Custom Fender Jazzmaster. A couple of small tasks to progress the build

There seem to be a never-ending list of things to do at the moment. Most of it is catching up from the enforced “lay-off” due to my cataracts – and it doesn’t just involve my project builds. Consequently – I’m hard pressed to make much progress some days. Ever had the feeling that you can’t make progress for making progress?…

Custom Fender Jazzmaster – “Extra Width” Jazzmaster pickups from Jaime at The Creamery

But at least a couple of my builds are now within “touching distance” of completion, and my Jazzmaster build, although it’s been laid up for a while – is one of those. A couple of quick tasks, (although one here takes a full week to actually complete) – and I’ll be at a point where I can begin to address the wiring circuit, and then move onto the final setup. It’s unseasonally warm in the workshop for once, and I’ve finally managed to clear out a route through to where my finishing materials are stored, at the back. (The workshop has, unfortunately, become a bit of a storage dumping ground. I must try to stay on top of keeping things organised – whatever the temperature in there…)

Jaime at the Creamery also dropped me a set of his “Extra Width pickups at the beginning of the year. Now’s a good time to drop the pickups into place, and see how they fit. It’ll also be good to finally tone, and bull up, that pasty-looking, Pau Ferro fingerboard…

“Extra Width” Jazzmaster pickups from The Creamery

The pickups are supplied with all the required fittings – “Aged White”, (or cream), coloured pickup covers, eight fixing screws, (four per pickup), and two neoprene foam “springs”. The pickups come well packaged as usual, and are clearly identified “N” and “B”, (neck and bridge position), on the reverse. I’ve already fitted my chosen scratchplate – so it’s about time I checked the positioning and fit of the pickups, against the pre-drilled mounting holes on the body, and the pre-cut openings on the plate.

Jazzmaster pickup “springs”

The first thing to bear in mind for these pickups, is that they’re “traditional”, “pancake” single coils – and as a result – the actual height of the combined pickup and cover unit is considerably shallower than most regular single coils. I’m also pretty sure that the pickups supplied with the Squire “J.Mascis” Jazzmaster, (which this actual body was originally intended for), are slightly flattened-out P90 pickups, and will be deeper than standard Jazzmaster pups. Consequently – I think the factory-cut recesses in the body here, are designed to be a little bit deeper than would normally be provided for the “traditional” pickups.

The J.Mascis “P90” pickups must be taller than standard “pancake” coils…

This is borne out when I try the pickups with the supplied neoprene “springs”. Even with the adjustment screws slackened right off – the springs aren’t high enough to push the pickup and cover assembly up through the plane of the scratchplate. I’ll need to provide some thicker foam pieces to jack the pickups up a bit.

Also – on my test fit – although all of the pre-drilled screw holes appear to be quite well placed – the covers look to be a little bit tight through the cut-outs, and a couple of the screw heads also catch as they’re screwed down and backed off again. I’ll have to do a little subtle reshaping to the plate, once the springs have been replaced with something taller.

Taller neoprene “springs” are required

I have a few offcuts of foam – but they’re much less dense than the strips supplied. I need to cut significantly taller blocks, and even then – the “spring” effect isn’t anywhere near as pronounced. However – at least I’ll be able to get the pickups to sit roughly where I’ll need them, whilst I sort out the wiring circuit. I’ll source some denser foam if I can find any. While I’m at it – it might also be an idea to make the finished springs slightly larger in footprint. The thinner they are – the more likely it is that the spring effect will pitch the pickups over slightly, and this could possibly stress the side lugs unevenly. With Jazzmaster pickups – the adjustment screws don’t actually act on, and physically hold down, the pickups. Instead – the covers fit tightly over the pickups, and the assemblies are then held down at the four corner lugs. Tightening down the cover forces the pickup down under it. The ideal springs will spread the load evenly, but won’t be too agressive – this might also put undue strain on the cover lugs.

I’ll find something – but these perform 90% of what I need, and will do for now.

Jazzmaster pickups installed with taller springs

Now – with the springs fitted, and each secured to the underlying brass shielding plates with some double-sided tape – the pickups sit higher. There’s still – however – some friction between the sides of the covers and the scratchplate, and the covers, (and pickups) “stick” in places. The only way to resolve this is to remove the plate entirely, and then slightly reshape the cut-outs – using a knife blade as a scraper to erode away at the cut-out edges. Only small, targeted amounts of material need to be removed, and progress is checked a few times until the pickups move completely freely within the openings, and once everything has been securely re-attached to the body.

At a couple of locations, the adjustment screw heads still just catch the plate as they’re backed off. The scratchplate is removed yet again, and similar modifications made with the edge of the blade, to the small, semi-circular cut-outs – just enough until the screws move freely through the plane of the scratchplate.

