I’ve already taken a look at the neck of my Nashville Telecaster. A light fret level and dress, together with some upgraded Gotoh tuners should hopefully eliminate most of the, slight, rattling and buzzing issues I’ve been experiencing. However, on inspection of the body, it became apparent that the neck plate had been considerably over-tightened at some point – resulting in a deep depression in the back of the body, and some corresponding splits in the finish coat, around the neck plate. Judging by the way the neck bolts had been well and truly over-torqued – I figure the neck must have been loosened at some point, (perhaps through an accidental drop? – perhaps it was just made that way?). Overtightening the neck bolts may be an indication of a generally “loose” neck joint, or perhaps even a misalignment somewhere, resulting in the perceived need to tighten down the neck excessively, to hold things in place. This might, conceiveably, be at the heart of some of my periodically “wandering” tuning issues.
Despite it’s few faults – for a 22 year old, well-gigged guitar – this Tele is still in excellent condition. There are a few dints and scratches here and there, but nothing generally too serious – so I’m going to leave, mostly, well alone. A light clean with a soft cloth and a little naptha, (or rubbing alcohol), helps loosen some of the stubborn stains under the pickguard area – but once all the gunk has been removed, a light clean over with some Fender Guitar Cleaner is enough to spruce the body up again. Since I’ll be handling the body a lot over the next few days – I’ll polish it properly later.
The main area of attention is, of course, around the back of the neck pocket. From the image above – you can see how the plate has deformed as the bolts have been over-torqued. In all four corners – the plate has been pressed down into the finish and, in all but the nearest case, the body wood has markedly compressed under the finish. This has left some severe splits around the edges, and these will need stabilising. Additionally – I want to try and firm up the areas around each of the bolt holes, so that I can eventually fit a thicker plate in place, and have it sit securely on a completely flat footing. A thicker plate won’t deflect as much, and if it’s installed flat, it’ll have a better chance of doing it’s job properly under lighter torque. In the worst cases – I reckon the depressions are as much as 2mm in depth, with splits running along the sides, revealing bare wood under the finish. Drop-filling with cyanoacrylate, (super glue), seems the most logical thing to do. I may have to build up the repairs gradually, but eventually a liquid glue should “wick-in” and completely stabilise the splits. I’ll also be able to polish out the fills so that they’re completely clear, and will therefore blend in with the existing, clear polyurethane finish. The original translucent sunburst paint job should show through underneath, and shouldn’t necessarily be affected. And besides – the new neck plate will, of course, cover over anything too obvious. A good sturdy base is the most important requirement here, but if I can make the repair invisible – all the better.
The neck bolt holes are already countersunk, and I don’t want to flood them with glue, and then have to re-drill. So, I fashion some dams out of Plasticene. Fitting these should protect the openings, and will also give me something to build up the surrounding drop-fill repairs against.
Instead of any old super glue from the corner shop, (it’s always old stock, expensive and useless anyway), I invest in some more predictable stuff from “VitalBond”, (highly recommended by modellers and modders online). I’ve obtained small bottles of both “medium” and “thin” densities, so I can assess which flows into the repair areas, and builds up better. (Super glue isn’t exactly renowned for it’s “high build” and “gap-filling” qualities). There’s no point buying huge bottles to kepp handy for small jobs like this. 20ml of each will be more than enough for many repairs. CA does tend to “go off” over time, although it can be kept in the fridge to help keep “fresh”. Controlling the application will be important too – so I get hold of a few dozen “whip tip” applicators, while I’m at it.
The “whip tips” are super-precise, and allow excellent control – even for me with my dodgy vision. I aim to flood the sunken areas with CA glue, so that it builds up the depression, floods into the splits at the sides, and also builds up new edges to the bolt holes. Here – where the Plasticene “dams” are placed – surface tension pulls up the glue to form new “footings”. I’ll be able to use these later to help level everything off. Where existing splits show the wood below, it’s good to try and colour the crack before the CA seals everything underneath. Colour matching the lighter, sunburst areas is difficult – and a bad colour match might even accentuate the problem visually. For the outer, black areas however – any light wood splits can be coloured with a black, permanent marker, or spirit stain. Once the colour is dry, the area can be cleaned over with naptha, before the CA fill is applied.
CA glue takes a long time to dry if it’s thickly applied, and it seems to shrink back as it does so. It seems sensible therefore, to build up the applications in a few stages – but then again, it also seems logical to try and take advantage of some of the “self-levelling” properties of a “more liquid” application. So – my first pass is quite liberal, and is focused on levelling out the areas of minor depression towards the centre of the plate, stabilising the splits at the edge, and creating good “footings” around the bolt holes. The process is repeated for all four areas of concern. There’s a lot of glue on there, and it’ll take ages to dry – but I can wait. It is possible to encourage the reaction by blowing on the surface, (moisture is the catalyst for the polymerisation of cyanoacrylate, and accelerotor sprays are available), but even so – I’ll leave this over a full weekend to properly dry and cure. It will go off – given enough time.
