Custom built Fender Jaguar USA. Fixing the scratchplate and control plates into place

I’ve been putting this off for ages – (largely down to my continued, restricted vision). I can still just about see well enough to do most things, and a pair of strong magnifying glasses definitely helps one eye, but I have to admit – it’s a considerable handicap for undertakings like this. And to think I’d originally planned to be making my own tube amplifiers by now…

Still – I can’t just sit here while I wait for cataract surgery. Last time I looked – the waiting list was almost a year behind. I can still do tasks if I concentrate on process and technique, and put my mind to it. The thing is – I have to go really slowly and methodically, and double-check myself all the time, just to make sure I don’t do something stupid and clumsy. Covid lockdowns – it seems – are the ideal time to get involved with exactly those kinds of long, drawn-out, detail-obsessed processes. Time I bit the bullet…

Some of the plate attachment screw holes will need plugging, and re-drilling

I’ve already custom-scribed my scratchplate to work with my control plates, and it now sits well with the geometry of the bridge, neck and pickup cutouts. I’ve done a dry assembly, and it’s obvious that some of the attachment screw holes fall in the wrong place, by differing degrees. Because of slightly different switch placements – the actual electronic hardware also doesn’t quite fit into the standard cutout routs, when the plates are in their ideal locations. I’ll have to slightly modify the cutouts to receive the re-organised electronics, and also slightly re-locate and re-orient the plates, so that everything fits together properly.

I also want to shim the actual chromed control plates up off the body, so that they end up co-planar with the scratchplate. I’ve always thought that badly aligned plate junctions look a bit slap-dash on some Jaguars, and I’d like my finished result to look a little more planned and considered – even if most of the detail is, perhaps, a little over-obsessed. I’ve got the time, and I want the finished result to look as good as I can get it.

0.8mm black plastic shim, attached to top control plate

Approximately six of my scratchplate attachment screw holes are located in a serviceable position – so at least I can hold the scratchplate firmly in place while I look at aligning the first plate next to it. The top switch plate is a genuine Fender, “Johnny Marr” Jaguar, Dual Switch Preset Control Plate, (Fender parts number 009-1893-000) – but then this is an “Original ’60’s” Fender body. Clearly there are a few unexpected differences in fitting, and I’ll have to plug and re-drill the three existing screw holes on the body. I’ll need to offer up the plate again to assess the new screw positions, and also to check the final fit with the switches in place. But first – I need to shim the plate.

I’ve previously tested out my shim idea on my Nashville Telecaster, and I was pleased with the way it worked there. I’ve measured the thickness of the two main plates, and they’ll require the same 0.8mm shim to lift them up to the finish level of the scratchplate. The black plastic sheet is stuck firmly to the reverse of the plate with strong double-sided tape, and then this is then backed with adhesive copper foil. The “sandwich” is trimmed to size, using the chrome plate as a precise template. It’s possible to use a sharp blade to follow the exact edge of the plate, and to pare back any excess material so that the final shim is completely flush. The screw and switch holes are cut out, in the same way, but from the back – to avoid the chance of the blade slipping, and marking the control plate.

Holding the plate firmly in position, while the new screw positions are drilled out

The idea of shimming the plate is mainly about unifying the finish height of the “stuck-on” plates, but it’s also, partly, to align and harmonise the continuous outside curve of the various control plates, when they’re in place. Since all three of the attachment screws will have to be relocated – it’s absolutely vital that each plate is held securely in position while the new locations are marked out and tapped. Even the slightest discrepancy at any of the points can cause the plate to “wander” when the screws tighten down into their countersinks. For that reason – I’ve found it’s adviseable to keep the plates firmly held in position with masking tape, and then to attend to the screws, each in turn. With the upper switch plate – If you start with the single outlier at the point of the “horn”, you can then use that new screw in it’s new location to hold the plate even firmer, so you can then attend to the other two screwholes.

Upper switch plate in revised location, and with scribed “shadowgap”

All three holes, in this case, can be newly drilled into the solid wood of the body. None of them really overlap with previously drilled positions. Nevertheless – to keep things tidy, I fill the old holes with two-part wood filler and then clean back the surface, before re-fitting the plate. The plate is securely taped in place, and then the new hole centre is carefully marked with a suitably sized HSS drill bit. This allows me to centre the point of the bit exactly in the middle of the countersink. Once a visible indent is scribed – I can then drill out the new hole to the required depth using the proper sized bit. The nitro finish on the body is very thin, and there doesn’t appear to be much danger of the finish flaking off around the new openings. However – it’s always best to err on the side of caution – so I scribe out the new hole to begin with, by rotating the sharp bit, anti-clockwise. This stops the bit from initially lifting the edge of the nitro finish as it cuts through. Once a clear path has been worn through the finish, the bit can be rotated in the usual direction, and the new hole can be sunk to the correct depth.

