I recently got a chance to purchase a new, Fender “Jimmy Page Signature” Custom neck, from the STRATosphere. That ever useful Fender parts source, in the USA. It’s the perfect opportunity to upgrade my “Dragoncaster” build to integrate a genuine Fender, Jimmy Page specification neck with my painted, 1959 replica Ash body. With Don Mare Zep-O-Tone “Live” pickups, and my own custom holographic plate – this now has to be as close as I’ll ever get to the real thing. Many of my projects undergo evolutions and upgrades over time – and often long after I’ve supposedly “finished” them. This one is no exception.
When Fender released the “Signature” and “Artist” series, Jimmy Page replica Teles, back in 2019 – Jimmy was quoted as saying he was “satisfied” with the way the Custom Shop team had exactly recreated the specifications of his original “magical” guitar. The neck was created to replicate the original, 1959 “slab” boarded neck – and is shaped in a special, custom “Oval-C” profile, which conforms to Page’s custom specification. The 7.25″ radius fingerboard is rosewood, and the 21 frets are “vintage-style”, thin wire. In reality, it’s not exactly a million miles away from the “Classic 60’s” neck I had previously upgraded to – but the frets are just a little bit thinner and more authentic, the slab rosewood board is just that little bit nicer, with a slightly tighter grain, and the finish is Fender’s “Road Worn” nitrocellulose, instead of the “Classic 60’s” gloss polyester. Add to that a Jimmy Page autograph on the rear of the headstock, vintage style tuners already fitted, and the aforementioned custom “Oval-C” profile – how could I resist?
The necks should be a straightforward swap. I should even be able to restring with the current set, if I’m careful. The old neck is removed, and I can test-fit with the new. The fit in the pocket isn’t that snug, and there’s a little bit of play at each side of the pocket – but you can see from the photo above – the fit looks good, and that thick slab of rosewood looks, just the ticket.
Since both necks were pre-drilled to the usual Fender factory dimensions – the bolts fit exactly and, with a little bit of wax to lubricate the cut – I can quickly, although carefully, tighten the neck bolts up, so that the neck sits straight and true. The joint looks good – but the main thing I notice, is just how well the colour of the back of the neck looks, next to my finish on the back of the Ash body. My first attempt at a neck, was way too dark. The Classic ’60’s neck was much closer in tone – but this matches almost perfectly. This really looks like the neck and the body have been purposefully matched. Very pleasing.
Back to the fingerboard – that rosewood looks like it could do with a drink. I oil the fingerboard with three applications of Crimson Guitars Fingerboard Oil – leaving plenty of time for each application to soak in, before wiping away any surplus. After the final application, and once the fingerboard is “dry” – I make doubly sure there’s absolutely no excess oil sitting on the surface, and then buff the board gently with a soft cloth.
The nut on the Custom JP neck, is specified as “bone”, and it certainly looks much more like bone, than the usual “synthetic bone” offerings usually found on Fender MIM necks. However, the fit is terribly loose and, although the bottom curve does, at least, closely match the curve of the nut slot – I really need to replace the nut with something that fits better. A loose nut won’t work half as well as a well-fitting one – bone or not.
As it is – I’m fresh out of bone blanks right now, but I do have a spare Tusq XL, lubricated nut in the parts box. I’ve had good results with Tusq nuts before and, wanting to get this guitar properly set up as soon as possible – I might as well go with something I know will fit well, and need minimum adjustment from the off.
First, I have to remove the two small tabs on the bottom of the nut. (One looks like a moulding error. The other central tab is there in case the nut is to be used with a flat-bottomed nut slot). I cut off the tabs with a Dremel, and a steady hand. I then lightly sand off the bottom curve, and try a test-fit. Normally – these Tusq XL nuts are supplied quite close to Fender specifications, but I have to slim this one down a little before I can get it close to fitting. A little shaping to each end, (the same nut seems to be supplied for both 43 and 42mm necks), and it’s a perfect fit. The nut fits into place with a firm push. Absolutely no need for any adhesive here. I’ve kept the old strings fitted at the bridge, and have kept them in two “bunches” – spaced and taped, so they won’t tangle. (You can lose entire mornings if the wound ends start to tangle with each other). The nut is pre-slotted – so I can now simply refit the strings into and around the new machine posts, tune up, and bring the neck up to playing tension.
