Project Offset Phase four! - Headstock refin and bone nut install
Well, it's safe to say that the Squier 'Vintage Modified' Jazzmaster project guitar has fully stolen my heart. I've really enjoyed working on it, and making it into a truly great guitar. I'm hooked!
There were a couple of things in my mind that I still fancied doing, one cosmetic, one functional, so I think it was about time for phase four to commence! Just in time to take the guitar to demo at 2017s Guitar Show to show off it's McNelly 46/58 Pickup set.
Let's start with the cosmetic idea! The stock, lacquered headstock was of course finished nicely and still looks great, as pictured below alongside a J Mascis Squier model also. But I absolutely love the matching headstock look seen on many pre-CBS custom order Fenders for example.
Inspired by the Fender AVRI '65 Reissue, pictured below, that was enough to sway me to go for it. Matching OW headstock here we come! With this guitar being a Squier model anyway, I wasn't too worried about affecting value by changing originality, so much has been changed already, and I'll be keeping this VMJM for many years to come too both for personal use and as a demonstration tool for the shops offered products, so it wasn't a concern for me. Perhaps if you have a vintage model, or a USA built, it may be worth weighing up the affect on value first before going ahead. (Just to note, how great does the neck binding look on this model too, Fender did a great job on that one!)
Being a nice, crisp, new olympic white colour, I wasn't concerned with it being difficult to get a good colour match. Dartfords do a really nice 'New Olympic white' Nitro paint so I ordered some of that along with some clear nitro top coat to finish it off afterwards.
So I set to work sanding off the face of the headstock right back to the bare maple. It's a fairly long process, you'll be surprised at how thick the factories can apply finishes. But it definitely is worth taking your time to do this stage carefully, as good prep work results in a good paint finish. Here you can see the majority of the finish sanded away, and the original Squier decal leaving a sun bleached outline on there too! I use a flat sanding block to ensure the face of the headstock stays flat for an even finish, the curved part is a little trickier, but with patience you can get that evenly sanded off too. The edge of the rosewood board leading to the headstock on these has quite a harsh angle, and I really like the vintage look on old slab board Fenders where it's a little more curved. So once I removed the nut, I rounded off that rosewood corner which I felt looked a little nicer. As the truss rod adjustment is at the headstock on this model too, there is a plastic insert, so I will be masking the internal part of that off for painting, but not the face part to reduce the size of the 'point' so to speak.
One thing I wanted to do early on with this project, but held off until I'd decided whether or not I wanted to refin the headstock, was to install a bone nut. The stock plastic one isn't going to be getting the best out of the guitar, or Gabriel Tenorio Strings' resonance at all, so I opted for traditional bone and got to work shaping it by hand. Bone nut blanks come as a rectangular piece, cut oversized, so you can make it to the spec you need. You can purchase pre-shaped/cut nuts from various guitar parts stores which have the bulk of the work done for you, but learning to do it from scratch is a rewarding task if you have the inclination!
Now this definitely is a long and slow progress, but weirdly one I really enjoy doing. It can be rewarding seeing the shape come together, and then polishing up with a finer grade emery paper makes it look superb. So here's a photo after I had done the bulk of the sizing and shaping. Obtaining the correct size for the nut slot on the neck, then rounding off and smoothing the edges so it looks nice too with no sharp edges that can be felt whilst playing down the low end of the neck.
Next up was to cut the rough string slots using precision nut slot files, I'll carry out the final height slotting when it's installed and being strung up to ensure it's 100% perfect, but for now it's ready and waiting to be installed once the refin is done! I'll still be using the Gts.co 11-50 Artist Series strings, so I roughed out the initial slots to suit. You'll also notice the colour of this nut, well I used the unbleached bone which in my opinion looks nicer than the bleached, and suits the light aging on the Spitfire tort guard.
Back to the headstock! So I've carried out about 4 coats of the OW Nitro here, flatting back any minor imperfections between each coat with a fine emery. This results in a really nice, even and flat finish which will help when doing the top coat. For this refin, I'm happy with the four coats being enough, the colour really pops and looks nice. So I'll be leaving that to hang for a little longer, then it's on to decal time!
