Audio sample of the Jazzmaster

Here is a 1m30s sample of the Jazzmaster. It uses a mixture of the bridge and neck pickups. Recorded into Reaper using a clean amp model with a touch of reverb. The drums were done, as always, with EZDrummer and the bass was my custom 4 string.

NB: It was only after posting this to youtube.com that it occurred to me that the word “Jazzmaster” may be interpreted as some sort of hubristic comment on my playing abilities, particularly given the tune I chose. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is just a piece I have been trying to learn over the past 5-6 months, as part of experimenting with different time-signatures (both playing and recording them). It was the first tune that “fell under my fingers” when I hit record.

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Setting up the Jazzmaster

Now that woodworking and assembly has been completed, the next job is to get it set up so that it plays as well as it can. For a new guitar I have found this is much more of an iterative and drawn out process, than setting up an old guitar. The neck relief in particular seems to take two to three weeks to settle in while the wood, truss rod and string tension all ease themselves into some sort of equilibrium.

Now I’m not saying this is the right order for tackling a setup, but this is the approach I use and it works fine for me.

  • Adjust the pickup height to be slightly lower than where you think the final position will be.
  • If you’ve got adjustable polepieces then, as a start point set them to a height that approximately matches the fretboard radius.
  • Set the bridge saddle height to be slightly higher than you think you’ll need.
  • A new set of strings is a must. Get them on up to tune,stretched and settled.
  • Make a quick check of the neck relief. I hold the string down at the first and last fret (using a capo helps) and at around the 8th or 9th fret you should have a gap between the fret top and the string that you could just slide a pick into. If you’re not sure about how to adjust the relief then head off to youtube.com and search for one of the many excellent guides.
  • With the guitar tuned and the neck relief close enough for now I then set the intonation.
  • I start with the high/thin E string. Play the 12th fret harmonic and then fretted at the 12th. If the fretted note is higher this means the string needs to be longer so adjust the saddle accordingly. Retune the string, recheck and adjust. Keep going until the harmonic and fretted note are in tune with each other.
  • I then set the D string saddle to about the same position as the E and go through the same process.
  • Next is the thick E string and the G string (I’m assuming an unwound G). I set the saddle about 4-5mm further back than the D and thin E, respectively. This gives you a start point that will be close. Then fine tune with the fretted/harmonic at the 12th.
  • And to finish off I set the A saddle between the E and D position, and the B saddle between the G and E. Again, this is just a close start point for the fine tuning.
  • The next phase of adjusting the action requires two separate adjustments; to the nut slots and the saddle heights. Because cutting the nut slot deeper is a one time deal (OK, it is not exactly but trying to raise a nut slot is a real PITA) I cycle round this many times, going slowly, just taking off a little at a time. I make sure the nut slots aren’t too high. I then adjust each saddle bringing it down and playing at every fret along the neck until I get a buzz. At that point I wind it back up a notch and then move on to the next string.
  • Once the saddles are about there, go back to the nut and check the slot height. If it is near-ish I leave it at that for now. It’ll get done properly after two to three weeks, once the neck relief has settled into shape.
  • Last job is adjusting the pickup height, which I described in detail a few posts ago.

One thing to bear in mind is that just because you can have a low action doesn’t mean you have to. For years I did everything I could to get ultra-low action on all of my guitars. I had assumed that, because one sign of a bad guitar is high action, low action was the sign of a good guitar. This is not true! I have found that a slightly higher action gives a much clearer sound and, for me, makes bending a string much easier. I feel that I can get my finger under the string and push it up, rather than trapping the string between finger and fretboard and squeezing it upwards. It does require more finger strength and tougher finger tips, but hey, that’s what practice is for.

Instalment two will be along in a few weeks but, in the meantime, if you’re interested in this topic then I would highly recommend that you head over to Billy Penn’s 300 Guitars blog and check out his guitar setup guide.

If you’re not familiar with the name, Billy is a guitar and amp tech (and shit hot guitar player) from New Jersey who has tirelessly provided many, many helpful posts and videos. And let’s get this straight – Billy is not some back garden hacker like me – he is the real deal. He is selling his guitar setup e-book for just $4.99. My first thought was that I’ve been setting up my own guitars for 20 years and have just about got the hang of it now, but I’ve had second thoughts… First off Billy has been so generous with his advice over the years and five bucks seems the least I can do to say “thank you”. Secondly, and perhaps from a selfish perspective, if I learn just one cool new trick that helps me setup or maintain my guitars better, that’s got to be worth it.

BTW: If you take your gear to a guitar tech I’d still recommend the guide. If you’re not doing it yourself then having a good understanding of what you’re talking about, or even of what to ask a guitar tech, is worth the five bills in my opinion.

Disclaimer: I don’t have any connection to Billy Penn, other than following him on Twitter and subscribing to his YouTube channel.

Finishing the Jazzmaster

I was just left with a few jobs to finish off the Jazzmaster.

I cut myself a bone nut blank from my stash.

Sanded it to shape and marked the string slot positions.

And checked the fit.

Normally I would fix it in place with a small dab of CA glue, but the fit is very snug and so I’m going to leave it as it is for now.

That just left me with giving it a final wax polish, installing the pickups, wiring it up, giving it a fresh set of Ernie Ball Slinkies and a rough setup.

There are a few jobs left to do, such as applying a headstock logo and making a truss rod cover, but I’m going to be too busy playing it for the next couple of days.

This one has been a smooth build. A couple of interesting challenges, a few new skills to learn, 10 days of work (in the region of 40-50 hours) over 18 elapsed days and a final total cost of £156.06. I’ll call that a result.

