With the tremolo plate fitted, and with the saddle thimbles in place to hold the bridge, I can now test-fit the neck properly, to make sure everything aligns as it should. The neck fits into its’ pocket very snugly indeed – so if anything is out of line – there won’t be much wriggle room. In fact, the neck is probably a little too tight for comfort, and I’m worried it may crack some paint off at the edges whenever I have to take it off again. I tape a little 360 grit paper onto the edge of a square section piece of moulding and, making sure only the side of the pocket is touched by the paper, I gently remove a very small amount of wood and paint, along the long side of the neck pocket. After a few strokes, I check the neck fit again. It’ll just about hold on its’ own – so I decide not to push things any further.
With the guitar on its’ back, and with the neck supported in place with a handy bean bag – I pop the bridge into position and run two spare strings up through the outer two holes of the tremolo plate, across the bridge, across the nut and up to the tuners. I can see the neck is pretty much true, and there’s an equal space above and below the outer strings. I remove both the strings, together with the bridge and, holding the neck in place, I use a suitable spade tip drill bit, to mark the neck screw positions through the holes in the body.
The screw holes are drilled into the neck using a drill press, with the neck clamped in place to ensure the holes are straight and true. I mark off the correct depth for the holes using a piece of tape on the drill bit. I really don’t want to accidentally drill the holes too deep. The neck can now be attached to the body with four bolts and a neck plate. I give each of the screws a little wax before screwing them down into place. They have to cut their way in on the first fitting – so a little lubrication always helps. After each of the screws has been screwed in almost all the way, I work from one to another, diagonally across the plate – a half a turn at a time, until each screw just bites down on the countersink in the neck plate. I think I generally have a tendency to over-tighten screws – so I’m really concious that I might over tighten the plate and have it press into the body – cracking the finish. Certainly, with the screws spot on biting point, there’s no play at all in the neck – so I figure they’re doing their job. I’ll be able to check the vibration transfer once I string the guitar up so, for now, I’ll leave the screws at their current torque. If I do need to tighten further, I’ll consider it later.
With the neck properly in position, I can now test fit the scratchplate and control plates. Their positions are all inter-related, since the chrome plates all butt right up to the scratchplate. The scratchplate itself, also has to fit around the neck pocket, the pickup recesses, and the rims of the two bridge thimbles.
I’ve selected a white pearloid scratchplate for this build. It’s a 1962 kind of guitar, and I’m a 1962 kind of bloke. I wanted to keep things to the basics of form and finish. The Olympic White paint finish is the iconic, Johnny Marr inspired standard, for Jaguars – in my mind anyway. Normally, there would be a red tortoise shell type plate. I’m going for white to accentuate the chrome. I’m thinking about a set of chrome covered sonic pickups to finish the job. If they come off, it’ll be chrometastic.
This particular plate is ever so slightly long to fit perfectly. When it fits around the neck – the holes for the thimbles are about 1mm too far down the body. Nothing for it – I’ll have to reshape the plate, a little bit. The only logical place to do this is at the neck end. Obviously – whatever I do will be on show, (no 22nd fret hangover to cover up this one).
Don’t waste time trying to use sandpaper to remove scratchplate material – you need to keep things straight, crisp and perpendicular across all the different plys of the pickguard. The only way to work away at the plastic is with a very sharp cutting blade. If you scratch along the area you need to reduce, with the edge of the blade – using it a bit like a spoke shave – you can maintain the straight edge of the pickguard and just gradually work away – removing a little material each time. I tried to keep continuous passes running right along the base of the neck pocket cutout – trying to keep the cutout square on at all times. Once I’d removed about a millimetre along the bottom of the neck pocket cutout, I concentrated on each corner in turn – reducing any irregularity, until the curve of the neck cutout was restored to it’s approximate shape. I had to go back a couple of times to get the fit just right – but eventually the plate fitted into place. Maybe the openings at the bridge thimbles still weren’t exactly centred – but with the bridge in place, no-one can see in there anyway. Working this way gives a very even looking edge and with care, the opening can be shaped to maintain a close fit all around the neck. You do have to remove some of the protective plastic film from the pickguard as you go, and the process does produce quite a bit of fine plastic frass. The noise is also a little akin to running your fingernails down the proverbial blackboard – but it works, and it gets the job done.
Once the pickguard is located – the other plates can be test fitted as well and, once the locations have been marked through onto the body with a permanent marker pen – it’s time to drill out the holes. That’s 16 different opportunities to ruin my paint job. I’m still not confident about cutting holes through the paint finish. I start by trying the same technique that seemed to have worked OK for the tremolo plate – but the spade end on the diamond tipped cutter is too big this time, for the smaller screw holes. I try using a HSS drill bit to countersink the holes a little. I’m not happy. Maybe it’s because the holes are so small, but any tears and chips to the paint finish look so big in comparision to the size of the holes drilled. I try to search for more tips online. Best suggestion I can find is to try a very sharp brad tip running backwards in the drill – to try and scribe a hole in the finish. Of everything I’ve tried previously – this seems to give me the best results. I grit my teeth and go slowly – hole by hole – until all 16 countersinks are drilled. There are a few chips – but everything seems to be coverable by the control plates. I’ll secure the edges with superglue next time I have to remove the plates. Additionally, I intend to line the control cavities with copper foil – so I’ll overlap at the edges and I’ll probably be able to cover over and secure the worst offenders that way.
I drill out all of the scratchplate screw holes to their correct depth – this time using a fine bit, marked off at the correct depth with a bit of masking tape. All that’s left to do, is to wax each screw in turn, and then screw it into place. Again, I’m erring on the side of caution with the tightness of each screw. I don’t want to have any of the chrome plates rattling around – but nor do I want to strip any of the screw threads, or force the plates down into the finish. Just enough torque so there’s no movement, is the rule of thumb here. While I have the drill out – I also take the opportunity to mark off the locations of the strap buttons. The holes are drilled out, screw threads waxed, and the buttons screwed into place – with their white felt washers in place, to protect the paint job.
It’s beginning to take shape nicely.