23.5ct Gold Leafed Stratocaster. Neck, and hardware installation.

With the body complete. and with the finish well protected, I can move on to fit most of the hardware for the build. Whilst my current cataract situation means that fiddly detail work and soldering is well beyond current, (safe), capabilities – I can still move this build along a little more, before I’ll have to store it away for completion later on in the year.

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With my general vision seemingly getting worse by the week, there are plenty of jobs building up for when I get back to normal again, but with little else to do other than fingerboard exercises – Jack is in danger of becoming a dull boy. Although it’ll mean running out of things to do project-wise, I might as well push the gold Strat along as far as I can, for now. I’ve been squirreling away the necessary parts for the last couple of months, and I’m keen to see how the body looks when decked out with all the brand new gold, Fender hardware. Once I get the neck on, I can also begin to get an idea of the overall finished feel of the instrument, and see how effective the gold finish actually is.

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First of all, I need to prep the neck and install the tuners. The neck I’m using for the build is a genuine Fender, all maple neck from the “Player” series. The neck was purchased new, but as an “open box” item from the “STRATosphere” in the USA, who supply some really useful, hard to find parts via their online dealership. The “Player” neck is an all maple construction, made in the Fender Ensenada plant, Mexico – and features a “C” shape profile, a 9.5″ radius fingerboard, 22 medium jumbo frets and a urethane finish. Satin on the back, gloss on the front. It’s designed in a modern type of configuration, and is a reasonable alternative to the more expensive neck found on the official Fender “Eric Clapton Signature” Strats. (The Signature necks are a more vintage-type configuration however, having vintage style frets and an old-style “V” shape profile. But they’re also an extra £300.00 or so).

The Player neck I’ve selected comes with it’s own serial number, and is pre-drilled for tuner installation. Being of a newer configuration however, the pre-drilling is there to suit more modern style tuners. I have a set of genuine Fender, vintage Kluson style, gold tuners, (Fender part number 005-3276-049) to fit, and the holes don’t match up. Checking on the reverse of the headstock – the tuners will fit in place and cover over the pre-drilled holes, but I’ll have to drill new holes in the wood in-between. Checking the pegholes however – it’s obvious that the bushings supplied with the vintage tuners will need to be replaced with something bigger. Kluson do a gold set to suit modern 10.5mm Fender pegholes, (Kluson part number MBCF65).

On test fitting, I find I need to ream out each peghole a little before the bushings push into place. I’m not sure, but it’s almost as if the pegholes are slightly tapered, and I don’t want to risk splitting the headstock by forcing the tuners in with the bushing tool on my drill press. A little attention to each means I can open the holes slightly so that I can push each of the bushings home with minimum force. With the tuners firmly in place, and having checked they’re sitting square, I use the handy template supplied to mark the location of each of the required new screwholes. After drilling each hole to the required depth, I fit the tuners using the gold screws supplied. Once I’ve checked for correct alignment with a metal straight edge, I tighten each screw so that the securing tabs on the back of each machine casing bite into the wood, and secure each in place.

The neck comes supplied with a string tree fitted, but it needs swapping out for one of the gold ones from a USA Fender set of two, (Fender parts number 001-8803-049). I may fit the second – depending on how the strings sit, on first setup.

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The neck can now be fitted. I’ve already checked the fit at the neck pocket, and I know that the securing screws fit well, (the neck is pre-drilled for four screws). The finish on the body has just built up a little around the edge of the neck pocket, and so I rub the finish back carefully with some fine grit paper, especially at the sides, so that the neck fits properly again. I don’t want to run the risk of damaging the finish on any subsequent removal of the neck. The neck was always a good fit – with minimum lateral movement. Once the neck has been dropped into position, I install the gold Fender neck plate, (Fender part number 099-1447-200) with the four gold bolts supplied, and tighten each up enough without deforming the plate too much. It’s a fabulous fit, and the neck and body are solidly joined. As a unit, the two feel quite resonant – yet light, and easy to wield. Things look promising.

With the neck on, I can now check the body shape against the pickguard. I’m using an eggshell white, Fender Pure Vintage, ’56/’59 single ply scratchplate, (Fender parts number 009-4245-049). The plate seems to fit fine at the neck joint – but I’ll need to fit the tremolo bridge before I can check on the fit around the bridge itself.

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Before I fit the bridge, however – I drill out the holes for the gold strap buttons, and then fit both, (Fender parts number 001-8916-049), using the white felt washers provided. I can’t believe I had to get these all the way from Custom Guitar World in Amsterdam! No UK suppliers had any in stock!