With the strings up to tension – the neck looks straight, flat and true, and there’s just the very slightest, natural bow. The outer “E” strings both sit equidistant from the fingerboard edges, and slightly flare towards the bridge, in true vintage style. Checking the neck relief – I can see the neck is set at 0.008″, which is ideal. Fender specify 0.10″ for 7.25″ radius necks – so I’m not going to fuss with this one. My previous setup on this guitar tried to build on some specifications which had provided a super-low action on one of my Stratocasters. I’ve since discovered that Telecasters, in general, seem to require a bit more “air” than that. Perhaps it’s the playing style that’s normally associated with Teles. As my attention has recently turned from Jaguars to Telecasters, (and my associated listening and stylistic reference has turned from Johnny Marr, to Mick Green and Wilko Johnson) – then the playing style required to bring out some of the characteristic rythmic “spank” of the Tele, seems to demand a little more clearance, and a slightly higher neck action.
So -standard Fender specifications are my basic target for this setup. The Tusq nut is already pre-slotted, but there’s a bit of an apparent moulding error on the “G” slot, and the pre-cut slot depths are set, quite conservatively, on the high side. The vintage frets measure at 0.040″ high, (at the first fret) – so adding the Fender “stock” string clearance of 0.020″ on the low side, and 0.018″ on the high – I end up with required nut slot depths at 0.060″ above the fingerboard for the three low strings, and 0.058″ for the three high strings. I cut the slots with a set of HOSCO nut slotting files, and a StewMac “SafeSlot” clamp. Once the slots are shaped properly to fall away gently towards the machine posts, and are all cut and polished out to the correct depth – then I can refit the strings, retune and check the action and open string tuning. With that all looking good, I can finally measure and adjust the string heights at the 17th fret. The neck really is almost a straight swap. With very minor adjustment, I can soon adjust the string heights to Fender’s standard specification of 1.8mm (5/64″”) on the low side, and 1.6mm (1/16″) on the high side. A curve gauge then helps me set the remaining string heights, so that the fall of the strings follows the curve of the neck.
The action is certainly a little higher – but there’s not that much difference really, although there’s now clearly enough room to play a little more agressively, without causing strings to ring excessively on the frets. It really helps to use the “toploader” stringing at the bridge. This makes the strings feel much “slinkier”, and bends are easy. With a set of 10’s in place – this is easy, and fun to play.
Intonation adjustments are minimal. Again – it’s been virtually a straight swap. (Visually, the actual scale length on the JP neck looks ever so slightly shorter). The problem, however, with the old-style bridge, is that there’s no setting which will work in all cases with the “shared-string” saddle arrangement. There’s no compensation built in anywhre – so intonation boils down to a question of compromise, and of what sounds balanced. The existing settings aren’t too bad. The “B” string is probably the worst case – but otherwise, the current intonation settings are close enough.
The Jimmy Page neck comes with a butterfly style string tree already fitted. They all do a job but visually, I prefer the disc types. But if a butterfly is good enough for the Maestro…
The whole exercise of swapping the necks has taken next to no time, and the guitar plays really nicely. I need to go back and polish the frets a little – there’s a touch too much “grit” to the feel of the stock finish, for my liking. I know a little “tooth” can help generate those endlessly sustained notes – but I really don’t like the neck or the frets to feel “scratchy” at all. I’ll polish them down with a set of fret rubbers, and that should be that. There’s really no course for further evolution and refinement on this build now. The body is a studied replica of Jimmy’s original – handpainted on specially selected ash. The pickups are some of the best vintage style pickups produced anywhere in the world, and they’re designed and wound to reproduce “the tone”. And now, the neck is a Fender signature custom example – designed to reproduce the exact specification of the original.
I suppose I could have just gone out and bought a Fender signature model straight off the shelf. After all – the majority of the components are identical to the Fender MIM version. But then I wouldn’t have had all that fun, and wouldn’t necesarily have quite the same connection with the instrument. Having painted and finished the body myself, I feel I’ve been through a similar process of “consecration”, to one which which JP refers, in his telling of his experience producing the painted design of the original guitar. With pickups probably upgraded beyond Fender’s MIM standard, and with the build quality just about as high as I can achieve myself – I’m reasonably confident that I’ve sourced the best components and “done a good job”, all round. As I’ve said before – I’ll never really know how accurate I’ve been in reproducing the “magic” of the original. How close to the actual experience of playing it. But in theory, at least…
Oh – and that spare Classic ’60’s neck? Already spoken for. Matched with a black, “Classic ’60’s” body – it’s the perfect candidate for my Wilko Johnson Tele build. Coming very soon…