Thursday, September 3

The Parts-o-caster: Part III - Neck Work

The fretboard. Perhaps the most important part of any guitar. Every electric I've owned (that's right, all two of them) has had a maple fretboard, despite how much I really like how rosewood looks and feels, so for this project, rosewood it is! Besides which, the darker color really lends a lot of vintage cred, as it doesn't have that bleached-white look of a new maple fretboard.

(Despite the Fender sticker from 1957, that's a new neck. I put the sticker on myself, since getting a blank neck and a sticker cost me around $120 total, whereas a genuine Fender neck from the 1950's would have run upwards of $600. And of course, if I was aging the pickup covers, I had to make it look like a '50's strat. I mean come on! Continuity! Though, in retrospect, I should have matched the headstock closer to a '69 Strat, given the pickups. But that's a few posts away...)

The biggest thing I did not do, which would have been the first step, had I had the tools, is do a complete fret leveling/crowning/polishing. The action ended up being decent, but it could have been much lower had I done this. I may still take it somewhere and get it professionally set up, but it's good for now.

And so, the biggest step for getting the neck ready is getting those tuning pegs in there. I chose some vintage, nickel tuners, mainly because I didn't have a good way of relicing chrome tuners. Someone somewhere said that you can melt the chrome off and then relic the nickel below, but that seemed like a step too many, given that I was going to have to buy the tuners anyway. So, after a quick turn with a brillo pad (which I can't recommend highly enough), it's time to get them into the headstock.

I hit a snag right away, but it was not unexpected. The tuners have a collar and the tuner itself. The collar basically serves to keep the tuning peg from rubbing against the wood in the headstock. But with this neck, the collars were too small! I was prepared for something being too big, as some simple filing could fix that problem, but how should I fix something that was loose?

There were a lot of suggestions, but upon realizing that the structural integrity of the collar really wasn't all that important (the screws holding the tuners in place took all of the strain from the strings, as far as I could see), I opted for a quick, easy trick that I'd learned when making pinewood derby cars with my dad oh so many years ago. Toothpicks!

No glue, no filling holes and redrilling, no filing, no nothing. I just took half of a tooth pick, stuck the pointy side in between the collar and the headstock (picking the same point for each collar for uniformity), a few raps with a small hammer, and it was stuck tight. Now, if this were going to be under any strain at all, you would probably want more than just a miniscule amount of friction holding those pieces in there, but I trust my physics!

Break off the little bit of toothpick that's still there, and the tuning peg itself will hide the amateur carpentry.

With all of the collars in place, the next step was to get the pilot holes drilled for the tuning pegs. With any generic, Fender-ish part that you order, you have to realize that everything is going to be really close, but for the most precise work, you will need to drill. Ideally, you'll want to fill in any non-used holes, too, but I'm something of the impatient type.

I fit the tuning pegs into their respective slots, being careful to not poke the collars out of their holes, and I used a pointy instrument to make a little guide mark where each hole should go. I found something that looked like a screwdriver but with a point instead of any kind of screw-turning head, but you can use anything that is pointy and will stand up to some light tapping. A nail works pretty well. Having done that, it's on to drilling.

There's another carpenter's trick I used here to make sure I didn't drill clear out of the front of the headstock. I took some tape and wrapped the drillbit where I wanted it to stop, and then I went slowly. When the tape started brushing away the sawdust, I just backed the drillbit out, and voila. As far as where to put the tape, I just kinda eyeballed it against the screws that came with the tuning pegs.

With the holes drilled, from there it was just all about putting the tuning pegs in again (and once again, being careful to not knock the collars out) and screwing them down. And as with anything where you're using multiple screws to secure something to something else, you want to just get each screw started, and then tighten them down all at once so that they all go in smoothly and there's no torque to pull something out of alignment. The two end pegs (high and low E) both have a nice hole in them for the screws to go into, but the other ones were put in such a way that they share screws. I had a scary moment where I thought that the pegs were going to be too far apart and the middle screws weren't going to hold the pegs down, but it ended up fitting perfectly.

Also note, these aren't staggered tuning pegs. If you have tuning pegs that are staggered, then you need to keep track of which ones go where.

Next post, we get into the body of the project (Ha!).

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