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The bridge assembly was supplied, and put together, by John at First Avenue Guitars. It’s a genuine Fender Original USA Vintage Series gold tremolo bridge, teamed with an upgraded steel sustain block, gold securing screws and gold, Fender stamped saddles, (Fender parts numbers 003-8961-049, 001-9473-049, 003-8969-000 and 001-9470-000). It’s a well-made, heavy-block bridge with the correct, vintage configuration and dimensions to fit the ’50’s style body. John supplied the bridge complete, and it drops in perfectly. As usual, I tighten each screw down until the back of the bridge just begins to raise – then back each screw off about a quarter of a turn. Once all the screws are similarly adjusted, I back the middle four off another quarter turn each. This encourages the bridge to pivot around the two outer screws, but leaves the others close enough to ensure the whole bridge unit moves evenly across the pivot plane. Now that I’ve done all that work on the body, and concious that I really don’t want to damage it with a bridge rattling around, I use a surplus bit of Fender packaging as a shield. Once I fit the claw and springs, and hook everything up, this should be held in place and will temporarily protect the face of the guitar body until I block the tremolo properly and fit the strings. The bridge itself was also shipped and supplied with a protective bit of card between the saddle screws and the gold top plate. Once the saddle is securely in place, I re-insert this extra bit of protection too, so I can avoid marking the top plate prematurely.

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The guitar is turned over, laid on some supporting padding, and I can then re-attach the tremolo claw. As detailled before – I’ll be using only the two outside springs, ao I can use the space between to mount a battery holder. The claw screw holes have already been tapped, and so the claw easily screws into place with the springs connected to the block. This pulls the back of the plate down onto the body of the guitar, (and so it’s wise to check that the protective bit of card is located properly first). Because there are only two springs, rather than the more usual three, I screw the claw almost all the way in, to maximise the tension. The springs won’t actually be mechanically required once the tremolo is “blocked” – but having a couple back there in the tremolo cavity will help to add some authentic spring reverberation, which is part of the Stratocaster’s natural, acoustic sound.

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With work completed, (for now anyway), in the tremolo cavity. I can drill the securing screw holes, and mount the rear cover plate. This is another Fender Pure Vintage accessory, which matches the scrathplate. Single-ply, eggshell, (Fender parts number 009-4248-049). I check the plate position against the string holes, and mark the four sides with masking tape to check the plate lies straight before fitting. The screw holes are then marked with a bradawl, and then drilled out to the correct depth. The plate is then secured with six pickguard screws from a gold Fender screw set, (Fender parts number 099-4924-00). Another component all the way from Custom Guitar World in Amsterdam!

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The scratchplate can now be fitted properly. I know it fits well at the neck, and around the lower side of the body – but I can now double check that there’s enough clearance at the bridge. Although the bridge will be blocked – I like to leave the option open to “unblock” it again – so I want to make sure the bridge won’t subsequently bind. Once the scratchplate is centred, and is seated properly in place on the body, I secure it with a few bits of masking tape, and then mark and drill out the two screw holes either side of the tremolo. I can then tighten these screws down and proceed to work my way around the other six holes on the vintage style plate.

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The scratchplate is followed by the jack socket plate. Rather than risk scratching the gold one I’ve sourced for the build, (Fender parts number 099-1940-200 – yet another hard to find component courtesy of CGW, Amsterdam) – I use a spare, chrome cover and check the mounting position with that.

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Using a spare plate allows me to line the jack cavity with copper foil, and then use the plate in position as a template to trim the body overlap with a scalpel blade. Once the screws help to complete the circuit at the overlaps, the grounding and shielding continuity between the cover and the lining are maximised. Once the cavity is fully shielded, I refit the chrome cover temporarily. I’ll  swap it out for the gold one when I wire and fit the jack socket. I’ll also have to fit a continuity wire between the jack cavity, and the main control cavity – but that’s another thing that’ll just have to wait until I can see properly.

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And there we have it – for now anyway. The guitar is homed in it’s new, Fender Classic series Tweed case, (Fender parts number 099-6106-300). Made in China these days, the classic series cases aren’t a bad take on the old G&G cases. For the money anyway. The tweed and red lining should show off the gold finish to best advantage. For now, however, the case will be stored away until I can concentrate on the project again. With a few weeks still until my surgery assessment – I’m beginning to get stir crazy already.

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