Custom built Fender Jaguar USA. (Re)-fitting a Fender Mute

It’s the end of May, and winter just turned to summer in a single day. Much better weather for working on finishes – but there are still other things to do. I like to keep a few projects “in the air” at any one time, so that each is evolved to a slightly different stage. That way – there’s always something to do, and the choice of task remains as varied as possible. When you end up with five guitars which require the same thing doing – it all gets a bit, “production line”, and processes can sometimes become more of a chore, and less of a pleasure.

So with a couple of jobs already approaching the wiring and setup stage, I’ve started on a couple of other builds, which are now just beginning to require work on the finishes. With the warmer weather, they’re likely to take over for a while – but before I begin to get absorbed with grain filler and lacquer, I need to take care of a couple of outstanding “mini-tasks”.

Fender mute, as supplied

The first such task is the re-installation of the Fender mute to my “Original ’60’s” Jaguar. In fact, it isn’t the original mute – that was re-assigned to my Olympic White, “1962” Jaguar. This example is an immaculate, second-hand item which, like many other Fender Mutes the World over, has apparently remained completely unused and unblemished by the previous owner. A quick wipe over with metal polish, and it looks as good as new. The only thing which needs replacing is the neoprene damper strip which has softened and flattened over time. New foam strips are available, (but only in the USA, it seems), and so I’ll add that to the wish list, and organise it for the next time I have to ship over a few other parts.

Otherwise – the mute comes complete with the plunger assembly, and a couple of correctly sized screws which perfectly fit both the pre-drilled holes in the scratchplate, and the pre-tapped screw holes in the body. Pretty much all I have to do is assemble the mute, and fit it.

Fender mute – Plunger, spring and attachment screws

Normally, an aftermarket Fender mute is supplied in various, separate parts. It’s rare to find everything you need in the one “lot”. Fender ship the mute assembly as one item – with the plunger and springs separate. The neoprene foam strips are also usually listed as yet another item. When I consider the additional costs of shipping all these extra list items from the USA, and then paying the tax and duties – using a second-hand assembly from here in the UK, makes perfect sense.

Installing the mute really just follows the un-installation process, although, obviously, in reverse. The original mute on this CAR body, as-fitted in the Fender factory, had a strip of masking tape around the end of the plunger spring. This helps keep the parts together, and presumably reduces the risk of the plunger ever becoming detached, falling out, and getting lost. I reproduce Fender’s vital intervention, with a short strip of blue masking tape.

Fender mute assembly – Plunger and spring in place

The plunger and spring are then dropped – spring first – into the middle hole, in between the bridge thimbles. A dab of white grease is added – primarily to lubricate the component, but the grease also helps to keep the plunger in place.

Fender mute – screwing down the spring plate

The mute plate is then fitted, by screwing down the plate – through the holes in the scratchplate, and into the pre-drilled holes in the body. The spring plate has a central post, which pushes down on the sprung plunger. As the plate gets screwed down tighter to the body, it begins to flex, and acts as a sort of spring – working in-conjuction with the spring effect of the plunger. The mute needs to be screwed down far enough, so that it’s close to the body, but far enough away to allow the plate to be flipped between positions, using the minimum force. The perfect placement allows the plate to be flipped easily – but also allows the plunger to push back up – effectively holding the plate in either the active or passive placement.

It’s all a bit of a balancing act – however, since this mute has already been pre-installed on another Jaguar – it’s relatively easy to find the ideal balance point, and there’s no need to get into adjusting the central plunger screw.

Fender mute fitting – Setting the bridge height. (Too much neck slope)

The other vital issue when tensioning and positioning the mute plate – is to ensure that the bridge, when fitted, is tall enough so that the base of the bridge plate doesn’t foul on the domed heads of the mute screws, when the bridge is rocked backwards and forwards. My Staytrem bridge is adjusted via two, long grub screws in the support legs, and it’s a simple task to raise the bridge sufficient to clear the screws.

Obviously – further fine-tuning the bridge height may become an issue during setup, but adequate clearance over the mute must always be maintained, to allow the bridge to rock unhindered. Whilst adjusting for clearance, it’s a good idea to consider the alignment of the neck and the bridge, so that this initial adjustment gets the bridge somewhere towards the ideal height range for proper neck action. When I do this – it’s pretty clear that the 1.0 degree shim I previously installed, has raised the heel of the neck too far, in relation to the nut. The neck angle is now clearly too steep, and I’d be able to adjust the bridge way off the body, before I’d be getting anywhere near the right playing action. Looking at it all again – I think the Fender “Original ’60’s” bodies were probably carved and routed with the required slope already set in the neck pocket, wheras the earlier production Jaguars seemed to use factory-installed shims to do the same job. It’s hard to tell, looking-in from the side – but after taking the shim out, and re-fitting the neck – sighting the bridge along the neck seems to confirm that the stock neck alignment should work with the Staytrem bridge – and that the bridge is still well within it’s adjustment range with the bridge height set, so that the mute screws are well below the bottom of the bridge plate.

There’s still room for fine adjustment, but I’ll check all this again when I finally set the guitar up. It is just possible I’ll still need a shim – but one with as little as a 0.25 degree slope might be enough.

Fender mute – with Staytrem bridge, and Fender bridge cover fitted

Finally – the Staytrem bridge is fitted with a Fender bridge cover. Staytrem design their bridges to directly accept Fender covers, and the thin, chromed steel plate easily clips straight on. It also stays where it’s put. in fact – the Fender plate fits the Staytrem bridge much better than it does actual Fender bridges. I’ve had to carefully bend the things into shape before – but it’s so much better not to have to. It’s easy to damage the chrome plating at the corners – so if you have to – use rubber padded grips, and carefully flex the metal at the corner grips. You usually only have to move each corner a fraction of a millimeter – but do it carefully and equally – and even a loose bridge cover can be “persuaded” to comply.

And my “Original ’60’s” Jag is that much closer to completion. Next stop will probably be laying out, and soldering-in, the internal wiring.

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