The necks on both my Jaguar and Stratocaster projects are ready to move on, and it’s pretty much the same process for each of them – so it makes sense to do both at the same time. Firstly – I run through all the grades of grit, and polish out the faces of the headstocks. The decals are well buried in the lacquer – but I need to go easy and let the grit do the work with a little naptha to lubricate. Don’t use water, because if the water gets into the tuner holes, it can cause the wood to swell, and the lacquer might crack where the moisture can get into the wood below.
Starting with 400 grit – the first rub down aims to matt the surface over completely and consistently. Any orange peel in the finish will show if you look into the light – so it’s just a matter of rubbing back any high spots until they are matt in appearance. Any low spots will remain glossy. Once the headstock finish looks matt and consistent – move onto the next grade of grit. Always use a backing block on flat surfaces, and as you work through the finer grits, I’ve found it helps to go with the grain of the wood, and then use a circular motion to fethare together all of the marks. Make sure you go over the whole face consistently. The finer grits won’t take as long as the first, levelling passes – just keep the paper well lubricated, and make sure there are no clogs on the surface of the paper, which might cause witness marks, (big scratches), on the polished surface.
Once we’re at 2500 grit – things are looking pretty glossy. I move onto a car finish swirl remover by Meguiars. Don’t use anything with silicone in it. It will seriously mess with your finish should you have to recoat anything, (it might, and does, happen). Silicone and nitro finishes do not work at all together. The Meguiars is a super-fine polish, which gets rid of some of the swirls and remaining scratches. You can always see how you’re going by working into the light.
If scratches are still visible, you can use finer, polishing grades of micro-mesh, which go up to something crazy, like 12000 grit. At this point – there’s a fair chance even the swirl remover might leave more marks than the micro-mesh. It’s just a question of choosing your level of finish, and gradually working up to it.
For the Stratocaster, I top out at 2500 grit and use the swirl remover, followed by a high gloss, Meguiars auto polish – Others are available, I hear Auto Glym is good – but, again no silicone. The polish buffs the finish up to a liquid, mirror gloss. (Well – perhaps a little duller, but a finish with the age implied by the yellowing wouldn’t be super shiny anyway).
For the Jaguar, I polish up to 2500, but then rub everything back with a fine, (grey), Mirka Mirlo polishing pad over a cork backing. This gives a satin finish, similar to that achieved on the backs of the necks. It gives the finish a sheen rather than a polish and, although the headstock face has a good covering of lacquer – it doesn’t appear too glassy.
Before the tuners go on – each neck needs bushings inserted into the pre-drilled tuner holes. The Strat neck has 10mm holes, the Jaguar has the vintage, US imperial spec of 0.340″. (Working with Fenders, and having parts made all over the world, often means mixing Imperial measurements with Metric). I’m fitting Fender vintage style tuners to the Stratocaster, so it turns out that the bushings need reaming out a little to fit the tuner posts. I find an old, but sharp, metal drill bit, which appears just the right size for the job, (I keep metric and imperial sizes – I’ve got a bag full of all kinds of old stuff), and drill out the extra 0.3mm required using a drill press with the bushings held firmly in place, in a heavy drill vice. The Jaguar is having Gotoh, Kluson style, vintage tuners – the conversion bushings come with the fittings kit and are, in this case, correctly sized for the pre-drilled tuner holes.
All the tuner holes are reamed out with sandpaper over a pencil or a suitable drill bit, until the bushings almost, but don’t quite – fit. You don’t want them loose, but you don’t want them to be too tight. They’re pushed into place using a special bit in the drill press. If the hole is too tight, there’s a danger you might split the wood. You don’t want this. Take your time. Be careful also you don’t scratch your nicely polished headstock face either.
With all the bushings in place – it’s time to fit the tuners. The Fender tuners come mounted on a template piece of card. Very useful. The card holds the whole set of tuners in line while you fit them through the bushings, and then allows you to mark the correct screw hole locations through the template, and onto the neck, with a bradawl. The template works for both sets of tuners – so marking out the hole locations only takes a few minutes. The holes are then drilled out on both necks using a correctly sized drill bit, and using a piece of tape to mark off the correct depth. For things like this, I like to use an old hand drill for the control it offers. You want the holes clean and perpendicular.
Then it’s simply a matter of fitting the screws through the tuners and tightening everything up. You might have to wiggle the alignment slightly as you proceed – but the template does a pretty good job, and I’ll be keeping that in the toolbox for future use on other Fender type necks.
Apart from a bit of fussing – the necks are now ready to go. We’re perilously close to being able to begin assembly of the Stratocaster. Now we get to see if all the components line up properly enough to make a playable instrument. Perhaps I should have done that before?…