The pickups and their covers now move completely freely up and down, can be adjusted to a workable height and, once set, are perfectly stable.

Toning a Pau ferro fingerboard with relic wax

The next “little job” is to darken the Pau Ferro fingerboard on this “Classic”, Mexican Fender Jazzmaster neck. I don’t mind the wild figuring on Pau Ferro boards – but sometimes the wood is just too “orange” in tone. The photograph above is taken under indoor lighting, and this really over-exaggerates the orange tones – but you see what I’m getting at. I much prefer the rich, dark, contrasting tones of an Indian Rosewood board – but sometimes they’re hard to find these days. Fortunately – I can always darken the Pau Ferro with a black wax.

“Relicing” wax is specially formulated to penetrate the wood and deposit a toning pigment. It’s not a stain – but it works into the surface in a similar manner, and tends to bring out texture and detail. Conseqently – it’s regularly used to artificially “age” wooden surfaces and antique furniture. Instead of a stain – it’s slightly more likely to rub off gradually over time, but the effect looks much more natural and will echo, and work with, any gradual darkening of the wood due to other factors – like oil from the hands during playing. If the effect should lighten over time – another layer of tone can always be re-applied and it. This will feed the wood again, and will always compliment the natural toning.

And all that goes for guitars – just as well as it does furniture.

I’ve previously used Liberon’s Black “Bison” wax on woodworking projects – but I think the colour of the Liberon wax is a little bit too “black” for my purposes here. More recently, I came across a relic wax produced by Monty’s Guitars in Cheltenham. Their “Montypresso” relic wax is a rich, dark, nourishing wax – with what appears to be a deep, dark mahogany type of tone. It’s ably demonstrated online here – and promises to get my Pau Ferro looking much more “in tune” with my chosen pickguard and “burnt toffee”, CAR finish.

Cleaning a de-oiling the fingerboard

First – the fingerboard is wiped down with a liberal application of lighter fluid, (naphtha). This de-greases the wood, and will help remove any previously applied oils – (although the neck here is new and “as supplied”. Whatever finish is on there from the factory, (if any), appears pretty sparse, and the board looks orangey-pink, pale and matte. Where the lacquer finish has been applied to run over the Pau Ferro – at the board edges, and up by the nut – the tone of the wood is much darker and richer. I’m hoping the relic wax will get the rest of the board to match this darker wood more closely.

The lighter fluid is applied liberally, and rubbed in with a paper towel. Once most of the fluid has evaporated – or has otherwise been mopped up – the board is left to dry out thoroughly.

Applying the relic wax

Next – the Montypresso wax is liberally applied. I cake it on, nice and thick. It really helps if you let the wax warm up to room temperature first. I’d stored it in the cold workshop, and it was rock hard and wouldn’t soak in at first. However – once the wax has softened – it’s easy to rub in. You can see from the photo above how the tone is rich and brown – rather than being a “hard” true black. The wax is applied thickly and rubbed in with a suitable applicator. (I use a paper kitchen-type towel). You want to get it to cover the surface, and soak in nice and deep. Any surplus wax is immediately removed from the lacquered neck edges, and anywhere else it’s accidentally applied. (It cleans off easily enough – although it will stain anything which isn’t protected by lacquer, by table coverings or by vinyl gloves).

I apply enough to obscure most of the details of the wood. Although the fingerboard dots are also covered and obscured – they will eventually clean off as easily as the lacquered sides of the neck and the frets. “Monty” says “leave for 24 hours, or a few days”… There’s a weekend coming, and I don’t have rushed plans for the Jazzmaster – so this will get a full five days, to let the wax do its’ magic.

…five days later

After five days – the wax has dried slightly on the surface – but it’s still possible to, quite easily, wipe the board “clean” with a paper towel. This time, however, the wax has penetrated the wood and – although the figuring on the Pau Ferro is still very much visible – the overall tone of the board is much closer to Rosewood. Once all the surplus wax has been removed, the board can be buffed up to a rich sheen with a polishing cloth. No need to oil the fingerboard now. The wax will have conditioned the wood as it toned it.

Pau Ferro fingerboard – Toned, (left) and original (right) – slide to compare

The end result is subtle – but the fingerboard now better compliments the overall tones of the fingerboard and the paint job. That distinct “orangeness” of the fingerboard is mellowed, and the Pau Ferro looks much more like the figured Rosewood I prefer. With pickup covers chosen to exactly match the cream tip of my Staytrem tremolo bar upgrade – the Jazzmaster is now coming together just as I envisaged it.

And now ready for the tone circuit….

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