There are some great companies out there offering quality replacement and custom waterslide decals. If you're refinishing a headstock and want it back to original Fender etc specs, say for a repair etc, then replacements are easily available. I decided to go a little custom, and seeing as I'm actually quite proud of it being a Squier, as it's so good! I didn't want to put a Fender decal on there really. So I left the Squier serial number on the back as normal, and decided on a custom decal for the front. I wanted it to still look like a traditional Jazzmaster, after all, it's one of my favourite Fender headstock decal designs, those swirls look ace! So I ordered a standard replacement decal and cut out the 'Fender' part, retaining the Jazzmaster script as normal.
I ordered a brilliant custom decal from the good people at Rothko & Frost, they're great suppliers if you're a guitar tech and do refinishing. Lot's of quality paint, oil and stain finishes as well as quality custom waterslide decals. I decided to have a mid 60s esq thicker font like the '65 reissue post earlier, but in black and silver with the name 'Miles', after my son! I'll be passing this guitar onto him when he's older so it's a nice personal touch.
Although traditionally the logo would be a gold script, I liked the idea of silver to go with all of the nickel hardware on this guitar. Another little custom touch you an make on a R&F waterslide decal. So once the final coat of OW has dried and set, it's onto the really fiddly part, applying it!
This isn't a fun process, but if you take your time and follow a simple few rules it goes on trouble free.
Now the decal is applied and where I like it, I'll need to let that set for a good 24 hours before doing any further finishing. The first three coats of nitro lacquer over the decal needs to be a really fine light mist, this essentially just seals the decal and means when you start applying thicker coats you get a nice finish. It also helps build up the depth of lacquer so the decal looks flush. As already mentioned, this decal was made up of two different decals, the 'Miles' part from the brilliant Roktho & Frost due to being such a thin decal just blended in absolutely beautifully, even only after the mist coats, you have to try hard to see the outline of it. But the 'Jazzmaster' main part was from another supplier and much thicker, meaning you can see the outline of that, it's a bit of a shame but not the end of the world. I would have just preferred to be able to use a full R&F, but sadly they didn't appear to make a Jazzmaster style full decal at the time.
I then needed to built up a couple or three full coats of Nitro, again with flatting back very lightly between each one, Wet sanding with 600 grit this time though to ensure a nice flat finish finish. But also ensuring not to sand excessively to go through the decal. These are a thicker, fuller coat as opposed to those three mist coats applied previously. This now begins to look more like a finished product! After the first coat had dried, I peeled off all the edge masking tape to check the edges. All was very well indeed, I just now wanted to ensure there was a nice sealed edge, so re-applied the tape a mm or so proud of the very edge, meaning the next couple of coats of lacquer will seal the painted edge, further protecting the finish.
Now it's time to peel off all that masking tape for the final time and hope all is well! before installing hardware I needed to do a polish. This can't be done until the lacquer has fully 'gone off' and this can take up to 2 weeks. So here's the bit that gets difficult, patience!! I'm going to do the final install on the bone nut and set it in whilst I wait though. I use a very small couple of dabs of Elmer's Glue-All, this is a general glue which works really well with wood. A couple of dabs is all that's need to set a nut, you'd like to make it easy enough to remove should it need a replacement in many years to come, without destroying the nut slot on the neck! As the neck was covered in masking tape, I wanted to clean up the fretboard and oil it again before getting it all back together. Once the 2 weeks is up, and the headstock polished, I can install the tuners ferrules, tuners and string tree! Excited to see it in one piece, that's for sure!
And here we are! Looking rather good indeed, just as I'd hoped it would! The bone nut allows for much better string resonance and again has improved overall acoustic tone and harmonics. Brings out the best in the Artist Series Gabriel Tenorio strings, which is a no brainer!
I'll be bringing this guitar to The Guitar Show 2017, so pop by and see me if you'd like to have a look at it in person! I'm more than happy to show this guitar off!
Thanks again for reading and being part of this ongoing project of mine!