The perfect setup for my “62” Jaguar? Maybe if I treat it more like an archtop?

This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve set this Jaguar up. I’ve made some changes along the way – but this time things will change quite dramatically, and so the setup will be quite involved. I’m switching out the original Staytrem bridge in favour of the, more period correct, Fender Jaguar bridge. (The Staytrem will find a new home on my Custom American Original Jag). I’m well aware of some of the difficulties encountered with the original Fender bridge – but I’m looking to find a balanced setup which will hopefully tame some of the worst of it’s reputation. I’ve looked into the bridge in some detail, and I think that by changing the neck angle relationship, and switching strings – I’ll be able to get the bridge to work properly, and at the same time, setup my “62” to better reflect the era of its’ original design.

Definitely not a Jaguar. But it’s that same nut / bridge / tailpiece relationship

I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently, looking into the design development of the Fender Jaguar. It’s been quite a steep learning curve and, I think it’s fair to say, it’s been a really useful exercise in getting to grips with how an electric guitar really works. And that’s really getting to the root of why I got involved with building, customising and modding my guitars to begin with.

This setup will rely on putting into effect some of the theory behind the ideal setup of the Jaguar bridge. I’ve already posted about how to best prepare the bridge, and these steps are best addressed during the final guitar setup. If you’re following the process – it’s probably best to read both posts through, so that you can modify the bridge in tandem with the setup process. If you’re thinking of installing a mute – it’s important to see that installation as an integral part of the whole bridge setup. Since you’ll need to drill the body – you need to do this when the scratchplate is off, but the mute needs to be in place, and a part of the calculation, when you look to first approximate, and then secondly finalise, the bridge height settings. It’s therefore probably best to roughly set the bridge height at first, in order to help calculate the neck angle. A proper installation of the bridge follows. Although the setup follows my usual procedure, there will inevitably be a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get things absolutely right – so be prepared to install, remove and then re-install components, before you get everything set and settled.

Neck adjustments

StewMack neck shims

To begin to set the Jaguar in keeping with my “archtop theory” – I first need to shim the neck, to provide the necessary angle between the neck and the flat body – and to provide the geometry for a taller bridge. Fender used to achieve this in the factory, by inserting strips of pickup bobbin fibre between the neck heel and the neck pocket, but it’s often stated that the best way to do this is by using full pocket, tapered, wooden shims. This ensures that the maximum surface area of the neck heel is in direct contact with the shim(s), and therefore the wood of the body. This is supposed to produce the best vibration transfer between neck and body and, therefore, better sustain and tone. It also is supposed to help prevent the upper fret area on the neck, from developing the dreaded “ski jump” hump, over time.

I’ve previously used a 1.0 degree, pre-cut, StewMac maple shim to set the neck – but I think I’ll probably need a little more angle than that. The problem is – I really don’t know what to aim for. I know there’s a theory at the heart of the matter – but I don’t have any way to quantify how much I need to lift the neck heel. The answer requires a bit of trigonometry. That would be fine if I was building the guitar from scratch – I could draw out the guitar in section, and actually measure the angle. It’s a bit more difficult here – since I need to find a way to take accurate measurements from the instrument as-built.

Fortunately – I discovered an online resource which helped me on the way. Tundraman’s Neck Angle Calculator lets you enter a few perameters, and then calculate the ideal neck angle of the guitar at the click of a button. You need to specify the number of frets you have, and the scale length. Additionally, you need to measure the height of the fret above the body, at the point where the neck joins the body – as well as the maximum height of the bridge above the body. Actually getting the vital measurements proves a little tricky without special, specific measuring equipment – so I improvise by taking each measurement a number of times, using different methods, and then averaging out. It’s also necessary to remove the scratchplate before measuring.

At this stage – I haven’t yet locked and finalised any adjustments to the bridge, and so the final height adjustment is obviously still a potential variable. However, this dimension is required by the neck angle calculator – so I need to arrive at a working bridge height setting. It’s important to figure in the height that will be required to allow for the correct function of the mute, once it’s in place. This means that the mute needs to be temporarily installed. After I get the mute balanced correctly, and set the bridge – I find that the highest saddle point on the bridge ends up approximately 19mm above the body. This is slightly taller than the bridge as supplied, (and also seems to be slightly taller than the Staytrem option, as supplied). This looks like a reasonable setting for the bridge. It should leave plenty of room for the mute, and should also improve the break angle of the strings over the bridge.

The neck joins the body at the 17th fret, and the height of the crown of the 17th fret above the body measures out at a little over 13mm. I feed the data into the online calculator, and discover that the ideal neck angle should be 1.54 degrees. I happen to have a spare 0.5 degree shim in my project box, and so it looks like that will combine with the existing 1.0 degree shim to provide the almost perfect neck angle. Together – the two shims amount to a 2.4mm (0.096″) lift at the heel end of the neck pocket.

