Frequent Flyer-caster Redux, Part 2

In Part 1 of Frequent Flyer-caster Redux, I wrote about my search for a more substantial neck for my travel tele. I eventually settled on an Allparts TMO-FAT model, which merges a vintage 1.625″ nut width with a beefy 1″ U-shape neck profile. The neck arrived unfinished and undrilled for hardware, providing me with an opportunity to once again test my novice lutherie skills.

Tru-Oil Revisited

I refinished the neck of my original Frequent Flyer-caster – a Squier Affinity Telecaster – in Tru-Oil, a popular Linseed Oil gun-stock finish easily applied by hand. I was very pleased with the quality of that finish, and followed the same basic application process this time around; you can check out the original post for details. I did make one crucial change, however. In trying to achieve a vintage tint, I had originally mixed ColorTone amber stain directly into the Tru-Oil; this approach didn’t quite yield the color I had hoped for. Based on advice posted to the always-helpful Telecaster forum, I decided this time I would try staining the neck directly before applying the oil.

This approach is arguably a little dicier; it’s far easier to remove the Tru-Oil finish if you botch the tint, rather than trying to lift the tint directly from the wood. However, most posters seem to get the best results this way, so I decided to give it a chance. What could possibly go wrong? First things first, I gently passed a fine grit sanding sponge over the fret edges, some of which were a little sharp. In addition to rounding off the fret edges, this also rolled the fretboard edge just a tad, giving the neck a slightly more played-in feel. Next I went over the neck with 0000 gauge steel wool to smooth out imperfections and clean off any grime.

I mixed the stain with tap water in a four-ounce bottle. A few drops of ColorTone go a looong way, so it’s best to add a little at a time and test the mixture on a piece of scrap wood (preferably the same wood as the neck being stained, though I made do with pine blocks found at Home Depot). I practiced applying the water stain in gentle stroking motions with a soft cloth. Satisfied with the tint I achieved on one of my wood blocks, I then went to work on the neck, applying a layer of stain from one end to the other. I applied several layers, allowing time for the neck to dry between stainings, until it appeared uniform. Relatively happy with the yellowed tone I achieved (first pic below), I left the neck to dry for a night.

Let this post be a cautionary tale regarding wood-staining; once you’ve achieved a color that appears reasonably satisfying, don’t go overboard and shoot for a mental vision of perfection. The next morning, I experienced a momentary lapse of reason, and decided I would try to achieve a finish that was just a wee bit darker. In doing so, I clearly went overboard and instantly regretted my decision; suddenly my maple Tele neck had a less attractive brown hue (see left) and I feared disaster. Fortunately, I was able to knock back most of the stain through a laborious process of sanding with light grit paper and steel wool. However, my re-stain of the neck – while back to the more desirable tone – was noticeably less uniform and professional looking. Lesson learned.

I also had some strange issues with the Tru-Oil application process, possibly related to my use of an old bottle and the DC climate being pretty humid at the time of finishing. On the fretboard in particular, I ran into considerable difficulty achieving the glassy smooth finish from my first neck; it was hard to avoid little gobs and runs, especially around the fret edges. The final product looks great from a distance (and is more convincingly vintage tinted than the Squier neck), but up close it’s more clearly an amateur product. Not a big deal necessarily, since this is meant to be a travel guitar that’s going to get knocked around, but I’ve definitely come away from this project with some lessons learned to apply in the future (and a healthy respect for the work of professionals).

Hardware and Final Assembly

I won’t go into too much detail regarding hardware installation, including ferrules, tuners, string tree, Graphtech nut, and the all-important threaded neck bolt inserts (see Part 2 of the original post). Needless to say, rulers and careful measurement are your friend in this endeavor. You can get good advice from better-qualified people here and here and here. I was a little hasty in my installation, and while I didn’t make any dramatic errors, I could have achieved better tolerances if I had taken a little more time. This is particularly the case installing the Kluson-style tuners, which look cool but are truly a pain in the ass to align. Following this project, a drill press is most certainly in my future.

Even given all the finishing quirks, I was still impressed with the final product. As I test-fitted the neck to my Squier body, I couldn’t help but feel that this truly vintage-inspired neck merited a more vintage-correct body than the Affinity Series. I’ve previously written about a couple of the Squier Affinity build quirks; I may have contributed a few more in trying to add some Jeff Beck-style contours to the body with a Dremel tool. Lurking on eBay for a week or two, I managed to score a used Squier Classic Vibe Tele body that better fit my vision. The Classic Vibe guitars have much cred on the TDPRI, and the one I acquired definitely lives up to the reputation. The finish recalls the “whiteguard” Telecasters of the mid-late 1950s, while the pine composition is reminiscent of Leo’s earliest prototype guitars. It was relatively painless to migrate the hardware – including Wilkinson bridge and Texas Special pickups – from the Affinity to the CV body. A parchment pickguard completed the look.

Moment of Truth

It took some jiggering and careful neck pocket sanding to get the Allparts neck in proper alignment; builders should take note that the Allparts neck is a shade wider at the heel than the CV neck (and possibly other Fender necks). I also had some interesting buzzing problems with the setup while Tru-Oil that had accumulated on the frets wore away (at least that’s the best explanation I can come up with for why it eventually stopped fretting out). The frets would still benefit from a professional level and dress, which seems to be par for the course with most aftermarket necks.

Once the setup was to my preference, I finally had a chance to spend some quality playing time with the TMO-FAT. I was indeed pleasantly surprised by how comfortable it felt in my average-size hands; it fills out my grip in a very satisfying and natural way. The meaty neck provides a solid anchor for the rest of the hand when executing bends and — contrary to the design philosophy of wafer-thin shredder necks — I don’t find that the profile impedes speed in any way. As for the sound, it’s hard to objectively say whether or not the extra wood contributes to better tone; the CV body itself is already fairly resonant, and I would need to try swapping out a thinner neck to really test the proposition.

The only real drawback I found was in trying to execute extended jazz chord voicings; the chunky U-shape somewhat impedes flexibility in anchoring my thumb. Based on the experience with this neck, I’m now eager to try out a vintage soft-V profile in which the depth is identical, but the sides are shaved to a hull-like profile; it might solve the thumb-anchoring issue. All that said, you can now count me in as a fan of big necks; I’m not sure if it’s going to be a hard requirement for future guitar acquisitions, but I have to say the modern C-shaped neck on my American Special Telecaster almost feels like an Ibanez RG after any significant playing time on the TMO-FAT. Not uncomfortable, but it certainly requires an adjustment.

Final Verdict

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the new guitar. Despite some initial setbacks in the finishing process, I ended up with an instrument that better suits my demands and looks classy to boot. I’ve even had a chance to haul the new guitar on a trip, and it easily passed the portability test. Does this mean no further episodes in the N.O.S. Frequent Flyer-caster saga? Well, I think readers probably know me better than that by now.

Packed for check-in (neck is wrapped in towel, body in orange t-shirt).

 

 

 

 

 

Assembled and ready for action with setup tools and Pocket Pod.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s