Piecing together the Strummercaster.

Although the neck has been test fitted, and the holes already drilled – it’s a good time to check the wood to wood contact, and to make sure the neck still seats snugly in the pocket – now that the painting’s done. The heads of the neck screws have been dipped in Ferric Chloride (PCB Etch) for 30 seconds to age them a little. Once they’ve been rinsed and properly dried, they are then waxed and fitted – hand tightened at first, before each is tightened a couple of turns at a time – working across the plate from one corner to the opposite diagonal. The screws are screwed in tight – but not too tight. You don’t want the plate to deform, and the pressure should, ideally, be even across the plate.

With the neck in place – the bridge plate can be attached, and the neck alignment properly checked for the first time. Although I’ve done my best to assess the correct alignment and placement of the bridge previously – it’s only really now that the tuners are properly in place, and now that the through-body holes for the strings have been drilled – that I can properly check the neck alignment. Looks like we’re bang on the money.

The Telecaster design has a relatively simple layout – with basic controls and, therefore, a relatively straightforward wiring scheme. I’ve got a sheet of self-adhesive copper foil left over from the Jaguar build, and that should be enough to line and shield the three cut-outs on the front of the body.

Before starting – it’s important to give the routs a good clean out. There’s plenty of dust, grime, loose overspray etc. hiding in the corners. Cleaning it all out makes sure the adhesive on the foil will get a good key. Then, pieces of copper foil are cut and laid into the pickup and control routs – each overlapping the previous piece. When a cutout is completely lined, with a narrow, 2-3mm overlap onto the face of the body – the pieces are burnished thoroughly with an agate tool – one which I also use for burnishing gold leaf. This helps the adhesive stick consistently, and also helps maximise the bond between each piece. The adhesive is conductive on this foil, and a well-burnished adhesive join helps eliminate the need for connective soldering.

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Since all the shielding needs to provide a continuous, conductive surface – each separate rout needs to be linked to the adjacent one with grounding wires. These run through small, specially drilled conduits. The end of each piece of continuity wire is tinned, and then soldered to the copper foil. Once each solder joint is completed, I like to cover them with a small piece of copper foil to help keep things in place.

With the three compartments joined and fully lined with copper, the overlaps on the face of the guitar are trimmed so that they do not extend beyond the cover plates and scratchplate. A few pieces of foil are left to run around a few of the screw holes, and foil is built up a little here so that the metal cover plates will become part of the shielding surface. This includes the steel bridge plate and the chromed control plate. To provide a metal surface with which to form the “lid” of the neck pickup rout – a piece of copper foil is attached to the rear of the scratchplate, so that it comes into contact with the overlap around the neck pickup. It’ll help if the foil can extend to around one of the scratchplate screw holes. The one up near the neck pocket does the best job.

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With the shielding Farraday cage complete, it’s just a matter of temporarily fitting the bridge, scratchplate and control plate, and then testing for continuity with a multi-meter. All of the surfaces which lead to ground need to be contiguous. With the tests made, and everything looking good – I can fit the neck again, using the aged plate and screws from before.

Now that the bridge plate is located and in position, it’s a good time to start looking at the all important stickers on the face of the guitar. In particular, I can look at the locating the “Trash City” sticker – which sits in line with the bridge plate. As with all other stickers – it’s important to clean the area thoroughly, and to make sure there’s nothing loose on the surface. I clean the surface over with naptha, test the location and orientation of the sticker, peel off the backing and press the sticker down – working out from the centre, making sure there are no air bubbles. Once the sticker is firmly attached, I like to use the backing paper as a barrier – and then use a flat burnisher, using the paper as a shield, to make sure the sticker is well and truly stuck down. Any stubborn air bubbles can also usually be worked out to the edges this way. I’ve decided to go with the sticker which is already “aged”. The edge is irregular, and the sticker has a reasonably convincing “well-used” look. The other alternative was a brand new, shiny version – but this would have needed considerable roughing up to begin to look in keeping with the rest of the components.

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Now that I look at it – I’ve probably attached the sticker about 5mm or so too far to the right, but I’m not losing sleep over it. It’s close enough. The “Trash City” sticker helps, in turn, to  locate the “Ignore Alien Orders” sticker. But since I’m going to use the new, metallic version of that sticker – it will need to be cut to shape and faux-aged to match the overall look of the finished guitar. That’s a job for another day.

When I looked a pictures of the original guitar, I noticed an area below the control plate which looked slightly paler – as if there was a sticker, or perhaps the paint had worn differently. I had tried to feather a thinner coat of paint here to reflect this difference in finish – but rubbing the surface back has now removed all the paint. Whilst there’s no evidence that Strummer had a piece of Gaffa tape there – I figured it’s the sort of thing that would be in-keeping with the overall look. Gaffa tape is definately a bit of a Rock’n’Roll cliche, and I just happen to have a fifteen year old roll of the stuff stuck at the back of one of my gear boxes. The end is a bit ragged and creased. Perfect. I tear off an appropriately sized piece and stick it below the control plate. It fits right in, and is a further reminder that working on this tribute lookalike is less about creating a mark-for-mark “replica”, and more about creating a guitar that looks the part and has the right kind of mojo. Looks like a running repair done by a busy musician on the road, and saves me from having to go back and respray a small area.

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