There’s a good feeling about making your own guitar – but a realisation that in doing a Partscaster, you’re only really doing some of the really critical work. Because parts tend to comply to Fender specifications you can, to a point, take it for granted that things will always bolt together properly, and make a reasonable instrument. Having spent so much time on the finish, and having already invested a lot of care along the way, I really want to do the best job possible – but ultimately, some of what I do can only ever reflect the quality of the parts I use. Nevertheless – I’m hoping that stuff I learn along the way will be useful on other projects and I fully intend to end up building a whole guitar from scratch one day.
For now though, and for this project, I just have to bolt the bits together. If the various manufacturers have done their job well enough, things should align correctly. I’ve already tried a dry join, and a quick check over – but now is the time I really find out.
First job is to attach the bridge to the body. This is by means of six screws into the face of the guitar body. G&B have marked the screw positions already, and drilled shallow pilot holes – so now, each hole has to be drilled to the correct size, and down to the correct depth. Straight, and in line. It’s a job for the drill press. Then it’s just a question of attaching the bridge in the correct position with screws.
The stratocaster tremolo bridge is designed to pivot along the line of the six attachment screws. That’s why the alignment of the holes is critical. It’s also important to have each screw at the same depth, so that one doesn’t bind, any more than another. I screw each one in turn down to about 9/10 of the required distance, then proceed with each one about half a turn at a time, until each screw head sits just above the metal of the bridge plate. Ensuring the heel of the plate is flush with the body, I then slowly turn each screw until the heel of the plate just lifts – and then immediately back off about a quarter of a turn. The result is that the plate sits just above the face of the body – held by the screws.
The Callaham tremolo apparently has specially shaped countersinks which help stop the screws binding, but it’s worthwhile checking everything is screwed in straight anyway. Annoyingly – it looks like the rout on the back of the guitar for the springs has been cut just slightly too deep, so that as the screws have gone into the wood from the front, they’ve pushed small pimples of wood out, in front of them. It’s a minor cosmetic flaw, but I’m not having it – so I smooth and fill any signs and then decide to paint the whole inside cavity with a thin coat of black casein paint to cover up the filler spots, together with some unsightly oil drips which ran down into the cavities when I was finishing the body. No-one will normally see this – but I know it’s there. The casein paint goes on nicely without any primer needed, and gives a nice, matt finish. It’ll show off the springs nicely, if nothing else.
I insert a couple of blocks of wood into the back of the tremolo cavity – one on each side of the steel block. These are to effectively stop the tremolo from moving, while I run a couple of strings through to test alignment. If I were to tighten strings with the tremolo unblocked – then I’d just end up raising the plate, under string tension. We’re ready to check the neck alignment.
I already know the neck fits the neck pocket reasonably well, and it slides down into place. In fact, it’s a little snugger than before, if anything, probably due to the light nitro coats at the heel end of the neck. With the neck held in place with a suitable clamp, I then run a couple of strings through the tremolo in the 1 and 6 positions and attach to the tuners and lightly tension them up. (Always wondered what to do with all those spare part-sets of strings, that never get used?)
I’m heartened to see that the neck sits pretty straight, and the strings run evenly down the length of the neck – equidistant at the sides. The body is pre-drilled to take the attaching screws, and I run a sharp, 4mm M-tip wood drill down each, and into the neck to mark the screw positions. Necks sometimes come undrilled – so now, having marked the screw positions, it’s vital that they are drilled out straight, true and to the correct dimensions. It’s another job for the drill press.
It’s vital to stop off the drill depth at the correct point here – the screws run into wood just under the fingerboard. Too deep, and I’ve wrecked all my weeks of finish work on the neck. Too shallow, and the screws won’t do their job properly. Years of framing taught me to, “measure twice, cut once”. It’s good advice, but I measure this about five times, and practice on an old bit of wood, marking off the drill bit with a bit of masking tape. Once the loose tail of the tape just starts to brush bits away from round the hole – it’s there.
All four holes are drilled, using a brand new 3mm M-tip wood bit. Maple is hard stuff – so I go slow and easy with a good drill speed. The neck is set back into the pocket and each of the four connecting screws is slotted through the new neck plate, and hand tightened as far as they’ll go. It helps if each screw is first waxed a little. I usually get one of those little night-light type candles, take the metal bowl off and remove the wick, which sits on a little metal plate. This reveals a hole running through the wax block – ideal for running neck screws down to grab a little wax. The neck screws are then hand tightened, each a little at a time, and working from one corner across to the other. I’m looking for good wood-to-wood contact. Tight enough to stand up to the shear force exerted by six wire strings – but not too tight to bend the steel plate and distort it into the wood of the body. I always prefer to tighten screws by hand so that I feel they go in right. I don’t like using the mechanised, drill-type, screwdrivers. They always seem to slip at the wrong moment, or torque up too unpredictably. Slow and steady works.
And the neck is on. I’m getting to the point where I’m going to have to think about electrics.