I trim the new shim to match the shape of the first, and enlarge the screw holes slightly with a hole punch, as before. It’s at this stage, I realise that I should probably have trimmed the shims to shape at the fatter ends. The shims come pre-shaped, but perhaps the Jaguar neck pocket is a little short? By trimming the thin end of the wedges, I actually make the ends a little thicker than they should be. (The wedges taper to virtually nothing). This raises the exposed end of the neck heel at the join, slightly higher. However – the actual difference in height is negligable. The only real downside will be that the wedges will be that little bit more visible , when looking in under the neck. Next time, I’ll try and reshape the thick ends, but it has to be said – StewMac do a good job of pre-shaping those things, and trimming a straight edge is so much easier than tracing and cutting an accurate curve at the other end.

Neck in place with stacked 1.0 and 0.5 degree shims

The shims are fitted, and the neck is bolted on using waxed stainless steel bolts. The change to the neck angle is subtle – but noticeable. It really doesn’t change the overall feel of the guitar in playing position, but since the neck has been effectively rotated around the 17th fret it can be seen that – although the difference at the neck heel is slight – the difference at the nut and bridge is quite significant. With the neck angle re-set, I now move on and install the mute. This means that the scratchplate needs to be re-fitted first.

Nut installation

The mute and bridge are set in place – but their final positions are still to be finalised and locked. It’ll also help to have strings in place to do those final adjustments, and so I first switch my attention to the nut. It’s always possible to take so many short cuts when preparing and fitting a nut. I’ve gradually realised the importance of getting the nut just right – and so I now make sure that all of my nuts are well fitted, after being properly shaped, polished and slotted. Since I’ll also be changing the type and gauge of my strings – it becomes even more appropriate, in this case. As it happens, my original bone nut was cut quite conservatively. Although I didn’t quite finish it off properly, the slots appear to have plenty of tolerance – (this was one of the first nuts I slotted myself, so I obviously wasn’t taking too many chances). Rather than swap it out immediately – I’ll first try to work with what I have, and see if I can improve on it. This involves reshaping the ends to sit flush with the neck better, and then reshaping the top of the nut so that it gradually falls away towards the headstock.

Since this nut was one of the first I ever cut myself – there are a few other issues too. I now use a StewMac “SafeSlot” clamp for all of my slotting tasks, and so I can use use one of the specially shaped wedges to ensure that the top of the nut is curved to allow for the correct shape. This involves taking a bit of the overall nut height away at both the bass and treble sides. The centre of the nut is just about OK. Since the nut is already nicely seated and glued in place with a dab of shellac – I mask the neck and fingerboard off with thick masking tape, so that I can use an emery board to shape the top and ends of the nut.

After reshaping the nut – I calculate the required slot heights above the first fret. I can now measure the first fret accurately with a digital caliper, and then add on my prefered string clearances per slot (0.020″ to 0.012″). The slots are cut using the “SafeSlot” clamp and metal shims, and they vary from 0.054″ to 0.046″ (top of 1st fret to bottom of string slot). I’ll be using a set of 0.011 strings, (0.011″ to 0.050″) – and so I also need to make sure that the slots are cut wide enough – but not too wide. A slight rocking of the cutting file from side to side is enough. It’s also important to file the string slots with a slight fallway towards the headstock, as well as with a slight flare. This means that the string is supported at the very face of the nut, and that the nut material slowly falls away from the string behind that point. If the nut is well lubricated, this should ensure that there’s no unneccesary binding. This is vitally important to help each string return to tune accurately after the tremolo has been used. It should also help ensure there are no annoying buzzes due to unwanted string movement at the nut.

Fitting the strings

Flatwound strings for the first time

I’m using a set of D’Addario ECG24, Flatwound strings. These are slightly heavier than I’d normally use, and 11’s are the lightest set recommended to keep a decent downforce at the bridge. I’ve used flatwounds on my Precision Bass before – but I’ve never used them on a six-string. I’m really looking forward to trying them out.

Because there’s plenty of adjustment still to be made – it’s always worth getting two sets for the initial setup. (Or at least a spare top “E”). I’ve become quite proficient along the way, at fitting, removing and refitting strings again. If you do it carefully, and don’t kink the strings where the attach to the tuners – you can get away with re-attaching and re-tensioning the strings multiple times. Even so – sometimes, the finer strings don’t like constantly being refitted. And – since the strings have to remain in place at the tremolo end – keeping the unattached strings separate and untangled while you work on other things is another thing to learn to deal with.