After three days, the glue is set – but it looks a bit of a mess. However – I know it’ll polish out well with enough effort. The important thing is – there isn’t too much glue running off over areas where the finish is already “good”. The first thing to do, is to remove those temporary dams, and to ream out all of the Plasticene from in there. A countersink drill bit helps to restore a cleaner, more definite edge again.
The next step is to level the applications, so that I can assess the success of the fills. The easiest way to do this, is to use a couple of sharp blades, and to scrape away the excess glue using the surrounding, flat area to dictate the “level”. Masking off the immediate area helps to protect the surrounding finish, and provides a datum level just a tape’s thickness above the existing finish.
I use a couple of different blades. A thick, sharp “Stanley Knife”, or “Boxcutter” blade is ideal for heavy work and, if used a little more on it’s side, it can pare through thicker areas of cured glue. A second, thinner, more flexible blade is struck on a cast iron edge to “hook” the very edge of the blade over, at 90 degrees. Masking off to either side with Sellotape creates a sharp “shaving” tool which can gradually, and accurately, shave down the levels of CA until it virtually matches the surrounding flat area. Once the CA has been reduced to the thickness of the masking paper above the actual finish by the thicker blade – the masking tape can be removed, and the thinner, more accurate, shave tool used to level everything down to just the thickness of a piece of Sellotape, above the actual finish.
The edges of the original finish which surround the repairs, together with the correct level remaining in the centre of the neck plate area, help provide a datum level for the newly filled finish. Once the “footings” around each bolt hole are shaved and cut to the correct height – these can be used in conjunction with the existing “levels” to provide an overall indication of the ideal flat finish level. It’s just a question of gradually shaving down to that level, in stages – keeping everything as flat as possible.
After scraping back, it’s possible to get a better look at how well the fills are performing. The splits are now buried, and look perfectly stable. The fills have managed to level the shallow areas of the depressions fairly well, and have provided circular footings around the bolt holes, at the same level as the surrounding, stable area. However – some of the thicker areas of the application have shrunk back and, although the fills have generally reinforced the affected areas, there are some patches where they haven’t fully “levelled up” the depressions to teh required height.
However – it does look like this might still be enough of a repair to allow the neck plate to be reattached correctly. I have to be mindful that there’s only so much of the original polyester coating to “feather-in” the repairs. The CA will need a considerable amount of polishing, so – it’s probably going to be less risky, if I polish up what I have now, and then assess the result. It looks like any further fills will probably be inside the general area of the neck plate, and so subsequent polishing might not extend out onto the body as much, (if at all).
Wet polishing is done with a range of fine wet and dry abrasive papers over a small, flat, backing block. The grades of grit run from 400, all the way up to 2500. It’s important at all times to keep the papers free from clogs, and to make sure the abrasive isn’t “sucked” onto the surface by the naptha lubricant. (I’m not using water, since I don’t want to introduce dampness into the neck bolt holes). After the area has been polished up to 2500, and the effect “feathered-in” to the surrounding area, I like to use an automotive rubbing or cutting compound to even out the worst of the clouding, and to blend the overall polishing effort into the original finish. There’s a point where the effect of the polish becomes almost “liquid”, and fine grades almost seem to literally rub away all of the surface marks. Sometimes this can be achieved with cutting compound, although on other occasions, an even finer automotive swirl remover, like Meguiars SwirlX, will do the job. Once the liquid shine is beginning to appear, MicroMesh pads up to 12000 mesh, again lubricated with naptha, can virtually eliminate all scratch and swirl marks.
On assessment – of the four corners – the bottom right fill, in the image above, (the shallowest), has filled the best. The two top areas now have solid footings around each bolt hole, and the splits to the sides have been filled, and feathered-in to the surroundings. There are, however, still a few low spots, (showing as lighter, matt, unpolished areas), around each of the bolt hole “footings”. These might benefit from additional drop fills. This is certainly the case for the area at bottom left – where additional filling would be of benefit in bridging, and further reinforcing, the gap between the bolt hole, and the edges of the neck plate area.
Additional drop fills are performed around the three “most dubious” areas, noted above. This time, the fills are much shallower, and only take 24 hours to fully cure. All applications are kept well within the area of the covering neck plate, except for two small areas where the transition from repair to existing body finish will be more visible. Even so – in these cases, the applications are kept as close as possible to the physical line along the edges of the depressed areas, and I’ll give them special attention when it comes to levelling and polishing.