I also like to finish any newly drilled holes in nitro, by creating a slightly enlarged “countersink” at the opening. This cuts back any loose paint and lacquer which might, otherwise, threaten to flake off in the future, and provides a neat, tidy finish. To create each “countersink”, I use an sharp, oversized HSS bit, and rotate it around in each newly drilled openings, anti-clockwise, until a clear path has been worn through the finish. The edge of the new screw holes show as bare wood, and there’s then no danger of any of the finish getting too close to the threads of the screw.

Once the first screwhole is tapped – I keep the plate securely taped in position, but can now reinforce the hold with the new screw. I can then repeat the process for the other two securing screws. Before the plate is finally fixed in position, I make sure the edge of the scratchplate at the junction between the two plates is slightly bevelled – just down to the black, middle ply of the scratchplate. This creates a kind of “shadowgap”, with a darkly delineated path. It creates a more consistent look, and tends to disguise any slight discrepancies in the original scribing and tailoring of the plate. The bevelling is done by scraping along the edge of the plate, with the blade at a, roughly, 45 degree angle.

Once the plate has been properly fitted, I now need to double-check the fit, with the switches in place. I’ve only roughly checked this with the dry-assembly – but I need to ensure that the newly-located plate doesn’t bring the switch terminals into direct contact with the sides of the body cutout anywhere. (I’ll be lining the cavities with copper foil later – and I don’t want to risk the possibilities of accidental shorts to ground). As it turns out – the vertical switch does get extremely close to the edge, and the attaching switch flange just pushes the plate up, and out of position. A very slight modification with a Dremel, to the side of the cutout, gives me enough clearance. I also trim back the offending flange, with a pair of tin snips. The square end can be slightly reduced and rounded, so that the attachment screw hole can sit in position, without the surrounding flange running into contact with the edge of the chamber. It’s a matter of a few millimetres – but it’s important, nevertheless, and it means any Dremel work is kept to anabsolute minimum, This is, after all, a pristine Fender body, and I still get nervous about carrying out certain, permanent, “modifications”.

Fitting the main control plate in position

The main control plate – a Fender “American Vintage”, Jaguar Master Control Plate, (Fender parts number 005-4505-000), is fitted into position in exactly the same way. Again – all three holes have to be plugged and redrilled, but here the new courses are quite close to the original positions, and the fills have to be firm, so that the drill bit doesn’t deflect off, along the old paths. Where this may be a problem, rather than filling the holes and attempting to re-drill right on the edge of the old position, I find it’s sometimes better to use a solid plug to help “encourage” the drill bit along the new, proper path. If you shim and partly plug an old opening with a plug made out of a little bit of shaped and trimmed bamboo skewer – I find that the bamboo is more resilient to drilling than the original alder of the guitar body. This means that the bit tends to deflect off to the side, and cuts down alongside. If you carefully shape any partial plugs required, and trim and fix them in place with a little wood glue – you can drill out a thin pilot hole exactly where you want it, and then tap the screw to hold everything firmly in place, while the wood glue goes off. Once again – I locate and fix the single screw at the end of the plate first. This helps hold the plate in the correct position while I assess and locate the other two screws in turn.

Relocating the scratchplate screws

Now that the outlying chrome plates have been fixed – I can return to finalise the scratchplate screw locations. Some are serviceable, but others need to be moved slightly. However, there aren’t any which require moving more than a diameter away from their original positions, and so the best approach seems to be to partially fill and shim the screws towards their new centres. Once again – I use small plugs of bamboo skewer, shaped and glued to the side of the original screw holes. These allow me to relocate the new centres, and sink new holes down alongside the edges of the hard, bamboo plugs. Whilst some of the holes were serviceable, I eventually found it much more satisfactory to deal with all of the scratchplate screws. It’s quite satisfying to ensure that each screwhead sits perfectly, vertically down into it’s counter-sink, rather than watching it tilt and grip, off to one side. (And if there’s one thing that risks eventually cracking or splitting a scratchplate – it’s overtightening an off-centre screw).

