Custom built Fender Jaguar USA. Changing to a custom-built, bound and block-marked neck

It’s quite usual for most of my project builds to evolve over time. Most of them eventually go through various stages of upgrade, before I finally settle on a final specification. Most of the time, I’m refining the components, and trying to find authentic looking, and sounding alternatives, which can sometimes be hard to track down. However – I don’t usually start the process of upgrading before a project’s actually completed.

My Candy Apple Red, custom-built Jaguar has been coming together for a while now – but progress has been relatively slow. Partly it’s down to limitations to do with my compromised vision, and partly it’s down to the Covid situation. One of the features of shielding, and a year-long lockdown, has been the intermittent delivery of various bits and pieces of “essential kit”, as we stayed longer indoors and more and more of life’s basics came delivered, direct to our door. Towards the end of last year, I started ordering a few pieces for custom manufacture in the USA. These tended to be a bit more specific in terms of requirement. Most were custom-built, requiring lengthy, sometimes indefinate lead times – but crucially, they promised a “surprise” delivery, at some point in the future. It’s a bit like buying yourself a gift for the future. I liked the idea that there was something ahead to look forward to, and that it would arrive relatively unexpectedly. Of course – that “something”, would be just what I was looking for, and I also liked the idea that I was usually, in some small way, helping keep another craftsman in business somewhere.

More neck options than Jaguars…

A lot of my builds have attempted to reproduce particular instruments, or to evoke certain models, or period features. They don’t always succeed in terms of accuracy – but it’s always interesting to work within the constraints of certain parameters. Cost and availability being just two of the usual concerns. My CAR custom Jaguar is much more about combining together some of “the best available” features, and trying to keep the build quality up as high as I can personally achieve. In many ways – some of the usual constraints are therefore off, and I have a little bit more leeway – unconstrained, as I am, from any standard “recipe”. I can mix and match a little bit more. I’ve owned an Epiphone Sheraton II for a while now, and have always liked the look of the short scale, bound neck with block inlay markers. When my research showed examples of 1965/1966 Jaguars with similar necks – I began to think about trying to source a suitable example for my custom build.

I’d originally sourced a bound Fender ’65 Reissue Jaguar neck, (Fender parts number 009-4017-970), for the build. It was bought when I just happened to discover a small stock available online. They’re super rare to the market and I was keen to get hold of a genuine Fender neck to match with my certificated body, so I snapped one up when I could. Bound Fender necks with block markers are even harder to find – so my plan was always to proceed with the bound neck, but to upgrade if the opportunity ever came about. I was quite aware that I might be waiting, literally, years. Things like this don’t appear to be on Fender’s current production schedule, and old, vintage examples are prohibitively expensive.

Musikraft custom readout. So many variables!

And then I was browsing the internet, as you do – still thinking about how I could possibly achieve that bound and block marked neck. Since I’d already finished a neck for my Olympic White Jaguar, I was open to the idea of, perhaps, preparing and finishing another neck myself. OK – it wouldn’t be a true Fender, but a well made, licensed neck wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. I was also keen to look at painting and colour-matching the headstock to the body, and the more additional refinements I began to consider – the more I realised I wasn’t necessarily ever going to be lucky enough to find the perfect custom Fender neck, straight off a shelf somewhere. After reading up some reviews, and checking out some custom-build options – I came across more than a few recommendations for licensed necks, built to custom order, by Musikraft in New Jersey, USA.

Of course – Musikraft themselves were feeling the effects of Covid lockdowns, and although most custom options were, at the time, still available – the lead time was long and vague. I just had the assurance that I’d get regular emails to mark the progress of the order through the various production workshops, and eventual delivery of a neck built to my exact specification. By repute – the build should be, at least, as good as a custom built Fender neck – if not better. That was just what I was looking for. Something that might turn up at some point in the future, and give me more stuff to do. Something to look forward to…

Ordering the neck was a breeze… once I’d got to grips with all the variables. Over two dozen individual perameters can be customised on a Musikraft Jaguar neck, and many depend, themselves, upon other perameter selections. However – the Musikraft website is authorative and educational. If you don’t understand the importance or even purpose of a particular element – there are helpful guides to advise. One summer’s evening last year, I put together my ideal list of requirements, pulled the trigger, submitted my order and paid the fee. After a few weeks, I’d all-but forgotten the order was in, and was proceeding with other jobs. My Candy Apple Red Jaguar was starting to come together with it’s Fender ’65 reissue neck.

