Monthly Archives: November 2014

Telecaster project – step 3

Front and back of my Fender Telecaster neck's headstock
I thought I would post one more before breaking for the Thanksgiving holiday. While it is subject to change, I’m pretty sure this is the neck I’m going to use for this project. I actually bought it off of Craigslist for $110, shipping and all. By any standard, a steal of a deal as it is a brand new neck (2013) with virtually no wear, a great nut and it has just a little bit of tint to it. It came with the standard tuners, which are actually pretty good, but I added a spare set of locking tuners, which I normally reserve for guitars I want to drag on stage. These are genuine Fender, modeled after Schaller’s. I’m partial to Spertzel locking tuners, and have a 15 year old pair on my main Telecaster which I dragged all over the place gigging, but these are still really nice locking tuners, so I can’t complain. That may change as well, but I’m leaning towards sticking with this combination.

There are several advantages to this neck. First, it is a one piece neck, meaning there is no separate fretboard, such as you find with rosewood and some maple necks. It has simple black dots, like most Fender necks. These are consistent with the original snake head neck Leo used, but here is where we break tradition. It has the walnut skunkstripe, which is required if you want to add a truss rod to a one piece neck. Leo’s first guitars didn’t have truss rods, and in fact, he was resistant to adding them at all. It has the modern headstock and it is 22 frets, while Leo’s first necks had 21 frets. It is the same size, it just has the overhang. I like the overhang for guitars with a pickguard, as it hides the joint. (shown in image below) Regular Telecasters have pickguards, and this poses a problem, as you have to remove the neck in order to remove the pickguard. Again, this isn’t an issue here, so it is a good choice. I would also note, this really is a pretty neck, and I like these necks where they put the serial number and such on the back. All that distracts from the beauty of the wood when plastered on the front. The grain is fairly straight, and while there is no birdseye or flaming in it, it just has a really nice look.
Front and back of my Fender Telecaster neck, plus heal

Another thing I want to mention is the fact that it is a Mexico built neck. This has advantages and disadvantages, but in most respects it probably approximates Leo’s first neck as well. The American built necks are unquestionably nicer necks, with rolled edged, finely polished frets and premium woods. At the same time, the Mexico necks may not be as “fancy”, but they are rock solid, well built, smooth enough, have the modern C shape with a 9.5″ radius (my preference) and going price is about half that of a new one. Depending on whether is is a pull or factory neck, average price for a near mint or new is around $175 to $225 while the Americans run in the $400-$500 range. They are better, but for a hobbyist, arguably not worth the extra money on a barncaster project. I also like buying “pulled” necks because they already have the nut installed and filed, so they tend to be much less work. When mated properly, I’ve never had to file the nut on a pulled neck.

I did a bunch of sanding last night, enough to begin building empathy for those that do this for a living. Of course, I’m doing this all manually, using only my hand for the edges, and a rubber sanding block for the flat surfaces. Anyone that does this for a living surely has better tools, but most casual barncaster builders will probably be doing it like I am. The most interesting things begin once I get through sanding, and we get to the finishing portion. That is where we find out if an idiot really can do this, and what a finished pine guitar looks like when aged with UV curing lamps.

Dennis

Telecaster project – step 2

Parts to build a Fender Esquire / Telecaster type guitar
Most of the parts have arrived, I only need a jack and cup, which I’ve ordered. The neck and other parts are coming from my parts bin. The guitar itself appears to be an excellent working platform. Keep in mind, we aren’t shooting for showroom beauty, we are shooting for barnyard fun, but still, it must be a serious instrument. More importantly, we get to age some wood and I get to take my first dive into finishing a real world project. We won’t be globbing the finish on like most new shiny guitars, we want the sounds of the wood to come through. The purpose is to seal the guitar, to protect it just enough, yet allow natural wear and tear to happen as well. I could drone on about how this will advance the corporate knowledge and experience, blah blah blah….but at the end of the day, a bit part of why I’m doing it is simply because it looks fun. And I find nothing wrong with that. I am a long time Telecaster aficionado. My first “new” guitar was a Fender Telecaster, and I own several. It doesn’t take a lot of prodding to talk me into doing this project.

Once again, this is a long term thing, it won’t be done in a week, I have other obligations, but it will get done. This week, the hard part begins. The guitar was sanded to 150 grit only, which is a fine starting place. I’ve picked up some 220 and 400 grit, which may be enough to take me to the end, along with some 0000 steel wool. We’ll see. After removing all the hardware, the body comes in at 4.05 pounds. I have a bunch of sanding to do, so it will probably be a bit lighter pre-finish, but we will just say “4 pounds even” for simplicity. As far as bodies go, that is respectably light although not extraordinarily so. That means the finished out guitar will probably be in the 6 to 7 pound region, depending on the weight of the finish. This is actually comparable to a couple of Fender Thinline Telecasters I have. This is common for pine, and in line with expectations.