The strings are fitted, stretched out and brought to tune. Obviously – you need the bridge fitted to do this, (and you’ll also need the strings in place to make final adjustments to the mute). It’s the first time you’ll properly get to see the effect of the neck shims on the action of the guitar and so it’s a good time to measure, check and adjust the neck relief. This is the point when it begins to become obvious, that setting up the Jaguar is all about balance. It’s also the time when I discover that I constantly need to fit, remove and refit different components – often in different combinations. Since the new strings exert more tension than the previous set – I actually have to remove the neck to make the necessary adjustments at the heel, so I can wind the truss rod nut and drop the neck action down to just below 0.007″. (Fender recommends 0.012″ – but I’m aiming for an even lower action, based on accuracy all over the setup). It’s best to make any adjustments to the truss rod in small increments, and so it takes a couple of steps to adjust, refit, check, remove, adjust, refit and check again – before the neck action is spot on, where I want it.

Bridge adjustments

Bridge radius check

While I’m installing the strings – I check the general radius setting of the bridge. I’ve set the radius based on a curve gauge – rather than rely on the factory pre-set – and it only really takes three strings to confirm the correct radius is set. Both end saddles, and the tallest in the centre. It then takes a slight tweak to adjust the bridge to the correct height for each of the outside “E” strings. With the bridge radius confirmed – I can now take the bridge off again, and lock the saddle adjustment screws with Loctite. If you’re following my process – this is when you’ll need to combine the setup adjustments with the “firming up” of the bridge detailed elsewhere. Once the bridge saddles have been locked, and all six strings are in place and correctly tensioned – the final bridge height can be set to achieve the desired string action at the 17th fret. In this case this is 1.6mm at the treble side, and 1.8mm at the bass. Now that the bridge height is finalised – it’s back to the bridge preparation notes again – I remove the bridge once more, and use some PTFE tape to firm up the post adjustment screws. The bridge is refitted, and it’s position double-checked and fine-tuned as required. The PTFE tape on the posts, and the Loctite on the saddles is clearly doing a job, and the bridge is much less “rattly”. With the strings are brought to tune again – it’s the first time I can properly check the “feel” of the new playing action. It’s super slick and slinky with the chrome flatwounds, and the action seems much closer than with my previous setup. Crucially, there’s no buzz or rattle, as far as I can see, from the bridge.

Now – strings off – (yet again). Time for the final installation of the mute

Mute – final installation

Check the mute – bridge clearance

The mute has already been tested for fit and placement. This is where it all begins to come together. Now that the bridge is set at the correct working height – the mute can be fitted properly, and final checks made to ensure there’s absolutely no chance of the bridge riding on the mute screws. Because I’ve taken all of the installation steps into account as part of the overall setup, I’m pretty sure I’ve already achieved that – but you always need to double check on a Jaguar. It’s vital to ensure that the mute pad engages with the strings properly, and that the actual operation of the mute doesn’t cause any problems elsewhere. After trimming the spring bolt to the required length – I fit the mute, screw it down, and adjust it so that it flips up and holds it’s position properly against the strings. I set the action so that it only takes a little pressure to engage the mute – but enough, so that the spring action is positive enough to hold the mute firmly in position. With the mute set – I can test fit the bridge, and double-check that the mute’s operation is unhindered. I can see clear distance between the mute and the bottom of the bridge. Again – with the guitar restrung and brought to tune – there’s another chance to assess the setup with the guitar held in the playing position. It feels like I’m finally getting somewhere.

Fine adjustments – intonation and pickup height

Don’t get carried away – there are still adjustments to be made

Before making the final adjustments to the bridge – I take the opportunity to check the pickup heights, (you never know – I might have to remove that scratchplate again). Because the bridge is taller than it was, both pickups need to be raised. In order to achieve this, I find that I have to replace both of the neoprene foam springs underneath, with slightly taller pieces of foam. Finally – I understand why the screws on the bridge pickup are slightly longer than the ones at the neck. It’s all to do with that neck angle. The pickups are raised, and both of the chrome claws become much more visible. Hello there! (I never did see the point of having these fancy claws screwed right down into the body). I set the pickup heights to the approximate settings specified for standard single coils – 1.25mm clearance on the high side, 2.75mm on the bass side, although the screws are almost at their limits. In the end, I have to wind each pickup down a turn or two – just to make sure the screws are catching and holding.

Now the basic geometry of the nut – neck – bridge – tailpiece is set. The neck angle has been altered, the bridge raised and fixed at the correct working height,and the mute installed so that everything appears to be working together. Many of the individual bridge components have been isolated, as much as possible, to avoid unwanted vibration, and the assembly doesn’t hinder any of the string paths during the operation of the tremolo. Now I can make any final intonation adjustments, and then lock those adjustments on the bridge.

With the guitar brought to tune, the open string tuning is checked against the tunings at the 12th fret. Intonation adjustments are made via the adjustment screws, and then the saddle positions are locked with threadlock compound. This involves removing the bridge, (yet again), and then restringing and retuning.

