With repairs and restoration on the neck and body complete – it’s time to begin the re-build. Most of the original components will be replaced, but some will be swapped out as upgrades, or as new replacements for worn parts. The neck has been fret-levelled, and has new tuners to replace the old, worn, rattling originals. The body has been repaired at the neck joint, cleaned and polished over, and shielded internally with copper foil. A new six-saddle Nashville bridge will be fitted, with a new scratchplate scribed to fit flush with the original chrome control plate. The neck plate will be replaced with a thicker, more rigid, repurposed example, and shimmed to protect the stabilised neck repairs.
In theory – this should fly together. The new components are virtually all straight-swaps, although the scratchplate will need some careful scribing to fit. The scratchplate is a Fender replica, but it’s from a supplier I’ve used before, and I know the holes will all be well located, so that it should fit straight on, with just a couple of minor modifications. The body cavities are fully lined out with copper foil. This thing should just bolt together…
First – and perhaps most important – I can fit the neck, and test the repairs for level and stability. The original neck plate was only 1.5mm thick, and had deformed badly – damaging the body and the finish. I have a repurposed chrome plate which is 2.0mm thick, and am using it with a HOSCO plastic shim. The plate should be much more resistant to deformation, and the shim will provide further protection for the restored finish. The original bolts seem a little bit too “easy” to screw back into the neck. It’s possible that overtightening them has slightly enlarged the threads, and as the bolts will be backed out slightly from their original positions – I want to make sure there is enough “bite” for them to hold sufficiently. Idealy – without having to fill and redrill. A new set of chrome bolts from another generic neck plate, measure out as being slightly larger than the originals. I pack the bottom 2.0cm of each of the neck holes with strips of glued matchstick, and then attach the neck – driving the bolts into the original threads, with the additional “tooth” at the bottom. As the bolts are torqued up gently and evenly, the shim is checked for position. It fits precisely around the metal plate, with a slight, riased lip. Working diagonally across the plate, a little at a time, all four bolts are torqued so that the neck is held firmly – but without too much pressure. The joint is firm, and the neck and body seem to resonate together when tapped. There seems to be good, wood to wood contact all the way around the joint. There’s no sign of deflection on any of the four corners of the plate, and the repairs are completely hidden by the new plate and shim. That’s a distinct improvement.
I need to double check the neck alignment – but for that, I’ll need to install the two outer strings. The outer four string ferrules are all so loose, that they just fall out on their own. Normally, of course, they’re held in place by the strings – but loose ferrules can be a real pain if you’re ever forced to do a bit of emergency re-stringing, or other impromptu DIY maintenance. Let’s face it – back stage facilities aren’t always the best, and chasing around the floor, looking for a dropped ferrule isn’t my idea of a pre-gig “warm-up”. Especially given the state of some of those back rooms. (Memories of some of them, still make me shudder – even now). Far better to fix the ferrules in position, semi-permanently. A tiny dot of super glue on the side of each loose ferrule, holds them in place. If they ever do need to come out again, they can be tapped out via the small through-holes. Just don’t use too much. A tiny dot from a fine, whip applicator is plenty.
The best way to check a neck for alignment, is to install the two outer strings, and then to assess the alignment as they are tuned up. Every time I have to take a single string from a full set, to repair a break, I keep the rest of the set for reasons just like this. As you can see from the photo above – the neck is straight and central, within the pocket. The outer strings are equidistant from each edge, and this continues all the way along the neck to the nut. That’s perfect. Once all the strings are on, during the final setup, I’ll back each of the neck bolts off about a quarter of a turn. This will allow the tensioned strings, and 100lbs of pressure, to pull the heel of the neck, firmly into the neck pocket. This should maximise wood to wood contact, and ensure good vibration transfer between the neck and the body. Then – once the neck alignment has been checked once again for final alignment – the neck bolts will be re-tightened.
The back of the pickguard needs to be covered with conductive copper foil – so that the shielding completes a “Farraday Cage” effect. Only the central area needs to be covered with copper. The coverage needs to extend out from around the pickups, and needs to run just a little way beyond the outer edges of the pickup cutouts. It’s important that it coincides with the small tabs which have been placed on the body, around a couple of the attachment screw holes. These will ensure continuity when the scratchplate screws are tightened down.
The scratchplate is offered up for test fitting. Although the screw holes in the plate exactly match those on the body – the fit around the neck is just a little bit too tight. A piece of the small lug, just under the neck, needs to be pared away, before the plate finally fits properly around the heel of the neck. A sharp blade is used to scratch away at the inside of the neck cutout – a little at a time – holding the blade perpendicular to the plate itself. It’s best to go slowly, and to check regularly. Once the plate fits around the neck heel – it might still be necessary to tweak the fitting further, untill all of the screw holes line up. Normally – I’d also check the fitting around the bridge, and might even install pickups to make sure they don’t foul the sides of the pickup cavities with the pickguard in place. However – I’ve previously used an identical replacement plate to this one. I know how it fits with the screwhole placements. Furthermore – I know the plate doesn’t quite sit equidistant around the bridge. It never did – even with the original Fender plate. (The bridge pickup cavity also protrudes slightly from underneath the bridge plate. It always has done, and it’s always bugged me).
