Jimmy Page Tribute “Dragoncaster”. Sourcing and prepping a suitable neck.

The “Dragoncaster” project is another example of taking an original guitar design, and reproducing it – not in a fully “reliced” style – but rather, in an “as new” condition. Just as if the original guitar had been newly created. This means that a lot of the components can be sourced from “NOS”, (New, Old Stock), suppliers – or by taking advantage of some of the Vintage reproduction lines that some manufacturers provide. eg Fender’s “Pure Vintage” line of components

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However, a couple of years ago, new regulations came into effect which aim to reduce a lot of the damaging effects of global timber import and export – most notably on some of the rarer and more threatened species of hardwood. Good old Rosewood – long loved as an ideal fingerboard material, has subsequently found itself on the “banned” list. Of course – import and export is still, to some extent possible – but in practice, the lengthy application process for re-import or re-export seem to have made much of the trade too bureaucratic and expensive. Manufacturers have turned to less contentious woods such as Pau Ferro, or Roseacer. Whilst they might do a reasonable job technically speaking – they just don’t cut it when you’re trying to source a neck to match the look of Jimmy Page’s original 1959, slab-board, Rosewood on maple neck, on his “Dragon” Telecaster.

And that’s a problem for my tribute build.  There are countless all-maple necks out there – but they just don’t look right for a start. Where replacement timbers, like Pau Ferro may have been used – the colour or figuring is usually wrong. There are still a few rosewood board necks on sale in the US – but ordering from here, in the UK, risks them disappearing into the ether as UK Customs Officials will inspect and impound any purchase not having the correct import / export license. I could try to find a willing supplier, and then wait six months just to see if the correct paperwork can be successfully applied for – but that usually means an additional fee on top of the usual import taxes. I think I have to face it – it’s not going to be an easy source.

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Another consideration – now with many of my projects – is that it’s actually proving more expensive to buy-in some of the cheaper, generic necks, and then finish them to the correct colour and style. This often involves fret levelling, or other neck adjustment, and I’ve found on some projects that it’s actually preferable to buy genuine Fender necks, (quite often a cheaper, MIM example), which require no extra finishing or setup.

At the moment, it’s clear in this case, that the only chance I’m going to get to reproduce a Rosewood neck for this Telecaster, is to source a new generic neck, and then refinish it. A few months ago – I noticed that a few suitable AllParts necks, (model TRO-V), were available – but in the interim, they’ve literally all been bought up. After weeks of fruitless search, my only remaining option anywhere in Europe is to buy in a HOSCO, reproduction neck from Axecaster.

From a cosmetic point of view – the neck looks OK, and it goes a good way in capturing the correct period look of the original ’59 neck. The Japanese made neck seems straight enough and is quite nicely finished – but I’m going to have to get a bit of amber tone on there. The raw maple is just so clean and white.

I also need to check the fit at the neck pocket. It’s immediately clear that the neck is about 0.5mm too wide. I’m not going to play around with the neck pocket at this late stage – so I’ll have to fix the neck before I apply any colouring finish, and then try to keep any lacquer coats down to a minimum thickness at the heel. To reduce the neck width, I wrap some 320 grit paper around a cork block. Then, keeping the block straight and square to the side of the neck block, I slowly remove a little bit of material from each side in turn – checking often to see how I’m progressing.

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Since the maple will have to take an amber tint under a nitro clear coat, I need to make sure I leave a little extra room for a finish on the sides of the neck block. There will be a light clear coat first, followed by a few coats of amber tint, until the colour looks right. This followed by at least three coats of clear nitro as a final seal. I figure that’ll end up being at least the thickness of a piece of paper, additional to the dimension of the actual neck. I therefore keep working at reducing the neck block until I can just fit the neck into the pocket, with a piece of paper at each side. It’s worth going slowly and meticulously here. Remove too much, and the neck will end up loose in the pocket. Too little, and I risk damaging the nitro coat on the body, as I fit and remove an over-tight neck.

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Eventually, the fit seems snug, with the paper spacers approximating the anticipated nitro coats. I run some finer bits of grit paper along the sides of the neck block to smooth the finish. Then, I just have to prepare the neck for spraying. A quick clean over with naptha makes sure there’s no finger grease or other residue to contaminate the surface. The Rosewood fingerboard is covered with some protective masking tape, and the pegboard holes are plugged with some bits of kitchen paper. The neck is then laid in the spraying cabinet with the fingerboard facing down. I’ll spray the back of the neck first, and concentrate on the face of the headstock separately.

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The weather has become cold and damp recently – not ideal for spraying nitro. I need to warm up the workshop for an hour or two first – and even then, it helps to keep the spray cans of lacquer warm, so that the contents flow properly. I lay a couple of light coats of clear nitro over the back of the neck first. This is just to seal the wood, and prevent any subsequent stain from getting into the grain. Once the clear coats have dried for an hour or so, I then build up successive coats of light amber tint nitro. I spray each coat as a series of three light passes, changing the angle each time, ensuring an even application all over – even at the sides of the neck. The number of coats is really all down to the depth of tint required. Archive, colour photos of Jimmy’s original show the neck as being quite light in tone – although that could be down to intense, and over-bright  stage lighting. I eventually settle on a light butterscotch sort of tint – and anticipate a similar, perhaps slightly darker, tint on the headstock. There will be no Fender decal on the face of the headstock – just like Jimmy’s original – so there’s no need to prep the board or deal with having to cover the decal in additional coats of nitro. I should just be able to repeat the number of passes on the face of the pegboard, with perhaps an extra one or two coats of light tint, to darken the face sufficiently.

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The results are nice and smooth – with little sign of any significant, “orange peeling”. Once the nitro has had a chance to fully cure and harden, I’ll remove much of the finish on the back of the neck – perhaps even some of the amber tone along the area where the playing hand will rest – to leave a silky smooth, slightly matt effect – without any of the “grab” that gloss varnish coats can provide.

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Once the back of the neck has had a couple of days to dry and harden up sufficiently, I mask off most of the neck with a little kitchen towel and masking tape – leaving only the face of the headstock exposed. After a quick clean with naptha, I repeat the spray sequence, adding just a single, liquid, light tint coat to bring the face of the pegboard to a slightly darker tone than the rest of the neck. After the final coat of clear nitro has been applied, I notice there are a few small bubbles in the very surface layer. I think I’ve probably made the workshop too warm, and that some of the outgassing has become trapped. It looks like I’ll be able to polish it out, however. I’ll leave things to settle down before I flat sand the headstock face to a gloss shine. I’ll have to assess the finish then – to see if there will be any more nitro coats required to rectify things.

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And so the neck for the “Dragoncaster” goes into the drying cupboard for a good six weeks – to let the nitro fully dry, cure and shrink back. With Christmas just around the corner – it looks like this will become one of the first jobs for the New Year.

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