The Telecaster Twins
I have long fancied a Telecaster so I made a pair of them. One has gone to my son as a Christmas present, the other is all mine. My expectation was that I could make two identical instruments in just a little more time than one. I'm not sure it turned out to be so. They are almost identical and the play identically and they play very well indeed.(well I would say that, wouldn't I?)
Bodies: English ash, flat sawn
Necks: N.American flamed maple, quarter sawn, grade AAA 700mm x 90x 25 Purchased from Keystone Tonewoods.
Fingerboards: African ebony
Pickups: Fibre-board flatwork and ALNICO II magnets
Tuners: Wilkinson Deluxe Kluson Style Model WJ55
Frets: Nickel-silver, Stewmac 0152, 0.092" wide and 0.048" tall
Other Hardware: Mainly purchased from Axetec
The methods employed were largely as described in the article Making a Jazz Bass, although not everything went to plan. Firstly the necks each developed a backwards bend after glueing the finger boards and I had a bit of bother with the through-body string ferrules. Then there was my eternal bugbear of finishing.
The Neck Bend Problem
The backwards arch was about 0.020 inches from straight at the 9th fret, too much for the string tension to pull out and apart from that, it would create difficulty in dressing the frets. I had already installed my favoured style of truss rods in curved slots and the nuts were intended to be pull only. Clearly this wasn't going to work, so I came up with a modified nut design that would push and pull. Here it is, along with a pair of pins which engage in the semicircular notch machined in the nut body, The photograph of the underside of the neck shows the installation. The challenge was in drilling the holes for the pins. I made a drilling jig (a block of wood with two holes in the right position) to make sure I got it right.
The system worked well. I was able to adjust the nut, turning it anticlockwise until the neck was perfectly straight. I then flatted the frets with a 12 inch long sanding block with 320 grit paper glued on. I worked it until each fret was 'touched', afterwards running the crowning file over each fret. Because the neck was so straight, very little fret was lost in the process. Of all the necks I have made, I think these are my best and it is due entirely to the dual acting truss rod. I have almost always suffered some bowing after glueing the fretboard and it has usually been backwards so I have flatted the frets in short sections, attempting to follow the curve so as not to lose too much fret material. With a straight neck it was so easy.
I have read many accounts of guitar making and not one of them had made reference to the neck moving after glueing on the fretboard, yet I find it to be the norm. Perhaps others acclimatise their timbers for long periods (years?) before working them but it is not really practical for the amateur with limited resources. I guess it it not practical for the mass-producers either and I know that some, at least, use double-acting truss rods.
There is, however, at the back of my mind, a residual worry. In the push mode, the truss rod exerts force on the bottom (opposite to the fretboard) of the truss rod channel. The maximum pressure will occur where the material is the thinnest, around fret 9 and my fear is that the neck may crack at that point. Fender install a sort of eyeblolt at the weak-point and the truss rod passes through it, thereby relieving the pressure on the thin section. In my necks, no such provision was made. Had I foreseen the need for a double acting truss rod, I would have have fitted something similar but it was too late once the necks were built. That said, they have been OK so far.
As I say, my bugbear. I resolved a long time ago not to use nitrocellulose. It is explosive, toxic and polluting. The problem is that the alternatives are also problematic. French polish is a wonderful(ish) material and I have used it on all of my acoustic guitars. I say (ish) because, in hot weather, when the players hands are damp, the finish on the neck becomes sticky and it drags. I don't think it durable enough for an electric guitar. Water-borne finishes appear to offer an ideal solution. Ideal that is, until you come to apply them. Nevertheless, waterborne was my chosen finish.
On my Jazz Bass, I used Polivine Crystal Clear lacquer. I began by applying it by brush, using the manufacturers recommended brushes. I struggled. It went on OK on the flat surfaces but at any corners, the it foamed. That in itself would not have mattered too much but rubbing it flat exposed the wood. Coat after coat went on and was rubbed off again. In the end, I tried the spray gun. I did not spray well. It was too viscous even when thinned to the maximum recommended by the manufacturers. It did not foam but the finish from the gun was very rough. It took many coats and many hours of rubbing before I achieved anything like a covering. The results were not perfect but just about adequate. It buffed to a high gloss, albeit with some visible sanding swirls. I dare not rub any more for fear of going through the finish yet again. The finish is not as hard as I would wish.
When it came to finishing the Telecasters, I looked around for an alternative finish. Stewmac did recommend and sell General Finishes Top Coat (but they seem to have dropped it now, as of Jan 2020) and I managed to source it in England so I bought some. I did not try to brush it, but went straight for the spray gun. I achieved the best result by setting the flow very low and applying thin coats. Thick coats produced orange peel and thin coats, gritty overspray. It was necessary to rub down after each coat so building the coat took for ever and used an awful lot of lacquer. I did get a finish and it is suitably hard and perfectly flat and shiny but close inspection under good light reveals sanding scratches.
Here they are before any finish is applied or "Finished in the white" as luthers would have it.