Olympic White “62” Jaguar. Installing a Fender Mute

My Candy Apple Red, Original Vintage USA Jaguar body was obtained with some of the hardware already in place. I actually think that the Fender Mute helps “fill out” the hardware around the bridge, and bridge pickup area – adding to the general “chromed metal” load out of the classic specification. That said – it’s certainly a novelty these days and, since I want to push the Custom USA specification a little way towards my own, individual idea of the ideal, I might as well remove it sooner rather than later. It has a job to do on my “62” – perhaps not on the CAR Vintage USA.

And since, at the same time, I’ll be moving my Olympic White Jaguar as far as I can, stylistically speaking, towards it’s year of origin – 1962 – there’s a natural home for it right there. Reverting to the original Jaguar bridge at the same time, will hopefully provide an authentic chunk of chrome to add to the, already installed, vintage style wiring circuit, and hand-wound single coils.

So that’s what the centre hole in the Jaguar body is for…

Removing the mute from the CAR USA Jaguar is as simple as popping out the bridge, and then removing the two securing screws, which hold the mute plate a little distance away from the body. The mute lifts out, revealing a small metal plug in the central hole, between the two thimbles. The hole appears full of white grease, and a protruding bolt in the centre of the mute plate has obviously been residing in there. The small metal plug seems, at first, to be quite tightly fitted within the central hole but, after cleaning out most of the grease – I discover that the plug falls out once the body is inverted, and given an encouraging thump. It’s actually a semi-hollow thing – drilled at one end, and with a small spring inserted into the hole. The other end of this spring obviously rests on the bottom of the hole in the guitar body, and enables the metal plug to move up and down slightly – with some resistance. The spring is padded out with a bit of masking tape – so the spring and the plug are held together.

This isn’t going to be as straightforward as I hoped

I check the comparative depths of the plug holes, on both the USA Jaguar, and my “62”. The USA hole is slightly deeper – but there’s not too much in it. However – once I come to fitting the plug into the “62” – I’m clearly going to have to do a bit of extra fitting work. At first, I suspect it’s only a lip of paint and clearcoat which may have reduced the size of the opening, but it gradually dawns, that I’m going to have to find a way to ream out the hole. Preferably keeping the hole dead centre between the two thimbles, and without scratching up my Olympic White nitro finish.

Improvising a reaming tool

It turns out that I just don’t have the correct size drill bit, (of course). It’s probably an imperial size. I’ve got bits that are a little too big, and plenty that are a little too small. I do have a countersink drill, which should sink down and enlarge the hole to the correct diameter – but if I go straight in with that, I’ll likely rip up the nitro finish on the edge of that hole. The only thing to do, is to gently ease the outer lip of the hole first, by wrapping some coarse grit paper around a slightly smaller drill bit. This is a method I’ve used before for reaming out ferrule holes, as well as for slightly enlarging tuner holes before the bushings are pushed home. By working out the ideal length of grit paper in advance, you can wrap it around enough to create a sanding edge at just the right diameter. Once in the hole – if you turn the drill in the direction against the grit paper wrapping – you seem to get the maximum friction. Slow and steady – testing all the way, as always.

Once the cutting head of the countersink bit can easily fit within the enlarged hole, and there’s absolutely no chance of it slipping, or chewing up the paint finish – I fit it to a battery hand drill, and push the cutter down to the correct depth. You can be a bit conservative here, since only the spring sits at the very bottom of the hole. You just need to drill down deep enough so that the metal plug has a little extra freedom to travel up and down, against the spring.

Take your time – You don’t want to do this more than once

The metal plug and spring are dropped into the hole and, since I only have some bearing grease in the workshop, a small dab of that goes on top, instead of some slightly lighter, white grease that was there in the first place. The mute plate is temporarily seated, with the bridge holding it in place. It looks to be a fairly tight fit around the bridge posts, but it’s difficult to say – the action of the unsecured mute is still unstable and floppy. You need to hold the assembly firmly in place to allow you to accurately trace the locations of the two screw holes through onto the body with a sharp bradawl. It helps to use the holes that are pre-drilled in the scratchplate as a guide, although – the locations should also ideally align with a line drawn through the centres of the two installed thimbles.