Once the saddle intonation positions are set, there’s then a bit of a rush to get the bridge and strings refitted in time to allow for the final intonation settings to be checked, and fine adjustments made – all before that Loctite dries. In most cases, although the compound appears to have dried – the resin still feels a bit gritty on the threads, and it is always possible to flow a little extra onto each thread, if required. I could have used PTFE tape on the intonation screws – that might have made things a little less rushed at this point – but taping each intonation screw was just way too fiddly. However, it’s much easier on the bridge height adjustment posts. Once the bridge is set in position, and the guitar strung once again, a final check is made to ensure that the bridge height is adjusted to provide my required string action. I can also now install the tremolo arm, and check the operation and tuning stability when the tremolo is in use.

The bridge should normally stand upright – and should maintain it’s position due to the downforce exerted by the strings. As the tremolo is flexed each way – the bridge will gently rock in each direction. As the tremolo is released – the bridge should return to it’s central, upright position. At no point should any other part of the bridge, other than the saddles themselves, come into contact with the bridge. Enough clearance should be maintained, so that the string paths remain clear – even when the strings are subject to vibration.

Once everything checks out to my satisfaction – and the first signs are that this realignment and reset has been very worthwhile – all that remains is to set the tremolo locking switch.

This is an often-overlooked step. I think a lot of players don’t actually realise how refined that tremolo setup is. The little lock button, when setup properly, is there as an insurance policy in case a string breaks. Normally – when a string breaks – the string tension reduces, and this affects the equilibrium of the tremolo. The string tension reduces, and this drags the whole system out of tune. The switch button acts as a simple pre-programmed “memory” – marking the point of perfect equilibrium. If a player should happen to break a string, all they need to do is use the tremolo to lift the plate, and then engage the sliding button. This locks the tremolo plate in the equilibrium position, (you can still dive with the tremolo – but the lock effectively sets an in-tune limit, past which the tremolo plate cannot move sharp – despite the stronger influence of the tremolo spring itself.

Once the guitar is tuned and setup, (and it’s important to get the tuning and setup completed before setting the switch) – the main spring screw on the top of the tremolo plate, (the one in the middle), can be gradually turned until the lock just engages without affecting the tuning. (When the lock is engaged – you can’t pull the tremolo sharp any more). Once the switch is correctly set – it should be moved to the forward, (off), playing position – and remain there until you need to use it. If you subsequently need to retune – you can engage the switch beforehand, to help, and then disenage it for playing.

Increased string break angle. String paths checked, and all components “isolated”

Now the setup is almost complete. I think the strings must have been on and off seven or eight times now. This really is a fiddly process, and it pays to remember that this is all about balancing the Jaguar components. Any setup adjustment has the potential to unsettle another, and you constantly have to be aware of the changes you’re making, and the potential effects further down the line. That’s why incorporating the mute install and the bridge modifications, into the logical steps of the setup, is all so vital to the eventual, proper outcome and function. I genuinely think that a lot of the problems encountered with the Jaguar setup arise from poorly thought-through changes – to the bridge especially. Once things have settled down – it’s vital to check, and check again, that the string paths remain clear and that the string saddles are firmly in place. The Jaguar is a precision instrument, and it’s one of those that needs a good check over every now and again – to make sure it’s in perfect balance.

This set up process means that virtually all of the setup settings are “provisional”, until it all finally comes together. Obviously – things constantly change during the setup process, and the idea is to gradually firm up the bridge settings – one by one – until their positions can be fixed, and their corresponding risks of rattling or buzzing are reduced. Using PTFE helps – since it isn’t as permanent a fix as Loctite – but if you opt for the locking compound option, you do need to work it into the setup more carefully.

The only thing I feel I still need to sort out – is some potential metal to metal contact where the bridge posts pass through the mute plate. I’m not sure if it’s going to be an issue – but while the bridge is off for the final time, I wind a single turn of masking tape around each bridge post – just to make sure. With everything else checked out – tunings stable and, apparently, all the buzz and rattle issues dealt with – it’s time to get around to some serious playing. Time to see if all this theory plays out in reality.

And there it is. A Jaguar setup which tries to make the most of that nut / neck / bridge / tailpiece relationship. The archtop influence can be most keenly noticed when the guitar is played acoustically. Considering that many Jaguar players cite dissatisfaction with the Jaguar’s sustain – this example seems not to suffer from any problems there. Of course – the character of these flatwound strings, together with the “paperiness” of the bridge combine to create a little less sustain than some guitars – but if you really want that character, if you specifically want to play a Jaguar – it’s worth learning to set it up properly, to get the best out of it. If you don’t have the time, can’t be bothered, or want something entirely different to begin with – you’d be better spending your time looking for something else.

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