Custom built Fender Jaguar USA. Scratchplate and Control Plate fitting. The importance of planning ahead

I’m at the point where I can begin to look at fitting a scratchplate and the requisite chrome control plates to my Candy Apple Red, Original 60’s Jaguar. Even at this stage – I’m still not entirely certain what colour I want the scratchplate to be. A white pearloid plate might be the most obvious and traditional choice – but I also really like the idea of an all red colour scheme. With that in mind, I had WD Music, here in Kent, order up a custom red pearl pickguard from WD Custom in the USA. There’s nothing quite like looking at the real thing, to help make up your mind on colourways. Sometimes, it pays to have a few cheap examples in the workshop – just for reference.

Which scratchplate to use, isn’t just a question of colour choice

But the crucial deciding factors are likely to be issues other than just mere colour. When it comes to scratchplates – the actual fit is the all-important factor. In fact, scratchplates can often be a major cause of frustration when piecing together a guitar with parts sourced from different suppliers. There seem to be so many different sizes and standards – even within each “standard” model shape. In my experience, Jaguars seem to cause the most problems. That’s perhaps not surprising – given that the fit needs to accommodate, not only the usual bridge to neck dimensions and relationship, but also the addition of the closely fitted, chrome control plates.

I’ve narrowed my scratchplate down to a choice between the red, WD Custom plate and a more generic, “aged white” pearloid plate from The STRATosphere. Both are supposedly cut to fit an American ’62 Jaguar – but there are some surprising differences. Lining the plates up around the pickup openings – the actual shape of the plates is similiar, but the WD plate has much more meat on it around the lower pickup selector plate, and on the top side. This, on it’s own, might not be too much of a problem – although I’ll have to see how that top curve looks against the actual curves of the body.

Even disregarding the slight differences to the outline – the screw holes appear to vary in placement somewhat, and when tested against the pre-drilled holes on the body, both plates have areas which “hit” and “miss”. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find a replacement plate which was specified to fit an “American Original 60’s Jaguar”. I presumed that a “Vintage ’62” shape might just cover it. It seems I assumed wrong.

Crucially, both plates fit around the neck opening and, at the same time, fit well around the bridge “thimbles”. This is the basic, important Jaguar geometry which any Jaguar scratchplate has to accommodate, in the first instance, (and one which my Olympic White ’62 jaguar had a few problems with, initially). However – the next check needs to be on how well the pickup openings line up with the actual pickup routs on the body. It’s here that the plates really begin to differentiate themselves. Whilst the pickup openings on the aged white plate perfectly match the routs below – the red plate overrides the bridge-side edge of the bridge pickup slightly. That will make the bridge pickup fit uncomfortably tight, if it goes in at all. It looks like my decision might just have been made for me. I’ll go with the aged white plate. If I decide I really want to go with the all-red colourway, I’ll just have to deal with modifying the custom plate and, perhaps, engineering a little more room for that bridge pickup.

Aged white scratchplate selected. Checking the pre-drilled screw hole positions

So – with the white plate selected, I now need to check all of the other alignments, and especially the pre-drilled screw hole positions. To check accurately – I need to fix the plate in a stable reference position. Since I may well decide to fit a mute at some point during this build, I should probably make sure that the mute plunger and mute attachment screw positions coincide sufficiently – so that the plate can be screwed into the existing mount position. By anchoring the plate using two screws through the mute attachment positions – I can ensure the plate sits securely, in the optimum position. As it happens – the thimble openings need to be slightly enlarged on one side – but all that is required is a little bit of reaming out, and then some tidying up with a small piece of fine grit paper. Once the modification has been made – the plate is fixed down using the mute screws, and an asessment made for fit, all the way around the plate – sighting the edge of the plate against the outer curves of the body..

On inspection – the neck pocket fit is OK. A slight gap at the heel – but acceptable. Both pickup openings ride close to the actual routed openings on the body, but even where the plate now overlaps slightly – both openings remain clear enough to accommodate pickups, covers and claws. Around the plate perimeter – most of the screw holes match reasonably well with the pre-drilled holes on the body, although some will have to be re-drilled to avoid the screws going in at unacceptable angles. Out of ten screws – six are just about close enough to use. Four will have to be plugged and re-drilled.

I screw the plate down in the six “good” locations – so that the plate is fully secure, and anchored to the body. I can now take a good look at the chrome control plate positions, and how they match up to the scratchplate, at the interfaces.

