Ageing the neck and scratchplate to match the Strummercaster body.

The Telecaster neck has been sitting and curing since the last attacks on the decal. Some heavy layers of light tint amber lacquer have cured and shrunk back. The face of the headstock has a nice, deep amber tone – although the edges of the decal are now, once again, visible. I’m not entirely happy with the way the decal appears to have been scratched off – I envisaged a bit more of a gradual fade. Maybe that’s optimistic, given my actual lack of plan, in the first place. Research shows that the decal on the original is “virtually invisible”. I reckon I can afford to attack the finish on the face of the headstock a little more – flattening everything back, and hopefully bringing a little variation in tone, here and there.

I anticpate that the neck will have to have a few signs of physical damage to match the body. Any damage should be “worn in” a little – dings and dints shouldn’t really look sharp like they’ve all just been done at the same time. I plan, therefore, to knock the neck around a little, and then to apply a few softening abrasions. Like the body – following the sequence:- damage, wear & tear, dirt.

I realise that simply chucking the neck around might lead to serious physical damage, which might actually damage the neck. or make it unplayable. So, I realise I have to focus my efforts, and try and protect the fingerboard and the vulnerable parts of the neck from the worst of the abuse. Bearing in mind also – that most of the damage would probably be to the edges of the headstock, I concentrate on dealing out a few sharp whacks on the edge of my workbench. Enough to splinter off a few areas of lacquer. A few whacks of the chain across the edges and back of the headstock – a few gentle throws across the outdoor decking, and I figure that’s enough. I don’t want to damage the fingerboard too much.

With most of the “damage” to the neck out of the way, it’s time to start looking at wear and tear. I concentrate at first on the face of the headstock – flat-sanding with 400 wet and dry, and using naptha as a lubricant. This enables me to rub some of the dirt and gunk back into the scratches and splinters that have appeared in the lacquer. I focus on the decal area – but also try and feather the effect into the surrounding area a little. Eventually, the decal starts to degrade a little more and soon, I have removed most of the “Fender” – leaving mostly, just a scuffed up bit of the “Telecaster” marking.

The back and edges of the headstock have some interesting dings – nothing too serious – but they now need ageing-in a little. A light rub down with a fine scotchbrite pad removes the hard, sharp edges. The application of a little mid oak wood dye and rottenstone dirties them down nicely, and a final rub over with a little naptha cleans the worst of the stain and dirt out – making sure there’s no residue left where it doesn’t belong.

The face of the headstock gets the same treatment. At the top of the headstock, the combination of dye, rottenstone and powdered lacquer removed by the scotchbrite comes together to stain the face with a deep, dirty amber mark. Looks good to me – like a well worn in bit of dirt. One of those marks that looks like it may well have a story to tell.

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On the back of the neck, I re-visit the sanding away of the amber lacquer, to reinforce the effect of hours of play, wearing through the finish. It takes a while to work through the layers with a coarse scotchbrite – switching to fine once the main extent of the effect has been achieved. Eventually, work on the whole neck is softened and feathered, and the neck is gradually returned to a playable state – a fine scotchbrite making the surface of the wood super fine, sleek and slick. The main area of simulated hand wear runs from the headstock end of the neck –  low “E” side, diagonally down towards the 10th – 12th frets – high “E” side. (I don’t think Joe played up the neck that much. Seems more of a “meat and potatoes” man, to me).

The newly exposed wood is now super clean – so a light rub down with mid-oak stain helps to accentuate the grain a little. Unfortunately, the neck wood is now so slick and smooth, that stain won’t really sink in – even Rottenstone isn’t fine enough to penetrate anywhere. Having dirtied the neck up the best I can – I’ll have to shoot a few layers of tinted amber lacquer to help seal the stain in, and restore some fake “age” to the maple. In fact, I plan to shoot a few light coats of tint to the headstock as well – It should seal all of the fake wear, tear and dirt under lacquer – making it permanent, and helping bring the whole neck together. I may have to dirty a coat or two of lacquer on the back of the neck with rottenstone as I go, to help “dirty down” the clean looking maple a little more.

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The scratchplate paint job has now well and truly cured, and really just needs feathering a little with some micro mesh pads and naptha. Flat sanding with micro mesh and a small wooden block helps soften the edges of the paint layers, whilst keeping sanding marks to an absolute minimum. With care, and by working through the grades, it’s possible to work on the paint without leaving too many scratchy sanding marks.

Looking at the scratchplate, it’s clear how it’s supposed to reproduce the way in which  the original paint job has been slowly eroded by individual plectrum scratches. This has resulted in the three tone stripe, and the majority of the wear at the top of the plate. Clearly, the bit under the strings has been partially protected – so it’s important to focus feathering on areas which will have been mostly exposed to a pick. It’s also important to figure-in and reflect the predominant direction of the pick scratches. I try to reproduce the general direction by “playing” the body with the scratchplate in position. This leaves a few “authentic” marks, to be used as a general guide for subsequent marking. Once the guitar is strung up, I plan to play it hard for a few months before I hand it on. This will allow me to add some genuine playing marks over the fake ageing.

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Looking at yesterday’s work on the body – I want to revisit some of the wear down to the wood – especially on the back, but also on the face of the guitar at the edges – where Strummer’s arm would have gradually worn away the finish to the top of the large bout. Working through the finish with a combination of flapwheel, coarse grit, fine grit – and then by smoothing and feathering with wet and dry grit, and naptha lubricant – I’m able to work through the layers to the point where I’m almost reshaping the wood. A rub with stain, some rottenstone, and the clean alder is darkened. The grain is accentuated, as if it was filled with dirt.

Putting together the body and the scratchplate – I can see how the project is coming together. Encouraging signs.

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