the pilot holes had been drilled. I had missed a couple of the scratchplate holes and forgotten all about the strap buttons; easily corrected.

I’d also forgotten to leave my mark on the guitar, so put that to rights with a permanent marker.

Next up was raising the grain front and back. I love this stage because it is the first opportunity to see what the grain is going to look like when the finish goes on.

I’m now just warming up the Danish Oil ready for the first coat…

Parts arrive and routing the neck pocket

The Telecaster parts started arriving today, which cheered me up after a disastrous day yesterday. As I mentioned in a previous post the bridge pickup cavity was not large enough and so I was sorting that out. Whilst doing that my router technique (and a lapse of concentration) let me down and resulted in a couple of big tear-outs. Both of these go beyond the area covered by the bridge and so I’m going to have to find a way of covering them up. My plan is to use part of the veneer I’ve got on order and inlay it in to the body to cover these mistakes. I’m not yet sure to go with a maple veneer and try to blend it in, or whether to use a contrasting colour (rosewood or ebony) and make a feature of it. I’ll probably spin some sort of BS about it having a rosewood bridge plate inlayed to improve sustain.

Today I laid out the new parts to check how it’ll all go together. The bridge, scratchplate and neck all need to be in the right place relative to each other. I started with the scratchplate, because this has to follow the body shape. I marked and screwed it into place, then did the same with the bridge. That then gave me the exact location for where the neck pocket had to go. The scratchplate will need some work because it doesn’t exactly match up where it meets the control plate. Tonight I’ll be researching how best to cleanly trim down a scratchplate.

To make the neck pocket jig, I drew round the neck heel and, using double-sided tape, stuck down one guide. I clamped the neck tight up against the guide, to make sure that when I stuck down the second guide it was in exactly the right place.

The jig was an exact fit for the neck. Nice and tight and able to hang onto the neck heel by friction alone. So it was on to routing out the neck pocket to a depth of 17mm which all went very smoothly.

I then cleaned up all of the surfaces and glued and clamped the neck in place. A glued neck is a real break from standard Telecaster construction, but I want to get creative with the shape of the neck heel and having a neck plate at the back would restrict my ability to do this.

As with the RockMangle, I used Titebond Original, and if my calculations are correct, even the small contact area of the Telecaster neck heel will be more than strong enough.

Tomorrows job are to:

  • Drill the holes through the body for the strings,
  • Drill holes and countersink the string ferrules into the back,
  • Drill the holes to connect together all of the cavities,
  • Shape the neck heel.

Rounding over the Telecaster body edge

Some fairly heavy rain and a 220 mile round trip to deliver a birthday surprise for my dear old Mum meant there wasn’t too much progress today.

I did get chance to research the correct roundover for a Telecaster body. The early 1950s models had a 1/8″ roundover, whereas in the 60s, in a move to make the body more comfortable, Fender switched to either 3/16″ or 1/4″ roundover. Since the only roundover cutter I had was a 1/4″, I was going to be following the 1960s design – necessity being the mother of invention and all that. And here’s a picture of the body with the front and back edges rounded over and lightly sanded.

The ever vigilant Steve “Eagle Eye” Benford noticed that I hadn’t routed the bridge pickup to the correct shape, so I’ll be correcting that tomorrow, as well as a lot more sanding. If you zoom into the picture above, you’ll see where I’ve marked, in pencil, the correct rout shape.

I want to have the bridge, scratchplate and neck to have been delivered before I rout the neck pocket because it is vital that they’re all in the right position relative to each other, and some of these pattern parts have a habit of wandering away from the original sizes.

All of the parts are on order now and I’ve decided to go with a red tortoiseshell scratchplate after stumbling over this picture. Aside from the rosewood fingerboard and gloss finish (mine will be maple and oil satin finish respectively) this gives a good impression of my aim for this guitar.

I did make one key decision last night. This guitar is going to veer away from the standard Telecaster design in one key respect: the neck is going to be glued rather than bolted in. When building the RockMangle I had feared that this would be the most difficult step but I found that not to be the case. The advantage it gives, in my experience, is a much better sustain and, more importantly, the freedom to be able to carve down the neck heel to a more comfortable shape. I can understand why, in the interests of manufacturing expediency, Fender didn’t do this, but I have no such constraints, and it is one of the things I dislike most about my (otherwise much loved) 70s Tele.