Jaguar rhythm plate. Johnny Marr, two switch pattern

I start with the upper “rhythm ” control plate. Instead of the usual, switch-and-two-roller-pots, configuration, I want to wire the guitar using a “Johnny Marr” modified circuit, which has slightly different functions and controls. This is a genuine Fender, two-switch plate for a Johnny Marr signature Jaguar, (Fender parts number 009-1893-000). It’s hard enough getting standard Fender Jaguar switch plates here in the UK – let alone some of the atypical, modified plates for Jaguars. Many thanks to Darren Riley in the USA for shipping me the plates for this job, although it took a special order, and a little to and fro-ing with UPS to finally get them here.

On the upper plate, the usual vertical circuit selector switch takes on the relocated “strangle switch” functionality from the lower selector plate and, instead of the two roller pots, a second switch is added to allow for another, slightly different, pre-set filter setting. There’s a very real possibility that the slightly modified layout, and the corresponding workings underneath the plate, might cause the switch bodies to foul against the sides of the pre-routed opening in the body. I need to check how the switch plate fits against the scratchplate AND how the guts fit into the opening. To do this – I need to fit the plate with the basics. In this case, two switchcraft, 2-way On/On, black slide switches, (2 x EP-0260-023). These are each fitted to the plate using two chrome, low profile screws. The screws will eventually be thread-locked, once the wiring is complete. For now – they’re just hand tightened, for a “dry” assembly.

Rhythm circuit plate. Positioning before modification

It’s immediately clear that the geometry must be a little different on a Johnny Marr Jag. To get the guts of the horizontal switch to fit into the routed opening – the plate needs to move downwards on the body. Even then – the top line of the plate doesn’t quite correspond to the top line of the scratchplate. I’m going to have to modify the scratchplate to accommodate the altered position.

The aged white plate came with all sides machined off to a bevelled profile. Including the sides which butt-up against the upper and lower control plates. I really like these joints to be tight and accurate, and I like the outside lines to flow. I’ve seen too many Jaguars – even real Fenders – where the plates seem to be attached with just a little bit too much slap-dash. Since I’m going to have to re-locate and re-drill for the upper chrome plate, AND modify the scratchplate itself – I might as well try and make sure I get the alignments spot-on.

Scratchplate marked to show extent of modification required

I can use the chrome plate as it’s own template. I mount it in position, and the plate rides up over the scratchplate. Since the protective plastic covering is still in place on the scratchplate, I can trace the line of the chrome plate – simply by using a biro. I position the chrome plate, so that the outside line appears to flow seamlessly. One thing is for sure. I’ll have to plug and re-drill all three of the existing attachment screw positions for the switch plate.

Shaving down the scratchplate

Re-shaping the acrylic plate is done with a new, sharp, Stanley knife blade – held perpendicular to the edge of the plate. It’s far easier, and much more accurate, to shave away the edge gradually – rather than to trying to cut it to shape, in one. It means there’s a lot of backwards and forwards, fitting and re-fitting, whilst the fit is checked and double-checked – but you eventually end up with an accurately scribed, tailor-made fit. Furthermore – the edge where the scratchplate meets the chrome is now perpendicular, rather than bevelled. This makes for a much closer and, in my opinion, more attractive fit.

Rhythm circuit plate after modification

It takes ages to get the line of the curve absolutely right – but eventually, I manage to re-shape the edge of the join, so that the chrome plate butts-up against it almost perfectly. However – even though the shape matches well – the chrome plate isn’t as thick as the scratchplate, and so the line at the junctions can look a little bit out, due to parallax. I’ve seen some cases where, on the three-switch plate in particular, thin black plastic gaskets are used to bring the chrome plate up to the level of the scratchplate. I intend to try and fabricate some custom gaskets myself – to work with all three chrome plates. Hopefully, I can use them to unify the level of all four plate attachments, and to tidy up the overall look. It’s little details like this which add quality to a build and, as I’ve stated before, it’s little faults like this which tend to appear on factory built guitars as an inevitable consequence of “value engineering”. Don’t get me started.

On measuring the thickness of the two plates here, I can see I’ll need to find some suitable gasket material at 0.8mm thick. I’ll probably try and source some black plastic sheet – to try and lose any visual line produced, in the shadow underneath each plate.

Although the edge of the scratchplate at the butt joint is now square – once the line is correct, I like to re-work a slight bevel onto the top edge, so that it cuts down just to the level of the black ply. This gives a slight black line at the butt joint, and this will visually blend with the gasket below on the few points along the join, where the fit isn’t, perhaps, quite perfect. Hopefully – it’ll look like it’s been planned all along. Once the shape has been finalised, a few strokes along the top edge, with the blade held at a 45 degree angle, creates the new partial bevel.

