Kurt Cobain “Jag-Stang”. Finishing and polishing the neck

The last proper lacquer coats to the headstock decals were sprayed about a month ago. Over the holidays, the lacquer has cured and shrunk back, and the edges of the decals are now, quite hard to pick up. On examination under a strong, directional light – there seems to be a very slight, raised plaque over the main Fender decal on the face of the headstock. On the reverse, the signature decal now seems to be entirely “under the lacquer”, and the edges are extremely hard to identify. There’s a very slight spray texture to the cured lacquer generally, but this should easily polish out.

I intend to finish the neck so that the headstock face has a full gloss shine, whilst the neck and headstock reverse will be rubbed back to a smooth, satin finish. The first step, therefore, is to flat-sand the flat faces once again, and to rub back the rest of the neck to a consistent, matte finish.

The flat surfaces are levelled with 600 grit, using a flat backing block and naptha as a cutting lubricant. The sanding is kept as gentle as possible – letting the paper do all the work, and ensuring that the finish is as consistent, and flaw-free as possible. It’s important to avoid witness marks or slubs, due to the paper becoming clogged. Once the flat surfaces are completely matte – consistent all over, and with no signs of any shiny “low” points, (especially around the edges of the decals), I switch to a red (coarse) Scotchbrite pad, and gently work the flat surfaces until everything looks smooth and consistent. It’s helpful to use the Scotchbrite pads over a backing block on flat surfaces – but extra care needs to be taken at the edges. The abrasive tends to flex over the edges and can completely rub through the finish here. Especially if the treatment is already a bit on the thin side.

Once the flat faces are rubbed back, I continue working with the red Scotchbrite – but this time, concentrating on the back and sides of the neck. The lacquer coverage here is quite thin, compared with the headstock faces – so it’s wise to go gently. I’m aiming for a consistent matte sheen, which matches the rubbed-back finish on the headstock. It doesn’t take long to achieve this. I’m not aiming to remove much, actual material. A little extra time and care checking that the transition from the neck to headstock is nice and even – and I can move on to polish up the face of the headstock.

Polished headstock

Before polishing – it’s vital to remove the paper plugs from the pegholes first. There’s all sorts of muck hiding in there, and unless the holes are clear and clean – there’s always the risk that some contamination might sneak out onto the surface and foul up the polishing job. It’s always best to make sure all surfaces are as clean as possible, before beginning to polish.

Polishing is achieved using a succession of six, graded, Micro-mesh pads, from 3200 grit – all the way up to 12000. Having flat-sanded the surface with wet and dry papers, I prefer to do any final polishing with dry Micro-mesh sheets. It’s always possible to lubricate the odd, stubborn area – if there are particular swirl marks, for example, which seem to resist all other efforts – but I just find that dry Micro-mesh pads seem to coax out that liquid shine all the quicker. The pads I use are slightly cushioned, and can be wrapped around a small, flat block. This helps keep the final result nice and flat, and helps me “focus in” on the job at hand. As the polish develops – any flaws, ridges or indentations will become much more obvious – so it’s always a good idea to work into a good light source.

The secret to effective polishing seems to lie in a consistent approach – keeping the polishing pad moving, and not focusing too much on any particular area at a time. There’s a surprising amount of heat generated, and if you rush, or stick to one area too much – you risk damaging the polishing cloths – even the lacquer. Instead, I tend to cover the whole area methodically. Polishing with each successive grade – first, with the grain, and then following up with a more general, circular motion.

By the time I’m on to the final grades – the shine is obvious. Working into a light enables me to spot any slight, problem areas. These usually reveal themselves as particularly stubborn swirl marks or, occasionally perhaps, a slight scratch or other imperfection in the finish. In these cases, it’s sometimes necessary to back up a few grades, and to wet-polish the surface – before gradually working back up through the grades, and feathering-in the repair.

Fingerboard preparation

Once the headstock is polished to perfection, I gently clean the surface, apply a Fender lacquer polish, and then buff up the headstock with a soft cloth. The logo decal appears properly embedded in the lacquer finish, and there’s absolutely no sign of the edges – no matter which way I view the logo. I can now remove the protective masking tape. The grain end of the Rosewood fingerboard has become shiny under it’s lacquer coat – but the playing surface, and the area around the nut slot remains matte. A quick check with some 600 grit paper to ensure that the break line between the two is straight and sharp – and it’s time to take a closer look at the fingerboard itself.

Now that the protective tape has been removed, I can easily clean up the sides of the fingerboard slab, and ensure that the lacquer transition is nicely graded. A quick bit of attention from the coarse Scotchbrite pad tidies everything up, and I’m especially careful to use my playing hand to actually feel the results, as I go. I don’t want to feel any ridges or sharp changes in finish. Usually – it’s far easier to feel flaws, than it is to actually see them. One thing I can feel, for sure – is the “newness” of this neck. It’s something I noticed on my other AllParts Jaguar neck. The actual edges of the fingerboard are quite sharp, in comparision with other Fender examples I’ve played.

Whilst the edges would, no doubt, probably soften with time – I want to gently sand off some of the sharpness, and to try and give the neck a more comfortable, “played-in” feel, from the off. I do this with some lengths of 600 grit paper – running them over the fretboard edges to round them off, ever so slightly – before eventually running a flat block up and down the edges to blend everything in. This process pulls across the grain of the rosewood on the front face in places, and so once the edges are as I want them, I go over the entire fingerboard with some fine wire wool – working along the grain, to remove any obvious working marks.

Once the neck and fingerboard are as I want them – I can finally condition the fingerboard, using some Crimson Guitars restorative oil. A generous application is spread out and allowed to soak in. (Making sure to clean up any overflows down the sides of the neck). After ten minutes, or so, I wipe off any surplus oil which hasn’t soaked-in, with a clean paper towel and then allow the neck to dry a little more. All in all – I make three applications, and then buff the fingerboard up with a soft cloth. The neck is now starting to take on the look of a “fresh from the box”, shop-bought example.

Slicking-up the back of the neck

On the back of the neck, the red Scotchbrite has provided a nice, visually smooth finish – but I know I can make it even slicker for my playing hand. By holding a fine (grey) Scotchbrite in my fretting hand, and then sliding it repeatedly, up and down – I can knock back and polish the lacquer finish to such a degree, that the neck now feels super-slick – although the finish still looks satin, with a consistent sheen. With my order for an alder JagStang body placed with Warmoth in the USA, I now have a few months to wait – so I box the neck up and store it away until I have everything ready for a first, dry assembly.

Finished JagStang neck

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