Carving the heel and preparing the Jazzmaster for finish

Into the final furlong now and there are just a few jobs left before the Danish oil goes on. To start the day I remove the neck clamps and check the joint.

For the neck heel carve I roughly mark where I’m aiming for.

With a spindle sander in my hand-held drill I start removing wood…

…until it is about the shape I want. I then finish by hand.

That’s the last of the woodworking finished. I drill the pilot holes for the hardware. The only complicated part is getting the bridge positioned correctly. As previously, I use a piece of cotton running from the bridge to the headstock and back again.

Drill the holes for the bridge.

While I’ve got the bridge unpacked I take a few minutes to run the base across a piece of 400 grit paper, to make sure it makes full contact with the body top once it is screwed down.

I mark up the legde of the control cavity and drill the 6mm holes for the neodymium magnets, and fasten them in place with CA glue. I glue magnets in position on the cover too, making sure the magnets are the right way round, so they don’t repel.

Check the alignment and fit.

All that remains is to sand and sand and sand. Working my way up through the grades to 320 grit, and then give the body a wipe with a damp rag to raise the grain.

And here are the first coats of Danish oil going on, using the approach I’ve written about previously.

One last thing, a couple of days ago Gtr1ab asked how I laid out the controls on the template. Below is a picture of the marked up template. If I was building an exact Jazzmaster replica I would have just transferred the positions from the paper plan, but I’m adding my own touches. I wanted the volume knob to be exactly level with the bridge saddles so using a square I extended the line down the body. I placed the centre of the volume approx half way between the bridge and the body edge.

I then drew a line, at a slightly descending angle, towards the tail end of the body. There was no science or measurement to this I just picked an angle that I found pleasing to the eye. I placed the other two controls and the jack socket along this line. When laying out controls previously I had measured equal distance between the hole centres but, because components have a different radius they end up looking mis-spaced. I measured each component and then made sure the gap between the edges of each was consistent. Again there was no science to this I just chose a distance that looked pleasing to the eye – in this case a 30mm gap.

Routing the Jazzmaster for the Gretsch Filtertron pickups

The Gretsch Filtertron pickups from Shanghai Guitars arrived in the post this morning so I have been able to crack on with the next stage of the build.

I had not realised that the baseplate of the neck Filtertron stuck out wider than the pickup itself. Because I want to have this in a tight rout, this needed modification. A few careful strokes with a hacksaw and that was easily sorted.

Next, to make the pickup routing template, I ripped some mdf to 35mm wide, the same width as the pickup and then taped them down, round a pickup, to the piece of MDF that will become the final template. NB: I checked the pickups were identically sized first because that is not always the case.

A run round with the top bearing cutter and I have the template…

…which matches the pickup perfectly.

I marked up their positions on the body, hogged out wood with a brad pointed drill bit, attached the template and routed to around 10mm deep.

Then removed the template and routed the final depth down to 19mm.

I check the fit, with bridge and neck in position.

Next job is to drill the runs for the pickup cables, and not forgetting a hole from the control cavity to just under the bridge, so that I can ground it. Here I drill through from the neck pickup cavity into the bridge pickup cavity. So much easier doing this before you’ve glued the neck in place, as I found out when I built my first guitar.

Final job for the day, with rapidly approaching storm clouds and a fierce wind picking up, was to sand the neck heel and neck pocket with 60 grit, give them a good clean and coat of Titebond Original, and clamp up the neck.

Suddenly it is starting to look like a guitar.

The next job will be to carve the heel to shape, drill pilot holes for all of the components, mount the control cover magnets, and sand it ready for finish.

Finishing the Jazzmaster fret markers

The Milliput Black epoxy putty arrived in the post this morning.

It comes with two cylindrical lumps of “stuff”, one black and one grey. I broke a thumbnail sized piece off each and kneaded them together for about 3-4 minutes.

I then rolled it into balls and squidged them into each of the fret markers on the face and side of the neck.

After about 2 hours the putty has started to set and I scrape most of the excess off. After another 2 hours it is ready to file and sand.

I’m very happy with the appearance although if you look at the close-up you can see where the putty has managed to get into the small marks/flaws in the fretboard. When I next do this I will mask round the markers to minimise the clean up work.

Jazzmaster fretboard markers and control cavity

The plan was to drill out the black plastic fretboard markers and replace them with some black pearl ones (pictured).

As soon as I drilled these out I could see this wasn’t going to work – the holes were 5mm deep and the little inlays were only 1mm thick. Time for a change of tack. I’m going to make markers from brass tube filled with a black epoxy putty called “Milliput” instead. The putty is on order but in the meantime I got started with fitting the sections of brass tube.

I drilled a 5.5mm deep hole in a piece of MDF and using a hacksaw cut the 6mm tube into small pieces.

I had also bought some 2.5mm brass tube too so that I could make matching side dots. I drilled out the old ones.

With a dab of superglue in each hole I pressed in the brass tubes.

After allowing it to dry I filed the tubes flush with the neck.

Once that was done I tackled the control cavity. I had marked the locations on the MDF template. I attached this to the body and with a 2mm drill, made a hole right through template and body.

I used a 19mm spade bit to cut the countersink for the knobs, and a 10mm bit for the selector switch.

Once those were marked I could tackle the control cavity from the back. I had made a cover a couple of days ago.

Using the techniques I discussed in detail previously I made a template for the cavity “ledge” and routed that.

I made a smaller template and then routed out the inner cavity.

To finish I check the cavity is deep enough to allow the components to reach through to the front.

And that is all the work I can do until the pickups arrive. Once I’ve got those in hand I’ll be able to rout their cavities, drill the cable runs, and then glue in the neck. Once the neck is in I can shape the heel and I’ll be on to sanding and finish.