Jaguar control plate. Standard, two pot and jack plug pattern

I can’t fit the top plate until I’ve re-drilled the attachment screw holes – so I store it away for now, with the switches still fitted. I now need to follow the same fitting procedure for the main control plate. This is a genuine Fender, Jaguar Master Control plate, (Fender parts number 005-4505-000). This takes two pots and a jack plug socket, in the usual standard Jaguar pattern. The pots I’ll be using are CTS 1.0 Meg Ohm, short brass, split shaft pots with an Audio taper. These are high quality pots, and standard for a Johnny Marr wiring circuit. They will be matched with a Switchcraft Mono jack socket. I fit the pots and jack socket temporarily. Once again – I’ll thread lock them all in place, once I wire the plates up properly.

Master control plate – test fit

On dry-assembling the master plate – I can see that the pots fit well within the routed recess, and the screw holes are close to their intended locations. However – the outer lines of the plates don’t quite match up. It’s not as dramatically out as the upper plate was, but the inner “V” will have to be slightly re-aligned to pull the lower side in a bit. By the time I’ve done that – all three of the screw holes will need plugging and re-drilling.

Master control plate – fit after modification to scratchplate

The modification is achieved in exactly the same way as before – by gradually paring away at the sides of the scratchplate with the edge of a Stanley knife blade. Eventually, the “V” is refined so that the plate fits much better, and the outside lines flow properly. I slightly bevel the top of the modified edge on the scratchplate and, once again, I’ll eventually plan on using a custom-cut, 0.8mm gasket to raise the face of the chrome plate to match the scratchplate. This should also disguise any slight discrepancies at the plate join.

Alignment at switch selector plate location

The remaining switch plate drops nicely into the usual, lozenge-shaped cutout in the scratchplate. It’s not exactly a snug fit – but it should equalise out nicely with the help of a few temporary shims, although the pre-drilled screwholes in the body will need plugging and re-drilling to locate the plate centrally. Instead of the usual, three vertical switch plate – I’ll be using a Fender American Professional lever switch plate (Fender parts number 009-1903-000). This plate is standard on all Fender Johnny Marr Signature Jaguars, and incorporates a 4-way lever switch in a horizontal orientation. This allows for an extra, series pickup switch selection, and should also make the perennial Jaguar problem, of accidentally knocking those vertical switches, a thing of the past.

Switch selector plate – test fit

The horizontal switch is an elegant solution, but it leads to another modification of the standard cavity routing. The switch used is an Oak Grigsby, 4-way lever switch – but this is slightly longer than the standard cavity can accommodate. As you can see from the image above – the switch mounting holes are slightly occluded by the sides of the cavity, and so small extensions will need to be cut away at either side. A possible work-around, is to angle the switch diagonally, across the cavity. This solution does not require additional surgery to the standard cutout – but it does require a different custom-cut plate in, what is known as, the “Wronski” pattern, (after Slacktone’s Dave Wronski, who uses this configuration on all of his custom Jags). For my build – I’ll be sticking with the horizontal, Johnny Marr configuration, and so will have to find a way to facilitate a little bit of delicate routing.

Switch selector plate – test fit

Once I get the cavity enlarged – enough to allow me to test fit the plate properly, with the blade switch installed – I’ll have to re-assess and re-drill the screw holes much more precisely. If I’m slightly off-line, it’ll drag the plate one way or another. I need the plate to sit centrally within the opening, and so I’ll probably have to shim it in place carefully, while I drill and tap the new screw locations.

The modified switch plate appears to be cut from much thicker plate than usual and so, although I’ll still want to use a black gasket underneath to block out any of the body colour from showing through the gaps, I should be able to use a much thinner material. Looks like something 0.2mm thick, is all that will be required.

Custom Jaguar control plates and scratchplate – dry assembly, with bridge and pickup covers

I can now do a full dry assembly with the scratchplate and control plates in-situ, and with the bridge and pickup covers in place. This gives me a good idea of how the build is coming together, and highlights the next steps. I think cutting the modifications to the switch rout might present a bit of a challenge – but I think I can work out a suitable technique. I’ll have to take the fitted brass grounding plates out for safety, and so will take the opportunity to trace off a set of templates, while I’m at it. Original Fender parts are incredibly difficult to find – and previous attempts at cutting my own plates were compromised by me selecting a way-too-heavy gauge of brass sheet. I’ve recently found a source of some much thinner brass, and so should be able to cut my own grounding plates much more successfully in future.

Stripping out the grounding plates will also allow me to fully copper-line the internal cavities, before reassembly. This may, in some ways, be a doubling-up of the intended screening purposes of the original plates – but the technique worked well with my previous ’62 Jaguar build and, as I have discovered, part of the secret of getting a hum-free Jaguar is to make absolutely sure that all of the necessary components are fully sheilded and/or grounded.

Fender American Original 60’s Jaguar. Dry assembly with “Johnny Marr” control plates

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