Building a One-Piece Stratocaster Neck (Part 6)

In part 6, it is time for the neck to get fretted, and the tuner holes drilled.

My tuner drilling jig is about as simple as it gets–tracing paper. I measure across and down to get the spot for the first hole, then align the tracing paper and measure down for the last hole to get the template in line. Then, I simply poke through with a scrawl to make a hole for the center of each tuner hole.

Based on the holes, I then drill 6 11/32″ holes through the headstock. It is important to clamp the headstock so that when the bit comes through the back, the neck doesn’t become a whirling dervish and smash your face to a bloody pulp. This is not joke; I speak from experience (though managed to narrowly avoid the smashed face part). Also make sure to drill into something. I use an old block of buckeye. This prevents tear-out as the bit exits the back. The better the headstock is clamped the lower the chances are of this happening.

Here is the final result.

Now, it is time for fretting. The first task is to prep the fingerboard surface. Since it is much harder to final sand after the frets are installed, this is the best time to do so. I sand the fingerboard surface to 2000 grit. This is most certainly overkill, but it is kinda fun to see the unfinished maple shine.

Steward MacDonald has a really nifty little instrument for checking the depth of fret slots. This actually works really well for cleaning the impacted sawdust out of the fret slots. I go fret by fret checking the depth and deepening where needed. Almost all the slots are undercut, so most of the frets should need a little extra depth cut into them. I use a small .020 hand saw for this task.

After getting the slots to the correct depth, I prep the fretwire with a fretwire bender. I put a bit of over-bend in the wire. The idea behind this is that the fret tang will not be able to come back out the way it went in after the frets have been pressed in. Dan Erlewine gives an insightful discussion of Fender’s original fretting method in the 50’s. In a nutshell, the frets were actually pushed into the slot from the side. The idea being that once the workstation is set up, frets can be installed at a very efficient rate. The added benefit is that there is not way out for the fret tang.

The frets are then lightly tacked onto the fretboard.

Then pressed into the slots using a fret press caul mounted in the drill press.

In my experience, this method gives much more consistent results than hammering the frets into the board. The caul applies equal pressure across the fret, and prevents bending or damaging the fret.

After the frets are pressed in, I clip off the excess fretwire.

My goal with this project was to try and build the neck over the span of one weekend. Up until this point, I would estimate that I have about 15 hours in the neck (taking photographs slows the progress a little bit). This last shot is as far as I will get this weekend, but there is not much left to do with the neck, and the finish (pun intended) line is in sight. All that is left now is to clean up and bevel the fret ends, install the nut (I am out of bone, so I am waiting on the brown truck for that part), and then the final sanding. At that point, it will be time to break out the spray gear and finish the neck in nitrocellulose lacquer. 


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