Musikraft custom-built Jaguar neck

At first, I didn’t receive any updates on the order for a couple of months. (“Your order is in the wood selection department”). Then, I started to get indications of progress, perhaps monthly, after that. (“Your order is now in the CNC Department”, and then the “Fret Department”). Eventually, in the middle of February this year, I got notice the neck had finally shipped. A week later – the courier handed over my hand-built neck, and I finally enjoyed the Dopamine hit of that particular bit of “retail therapy”, back in the middle of last year.

Unboxing the neck was a joy. The neck was well wrapped and protected, and once the stockinet protection had been peeled back, I was delighted to see just how high the build quality was. I’d love to think that I too, one day, could learn to carve and finish my own neck to this kind of level of quality – but I realise I just don’t have the tools or the experience. I’m just happy to have this to bolt onto my Fender body.

The neck is a licensed Fender Jaguar pattern – “large headstock”, maple, with a dark Indian Rosewood, slab fingerboard. The board is radiused to my favourite, vintage style, 7.25″ and the excellent binding and fretwork promises superb feel, with absolutely no rough edges. Visually – it closely resembles the overall look of the Fender ’65 neck. However, the block markers really set it apart.

Musikraft custom-built Jaguar neck – Test-fit

The neck is pre-drilled in the standard Fender pattern, and so the neck bolts straight onto my CAR Jaguar body. I specified a minimal finish – just a light coat of lacquer to seal and protect the wood, and an un-oiled fingerboard. That leaves me a fair bit of work to do – even though the neck feels ready to go, as it is. I want to paint and lacquer the headstock to colour match the body, and then apply a period-correct (1965-ish), Fender decal. As part of the finishing – I may look to slightly tint the back of the neck, however – I’m already quite happy with the super-slick, finished feel of the wood. Providing there’s enough protection with the thin lacquer coat already applied – I’d be mad to start clagging it all up with artificial tints and layers of unnecessary nitro. Visually – I just want to take the edge off that “new” look. Since the neck will have to sit for a while as the paintwork and lacquer cures – I may wait and see how the wood naturally tones over the next few months. New maple can look quite pale and white to begin with – but a few weeks out in daylight may just begin to tone it enough, naturally.

Preparing the headstock for painting

My main challenge will be in closely matching the Candy Apple red colour of the Fender body. Having stripped out the grounding plates – I know that the colour is built up of translucent red coats over a gold undercoat. It might be Shoreline Gold – it’s difficult to tell from the standard Fender colour charts. The neck has already been finished to a super fine finish, and I can’t see any need to further seal the wood. Furthermore – a full coat of white primer might kill the warmth of the gold, and affect the finished colour. (I can’t detect any signs of a primer under the body colour). If I had a can of sanding sealer spare – I might consider a layer of that to key the surface. Instead, I’ll rough the surface back a little with a red Scotchbrite pad, and then apply a mist coat of primer. That should give me better adhesion for subsequent finish layers, whilst not affecting the underlying tone too much. Applying a light mist coat will also telegraph any faults and inconsistencies in the surface, and I can always sand the face flat again, if required, before proceeding. First, however – I have to prepare for spraying, and mask off the sides of the headstock, the neck and the fingerboard.

Preparing the headstock for painting

Finally, the rest of the neck is covered over with some used bubble wrap. This will protect the existing finish from overspray, and will also protect the neck from accidental damage. Painting and finishing the neck’s headstock will now become a separate, sideline project for a while, and after that there will be layers of nitro to cure, and a decal to bury under a lacquer clearcoat. It’s virtually a project in itself – although on a very small scale. There’s only a small area to deal with – but the finish will have to be carefully built up in stages. A few passes of nitro, and then drying time…and repeat…

Three Jaguar necks – only two guitar bodies… so far

Of course – this presents another conundrum, (albeit a happy one to consider), and I’ll return to my original image. I’d always set out to make my Olympic White Jaguar a mostly-1962-influenced build. As far as I can see – the, now “spare”, ’65 reissue neck wouldn’t look out of place there, although binding didn’t seem to be available on Fender models until at least 1965. Also – I’m still quite pleased with the general finish I achieved on the original, Fender licensed but hand finished, AllParts neck. Since my white ’62 doesn’t feature a real Fender body either – I think I’d rather leave it as it is. With some projects – you can’t just keep changing things. Sometimes, it’s better to learn lessons and move on. That leaves a perfectly good Fender ’65 Reissue neck begging for a different purpose. It’d suit a Kurt Cobain inspired Jaguar, or another, mid-Sixties inspired, Sunburst Jag. I hadn’t planned another trip into offset territory – but you never know. The right body… ideally genuine Fender… something might turn up one day…

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