The plate now fits perfectly around the neck, and sits squarely on the body – so I hold it in position by screwing in a couple of the securing screws. I can now offer up the control plate – and make sure that everything aligns at the joint between it, and the scratchplate. As you can see – the scratchplate requires further, slight, modification to allow the chrome plate to fit. Judging by the relative position of the control plate screw hole – the majority of the material to be pared away, lies on the low side. The tailoring process is repeated as before – testing and re-testing all the way, until the control plate fits perfectly, and can be screwed down into position.
The plates fit each other well now – but the effect still looks uneven. I’ve always been bugged by the way Fender control plates never seem to match the thickness of the scratchplates they abut against. It’s a major gripe of mine on Jaguars – and it’s the same here. Having mis-matched plate heights, leaves a bit of a sharp edge, which you can feel as you operate the main switch. If you use a soft cloth to clean the guitar body – fluff gets caught in there. I get it that Fenders are “just bolted together”, and aren’t put together like a Stradivaruis – I just wish they’d thought to make the whole arrangement look a little more “planned”. Then again – I suppose the original scratchplates were single-ply, and somewhat thinnner. I guess it’s just all a result of the later trend for thicker, 3-ply pickguards.
I’ve been planning to do something about it on my Custom USA Jaguar, and this looks like the ideal opportunity to test drive a possible approach. I’ve measured the difference in heights between the plates to be about 0.8mm, and have sourced some sheets of black Polypropylene plastic sheet, with which to make my own shim plates. Since there’s only one, regular shaped plate to work with here – I can test out my process, and see if it’s likely to work with my Jag. The idea is to provide a spacer underneath the control plate which will lift it slightly – so that it’s roughly co-planar with the scratchplate. It’ll also conceal the edge of the pickguard – except where I choose to provide a “shadowgap” between the control plate and the body. The chrome control plate provides a shielding “lid” to the top of the main control cavity, and so the black shim will also have to have a conductive underside. Although the chromed metal plate will still shield the internal components from electrical interference, a copper face internally will provide a means for physical grounding connections between the switch, and the pots, (which the plastic sheet will have insulated). The copper foil will also provide grounding contacts with the semicircular overlaps of conductive copper foil, on the body.
The easiest way to fashion the shim, is to layer-up all of the various bits, and then to work away at the “sandwich”, using the chrome plate as the main template, and as a cutting guide. I apply a strip of copper foil to the 0.8mm sheet of black plastic, and also mount a strip of double-sided tape on the underside of the control plate, (the side without the screw countersinks). The shim material is then stuck to the control plate, creating a layered structure. Control plate, double-sided tape, black plastic sheet, copper foil.
The plastic sheet is quite thick, but it can be carefully trimmed and pared away using a sharp blade. It’s easy to use the chrome plate itself as a physical template, and to use this to guide the blade, and to keep it perpendiculat whilst cutting. The process is repeated for the small hole openings – but here, it’s easier to use a sharp brad drill bit to open out the smaller holes. If I’d left the copper foil off until I’d finished the “shaping” – it might have been possible to cover up the untidy edges with that. As it is – it looks a little ragged on the back, but no-one will see it from the front. The important thing is – the copper foil is intact, and the securing washers on the pots and switch will be able to make a direct contact. The finished plastic shim also conforms to the shape of the chromed plate perfectly.
The shim works well. It raises the chrome plate, until it’s just about level with the scratchplate. The black plastic also works well with the colouration of the body, and provides the desired, slight, contrasting shadowgap underneath the plate. The joint at the scratchplate can be visually improved by partially bevelling the inside of the semi-circular opening in the scratchplate. If a blade is run around the edge at an angle – a little material can be removed from the top, pearloid ply, down to the black, middle ply. This provides another slight shadowgap, and also provides a thin black line at the bottom of the join. This shifts the actual butt joint down to a level where the black ply effectively hides any slight variations in the edge. This makes the join look much less “accidental”. It’s something I noticed when I was experimenting with fitting my Jaguar control plates, and I’ll pick up this minor detail on my Tele refit too, once I’ve fitted the pickups.
I can now screw all of the plates down, and complete the “dry assembly”. With the bridge in position, and the neck on – I can assess the effectiveness of my repairs, and see how things are taking shape again. The neck joint seems much more solid, and the annoying rattle from the tuners has gone. The guitar looks good for a bit of a clean, and I’m looking forward to getting my old Tele back to a playable state again. Last job – replacing the original strap buttons with new, white felt washers. I’ve set aside another Souldier strap for the rebuild too.