I’m smart enough to know that when I think I’m done, I need to dampen it down a bit to let the tiny hairs swell, then let it dry and sand again, but between now and that point, I probably need to read up a bit more to prevent mistakes. If I’m expert on anything (and I don’t care for the word “expert”) it would be UV lamps, not wood finishing, so I’m confident mistakes will be made, and you will be by my side as I make them. Please keep the snickering to a minimum.

Dennis

Introducing the Solacure Telecaster project

Body body to build a Fender Esquire / Telecaster type guitar
I decided it is time to build a guitar, to finish it using our uv curing lamps. This only time I have even attempted to refinish a guitar was an Ibanez Iceman II, back in the late 1980s. I still have that guitar, and it is still unfinished, in pieces, in a bag. Maybe someday…. The last time I actually put finish on ANY wood project was a spice rack I made for my mom in the late 1970s. I’m handy with a soldering iron and voltmeter, and have swapped out necks, pickups, pots and other parts before. I can even frame a wall, do a little drywalling, some drafting and engineering, and not to brag, but I’m actually a pretty respectable guitarist. I spent decades gigging in some of the finest dive bars and VFWs in America. But I’m no luthier, so I’m approaching this with a bit of apprehension and realistic expecations. I’m going to keep it simple.

The first guitar Leo Fender every built, serving as inspirationFor this project, I have chosen to do my interpretation of Leo Fender’s first guitar (shown right), a “Prototype #1” Fender Esquire (Telecaster), but with my own twist. The main goal here isn’t to prove I’m a splendid guitar builder nor built the ultimate ax. It is to put my new UV curing lamps to use in a real world test, from the eyes of a novice. Well, that and build a fun guitar. You professional guitar builders are free to giggle along the way as I make mistakes, I won’t take it personal. An Esquire is a perfect platform for this because it is a simple, cheap slab of pine with one pickup, and it shows off a lot of wood. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a total Telecaster freak, I post at Telecaster.com, I own four Fender Telecasters, Strat/Telecaster hybrid call the Fender Pawnshop ’51, etc. While choosing a Tele/Esquite is the most practical choice, it is also an emotional choice, and in my own small way, own a tiny piece of history. The first Telecaster was built around 1949, and while I have no intention of trying to duplicate this exact guitar, the goal is to recreate something in the same spirit; something Leo might have build had he made some minor changes.

Another reason I chose this project is because it is pine, which is softer and easier to work with. It is also cheap, there are plenty on eBay to choose from. I managed to steal one off eBay on a slow bid day, $40 including shipping, and it has all the holes drilled, the pickup route, a pickguard made from an acutal vinyl record, and the two hole plate for pots, much like the original. I already have a couple of unencombered Telecaster necks, some pots and some pickups, but I haven’t decided how I will dress it out just yet, the main focus is on the wood. I’m contemplating doing a “weathered wood” looking UV lamps to darken it up, to give it some age, giving the lamps double duty and demonstrating two uses. I will probably do a very thin finish, just a few coats, so it will wear more natural like the original nitrocellulose finishes, and likely sound better. I’m not a fan of vintage bridges, but I will compromise and use one, modified with compensating brass saddles, and maybe some trimming. Found a Fender brand blank plate on eBay for $12, free shipping, so that was a another great score. I will use Solarez UV cure resin, which is most commonly used for surf boards, but I already have it, and it is good stuff, and I think fits the goal here. Leo used what was available, including car paint, so I think he would approve. I don’t want to build a show piece, I want a workhorse that is worth playing, and it will get dings and dents from use. It won’t be just like Leo’s first guitar, but hopefully it will be a respectable ode to it.

The image at the top is the exact photo from eBay, and the maker clearly states the body isn’t going to be perfect due to handling, and may not be perfectly to Fender standards in the cut. This makes it perfect, as I’m sure Leo’s was also hand cut with a ban saw, drawn out by hand, with no desire to make it “perfect”. After all, it is a prototype; a proof of concept. This lines up well with the objective as it is our first attempt to personally finish a guitar and test some prototype lamps, and it was Leo’s first attempt to create what has now become a legend. This exercise will not show the full potential of Solacure curing lamps. To be honest, there are many guitar and violin builders out there using our lamps. It will only show that any idiot can buy a cheap pine body off of eBay, and turn it into a worthwhile guitar using our Solacure lamps, and give us a better understanding of our customers. And maybe inspire some future luthier, for if I can do it, any serious hobbyist can do it better.

Dennis