Rebuilding my Olympic White Fender “1962” Jaguar. Setting the neck, and test-fitting the tremolo bridge

The replacement body for my “62” Jaguar build has been prepped and primed – with just enough primer reserved in the rattle can for “touching-up”, should it be required. I’ve marked the centreline of the body in a couple of places where the marks won’t normally show once the hardware has been fixed. I’ve made sure that the light pencil marks don’t gouge the finish at all, and the graphite should wash off easily enough with naphtha, once I’ve finished with them.

Body centreline (carefully) marked

I’ve already toned the Pau Ferro fingerboard of the neck I’ll be using – It’s a 2017 Fender “Classic 60’s” neck, and it’s been fitted with Gotoh, SD91 “Kluson style” machine heads. I may consider darkening the fingerboard further before finally putting the guitar together – but now would be a good time to drill the body for the tremolo unit, and to test-fit the neck to check the alignment.

Fixing the neck plate

The Fender neck has been factory-drilled to standard Fender specifications, and the body is a direct copy of an original Fender 60’s Jag. I’m expecting these to mate exactly, and I’m pleased to find that the fit isn’t too tight around the edges of the pocket. Using the stamped serial plate and stainless steel bolts from my original build – the neck bolts on well, with the straight edge at the lower neck cutaway aligning perfectly with the edge of the pocket. The bolts themsleves are lubricated with a little bit of wax, and they tap straight into the pre-drilled holes. The bolts are carefully tightened until they’re just “pinch” tight, and the neck is held securely in the pocket.

Marking the top screw locations for the tremolo plate

I’m re-using the original, Fender AVRI tremolo from the previous build of my “62”. It has a Staytrem collet fitted, and the arm is well and truly jammed into the nylon lock bushing. Not to worry – it doesn’t affect what I’m doing here. Offering the unit up to the rout in the body – I first locate the general “vertical” location of the tremolo plate. The plate is held in an “approximate” position – ensuring that the lock button can slide all the way back into the semi-circular pocket cut for it. With the plate held roughly central – “eyeballing” it in line with the centreline pencil marks – another simple mark through the centre of one of the top two screw holes is enough to place a reference point marking the line of the top screws. A pattern square can then be used to extend this mark, perpendicular, across the centreline. The two top screw hole locations can then be accurately measured off each side of the centreline, and marked for drilling. Once again – all pencil marks should be super-light, so they don’t gouge the finish.

Checking the neck / tremolo alignment

The two “top” screw holes are then drilled out to the correct depth and gauge – using a sharp wood bit and a manual hand drill. Care is taken to ensure the holes are drilled absolutely vertically, down into the body. The tremolo unit is then attached – by way of these two “top” screws only. I’m re-using the original stainless steel screws, and the threads are lightly waxed again for this first tap. Using a little wax helps the screws turn for this first test-fit – but it will now be extra important to clean the primed body again, before the body is painted. Any little loose flakes of wax can rub into the surface, and may cause adhesion problems when painting. The tremolo plate is tightened down until the screws are just “pinch” tight, and a couple of spare strings are then fitted in the outer, “E” positions. These are lightly tightened, and they clearly demonstrate how straight the neck / tremolo relationship is. Don’t overtighten – or you risk marking the heel of the fingerboard.

In the image above – you can see that the strings are equidistant from each edge of the neck, and that they maintain that equal spacing all the way up to the nut. It’s all as it should be here – but if the neck is even slightly out of line – you’ll immediately be able to see. It’s useful to also check the alignment with the bridge fitted – but with the body unpainted at this stage, the “thimbles” for the bridge are still quite loose. This means that the bridge, in turn, can be a little bit “approximate” in its’ positioning. An “eyeball” check is as good as it gets here, although I suppose careful measurements could be attempted between the strings and the bridge holes to double check. Looks spot on to me though.

With the tremolo plate location confirmed – and whilst the plate is still attached – the remaining four screw locations are marked off on the body, using the fixed plate as a template. The strings and tremolo are then removed from the body, but set aside for a final check.

Fixing the tremolo plate

The remaining four marked screw locations are then drilled out, as before. The tremolo plate then is re-fitted – using just these four new screws. They are tightened down carefully – working a little at a time – diagonally, across and around, until the plate is fitted “pinch” tight again. The two “top” screws are then tightened down – and the test strings re-fitted for a final check. Once again – the alignment is assessed along the whole length of the string path. This looks great. The plate and screws are removed, and stored away for the final fit-out.

Drilling the strap button screw holes

The strap buttons are attached to the body using a similar-sized screw to those used for the tremolo plate. Whilst I’ve got the right drill bit in hand – I may as well drill out the strap button screw holes. Although, for ease of drilling, I use a powered hand drill at low speed instead of my trusty manual drill. The locations are marked centrally on the base of the guitar, and on the top horn. They’re then drilled out to the correct depth, using a bit of masking tape on the bit, as an indicator stop. Finally – they’re given a light turn with a countersink bit. This will help keep the edge of the subsequent paint coat away from the threads of the fixing screws.

Counter-sinking the tremolo screw holes

Finally – the countersink bit is run around the six tremolo fixing holes. The body is dusted down, and all loose material wiped away using a soft brush and, finally, a tack cloth. It’s important to check all of the various routs – since spraying the colour coat will tend to blow out any debris again, onto the surface of the body. When it’s completely dust-free – the body is then given a good clean over with naphtha. The pencil marks are carefully erased, and extra care is given to ensure that there are no stray specks or smears of wax left anywhere. Once it’s scrupulously clean – the body is rehung in the spray booth, ready for it’s colour coat.

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