While the plate is off – I take the opportunity to fill the two existing screw holes for the Fender, “American Pro”, Jaguar Lever Switch Control Plate, (Fender parts number 009-1903-000). I know I’m eventually going to have to re-postion both screws, but I need to be absolutely sure the plate is perfectly centred within the pre-cut opening on the scratchplate first, so I can mark off the new positions correctly. The fill is done, again, with 2-part filler – which goes off fast, but the body does need cleaning up again afterwards. Turning my attention, once again, to the scratchplate, I attend to each screw in turn – fixing the plate firmly in place with as many screws as I possibly can. Once the final screw has been settled – I now know exactly where the switch plate will sit within it’s opening.

Shimming out the 4-way switch plate

The 4-way switch plate replaces the usual, three-vertical-switch plate, and is located by the boundaries of the cutout in the scratchplate. This is a Fender, “Johnny Marr” style switch plate, with the switch horizontal within the opening. The dry-assembly showed that the attachment screws will need to be re positioned, and that a little modification will also be needed to the chamber cutout. If I’m honest – this was probably the main reason I’ve been putting all this off for so long.

The Johnny Marr plate is made out of much thicker chromed plate, than the usual Fender switch plates. Consequently – it doesn’t require a full thickness of the 0.8mm plastic sheet I’ve used to shim the other plates. Instead, I stick a few layers of adhesive vinyl to the back of the plate, (“sticky-back plastic” to all you ageing 70’s teens). Three thicknesses of this is enough to shim the plate to the desired height, and a final layer of conductive copper foil completes the layering. Once again, the shim is trimmed to shape, and the openings cut out with a sharp blade.

Assessing the opening required for the 4-way switch

I centre the plate within the scratchplate cutout, equalise and temporarily shim the edges as best I can, to keep it in place. I can then mark and drill out the new screw positions. This takes a few goes to get exactly right – shimming with small slivers of bamboo each time, until each screw is firm, and pulls the plate vertically down, into the correct position. The packing slivers are glued into position with wood glue, and as the screws are tapped into the correct positions – the screw holes, slivers, and bits of remaining filler are all packed together to provide a solid base, in exactly the right position.

Using the new screw holes as reference, I can now make up a template which shows the position of the 4-way switch flange, underneath the cover plate. Fixing the template into position on the body, shows the clashes at the edges of the existing cutout. The bad news is – it’s probably too much for my Dremel. This looks like a job for a small wood chisel. Deep breath…

“Modifying” the switch plate cutout

The switch needs clearance extending out to one side more than the other – but in both cases, it’ll have to extend down 15mm, or so. I can pare away the “short” side gradually, and it’s no drama. However – the other side requires gradual cutting and cross-cutting until the required clearance is achieved. Ultimately, it required a fine, ultra-sharp chisel tip, and a few taps with a hammer to get through some of the thickest cutting. The body was placed on a microfibre towel for padding while all this was going on, and my workbench top has a little spring in it, which seems to take away some of the “savagery” of what’s actually going on. Nevertheless – It still really feels wrong – but it’s all I can do. Make it as neat as possible. I’ll fill any cracks and divots on the inside edge, and ensure the new screw position still has plenty of solid “meat” to bite into. Ultimately I’ll cover over the “wounds” with copper foil, and once the cover plate is there – no-one will know. (But, taking a chisel to a new Fender body – man, it just feels wrong).

Custom USA “Original ’60’s” Fender Jaguar, with “Fender ’62” scratchplate and “Johnny Marr” control plates

With all of the screw holes re-positioned, and with all of the various pots, switches and other electrical components attached to their plates. I can now firm up the original dry-assembly, and see some real progress. I still need to source a new switch tip for the horizontal lever switch. For some reason – the black, Telecaster, “barrel” style switch I originally sourced, seems to lever itself off when the switch is in position “1”. Glueing the switch onto the switch blade isn’t an option – since it’ll prevent the switch from actually engaging in that position properly. I want a black switch to finish the job – not the usual, silver, Fender “Johnny Marr” barrel switch. Looks like I might have to use a black, Stratocaster type tip instead.

The Staytrem bridge drops right in, and I have a Staytrem collet in the parts box, to swap with the original on the tremolo plate. The guitar is coming along, and I can now finally begin to look at the internal shielding and wiring.

Oh… and the post has just delivered a few other, long-awaited, bits and pieces which will move this custom project along very nicely. Watch this space…

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