Drilling holes through nitro paint and clearcoat has always been a little fraught – but I’ve learned to first use a sharp, brad pointed drill bit, turned backwards, to scratch and scribe the lacquer – followed by an HSS bit, also turned backwards, and a size or two larger than the screw you’ll be using. This gradually wears away a sort of countersunk area, clear of paint and lacquer, so that when the screw is inserted – there’s a reduced risk it’ll actually lift the edges of the screwhole, and fracture the paint finish. Once the “countersinks” are cleared – holes are tapped to the correct depth to receive the screws. It’s important to size these holes correctly, so that they match the screws perfectly. They’ll need to hold firm, without deflection.

The mute is refitted, and the screws are waxed and driven down, just enough, until the mute seems stable. The bridge is dropped into place on top. When fitting the mute, the idea is that the screws should be tightened down enough to slightly deform the plate of the mute, so it acts as a kind of spring. You need to be able to press the small flange next to the rotary controls, so that the mute plate can flip into position. As it flips – it needs to have enough free movement so that the small bolt on the underside of the mute can, in turn, depress the small metal plug, underneath. If you tighten the mute screws down too much – the plate becomes way too stiff to manipulate. If you don’t screw it down enough – the mute sits way too high, can move about laterally and, in extreme cases, won’t hold in place.

It’s basically a bit of a test-it-and-see approach – but remember to take the slight angle of your set bridge into account. (Sometimes the bass side is slightly higher than the treble side). The mute, when installed properly, seems to work best when it sits exactly parallel with the bridge above.

Note the slight bow, which helps make the plate act like a spring

I eventually get the mute screwed down so that it works perfectly – but there’s a problem. The heads of the mute screws actually touch the underside of the bridge when it’s fitted. In fact – there’s a possibility that the bridge is actually riding on the mute screws – rather than on the tips of its’ adjustment posts, within the thimbles. That’s just an instant recipe for buzz and rattle, and it’ll totally wreck the setup. Screwing the mute down further only makes it impossible to operate. Seems I might have found a consequence of this mute plug hole being a little shallower than on the USA Jag.

I can’t find any adjustment anywhere – so the only thing I can think of doing, is to reduce the overall length of the friction bolt underneath the mute, with a Dremel. I do this a millimeter or so at a time, and test the fit often. Eventually, I manage to get the mute plate screwed right down, so that it sits just clear of the scratchplate when it’s not in use. (This should help keep the mute from vibrating against the pickguard). Crucially, it’s now also well away from the bridge. Once again – I make sure to set the mute height to follow the curve of the installed bridge. Before I fit it, I make sure that the damping bolt has been trimmed to the ideal length – I gently remove any sharp edges, and slightly round the edges of the bolt in the direction of movement – again with a grinding wheel attachment on the Dremel. This seems to help smooth the action of the mute plate no end.

Fender mute with neoprene foam pad engaged

Once the guitar is restrung – the operation of the mute can be properly tested. Bear in mind however, that if you do need to adjust the mute at all, you’ll have to remove the strings and bridge again, in order to get at the adjustment screws. It makes sense to get the operation right, before you reinstall the bridge. In this case – the mute rests clear of the strings until engaged – just as it should. A light, but positive, touch is all that’s required to flip the mute pad into contact with the strings, and the contact is firm and consistent. Disengaging the mute works exactly the same – but in reverse. That’s just the way it should be. It’s a fiddly install – but once you’ve worked out the principle, and the ideal position for the device – it’s fairly plain sailing.

If there’s one piece of advice I’d pass on – it’s to get your bridge set up first, before fitting the mute. In fact – if you have the opportunity – get your whole setup right, before fitting the mute. Because of the risk of the bridge riding on the mute – and the fact that you probably don’t want to mess up the delicate balance of your setup – it’s far easier to make the mute comply to your setup, than the other way round. Sort your bridge first, get your playing action right, and then install your mute as a retro-fit item.

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