Once the CA has cured, levelling and polishing is achieved through exactly the same processes as before. Once again – polishing is gently “feathered-in” to the original finish. Since that already shows some swirl marks and scratches from use – there’s no point in trying to achieve an absolutely perfect, pristine surface. Just one that fits well into the existing context. Once again – rubbing compound and swirl remover is essential.
The second fills have certainly firmed up and “bridged” some of those “gappier” repairs – but I’m not going to get a visually “perfect” result without more applications and, who knows how much more, polishing. The thing is – I need to be certain and confident that I’ve got enough original polyester around the edge, to polish into. I’m already at the point where I’m worried about rubbing through, and if I begin to rub into the sunburst finish – it’s game over. There’s really no point pushing it. The whole area is so much more stable now than it was before the repairs, and there’s now an obvious, firm, flat area for the neck plate to sit on without deflecting. These fills may not win prizes for their looks – but they’re functional, and they’ll be pretty well hidden by the neck plate…
…which is a thicker example than the original. The 1.5mm thick, original MIM plate, deformed just way too easily. I want to make sure I can torque the neck bolts up correctly – without the corners of the plate biting in at all. I have a 2.0mm chromed plate, which I’ve repurposed from a Fender “Classic 60’s” MIM Stratocaster. The slightly heavier plate will be much more resistant to deformation under pressure. It’s still in good condition, although it has a few scratches and a bit of wear – just like the original it replaces. To help protect the body, (just in case the plate should ever be over-torqued again), and to help maintain that newly-restored, flat substrate under the plate – I’ll use the replacement plate in conjunction with a black plastic shim by HOSCO. This should gently pad the edges and corners of the new plate, and physically stop it ever cutting in. The plate shouldn’t distort. But if it ever does, this shim will help protect the edges of the repairs, and prevent the finish from splitting again.
The good news is – the plate covers the damage and repairs almost completely. The plastic shim even extends that coverage out, approximately 1.00mm all around. If you weren’t looking for the repairs – you wouldn’t spot them. Fingers crossed – together with the neck upgrades – these repairs may yet completely transform the stability and “feel” of my old Nashville Tele.
After a gentle clean and polish all over – I’m getting to the point where I can begin to look at reassembly. However – while I’m looking at the body, I might as well shield the cavities with copper foil. This is a recommended standard for any guitar with single coil pickups. Since this Tele has an extra Strat pickup in the middle – I’m sure it’ll be a benefit here too.
Normally – I like to provide a central grounding point, and route all of the body mounted grounds to that, single point. The bridge pickup ground wire already has a spur installed, which connects directly to the metal of the bridge, via a small lug. This means that the bridge, (and saddles), will be grounded onto the back of the volume pot, together with the ground wires from the pickups. I’m still not sure if I’ll therefore actually need to provide another, separate, grounding point. As long as the back of the pot is linked directly to the jack ground, then the circuit will be functional. There’s no actual requirement to physically link the circuit ground with any shielding, (the shielding foil provides a “Farraday cage” effect, regardless). Any shielding foil installed will do the job of shielding the components from outside EM interference, and it’ll do that without necessarily being “grounded” itself. At the moment – I’m undecided. I’ll look at things again, once I come to re-instating the circuit.
But in case I should, eventually decide to link all of the grounds, including the shielding – to do it’s job properly – the shielding foil needs to be all-enclosing and contiguous. This means I still have to install short jumper wires between each of the separate compartments, which I secure in place with small pieces of the self-adhesive copper foil. The foil has a conductive adhesive – so it has the advantage of being able to secure the wires in place, whilst providing good conductance. In this case, I’m using short lengths of cloth covered wire, with the ends stripped back to provide long tails of braided, inner wire. The braids can be untangled and fanned out, and this helps maximise the direct contact between the link wires and the copper foil. Once the link wires are in place and secure – the three main cavities are lined with overlapping pieces of copper foil. Because the main control plate is extremely close to the edge of the main cavity, I ensure that there’s minimal overlap onto the face of the guitar – except in a few, planned places where distinct tabs are provided to connect to conductive backings on the control and scratch plates. There are a couple of tabs which are fashioned to surround two of the scratchplate attachment screws, and two others, around the screwholes at either end of the main control plate. Once coverage is complete, the foil is burnished down, and continuity is checked with a multimeter.
Once the shielding has been completed, the body is given another, all-over, light clean with Fender guitar cleaner. I then apply a light coat of Meguiars Carnauba Wax polish, and then buff the body up with a soft cloth. The body has a good gloss shine from the polish – but it’s not so “new” looking, that it looks unnatural for it’s age. The neck pocket repair seems effective, and has blended into the surrounding finish well. Now I can see if it’s improved the stability of the neck attachment.