The next hiccup occurred when I ran out of clear. Rather than be prudent and wait for a second order to arrive, I sent my wife down to the local hardware store to pick up some Deft clear lacquer. While I was initially concerned about switching products midway through the project, it seems to have worked out fine. Although ReRanch offers up suggestions on how many cans of “Sand and Sealer” and “Nitrocellulose Clear Coat Aerosol” are typically needed for both body and neck finishing, my experience would indicate halving their estimates for the sanding sealer and doubling them for the clear, although I might be better at sanding through than most. The color estimates seem spot on.
After the third day of spraying, the last of the rule of threes comes into play; allowing at least three days of drying after the third and final coat before finish sanding. Since we were continuing to experience an extremely wet spring, I decided to let the body dry for an entire week before beginning final sanding, turning my attention back to the neck.
The clear coats went on easily if not a bit thick. ReRanch suggests not worrying about the frets, instead scraping the lacquer off when the finish is dry. I continued following the rule of threes, and the only tip I have to offer is that a 9V battery worked wonders as a sanding block between the frets (just make sure the battery is drained) and an old Chap Stick container handled the headstock curves well. Did spraying and sanding the neck go more smoothly than the body? Hell no! Sand-throughs were again common and going through the tint was de rigueur. Touching up the tint wasn’t nearly as forgiving as the Butterscotch Blonde had been and it seemed eager to burn through the surrounding lacquer and run at every opportunity. Oddly, even though I sanded out the majority of the neck without a block – a huge no-no – the only spots I sanded through were where a block was used.
In addition to extra days, the sand-throughs resulted in an uneven tint in some spots, but even that has a positive spin – it looks more like a real-deal, vintage neck than the fake-looking, toodark tint on many of Fender’s Vintage series guitars. Although darker than my Nocaster, the project guitar’s neck looks “right,” if maybe a skosh too yellow, but that’s getting nit-picky. Finally, with both enough tint and coats of clear, the neck was hung up next to the body to dry.
The body’s week was up, so I began final sanding. This part of the project involved wet-sanding at each grade from #400 to #2000, then buffing the #2000 grit scratches out with polishing compound. This step went well until I was nearly finished sanding. As finer grades are used – #1000 and up – a shine begins to develop and areas that weren’t sanded well enough earlier become easier to see. To take care of them, you typically back down on the grit number until the sanding scratches disappear, then work your way back up. I was working my way back up from #1200 on a spot on the back when I inadvertently grabbed #600 and used it instead of the desired #1500. Once I realized my mistake, I went back over the area with #800, and by the time I had gotten back to #2000, I had a couple of small sand-throughs. I decided to move ahead and treat them as spot repairs later on.
Once the entire body was sanded out to #2000, I took the body back out to the garage and shot color on the repair areas, letting it dry overnight. The next day, it was treated to three coats of clear. My attempt to keep the repair areas small was reasonably successful. There was a little overspray on the back which was dealt with easily enough with some #1500 and #2000 after sanding out the spot repairs. The repaired areas burnt down a bit and are uneven on close inspection but still look a thousand times better than the sand-throughs they replaced.
Using an old t-shirt and white compound, I was able to bring up a really nice shine on the body. I was also able to see more spots I missed sanding. I tried using some red compound, but it seemed to add more scratches than it removed. A little apprehensive about returning to sandpaper, I went back over it with white compound and called it a day. All in all, the body turned out much better than I expected, although I question the logic behind choosing a transparent finish as a first attempt – next time it will be Fiesta Red!
The neck hadn’t been drying for quite a week, but it had been longer than three days and the light at the end of the tunnel was making me a little impatient. Fortunately, sanding the neck out was relatively uneventful. The only stupid thing I did was use the nail file from my Leatherman to scrape the lacquer off of the frets and slipping, not once, but twice, leaving nice gouges on the fingerboard at the 13th and 20th frets, although I doubt anyone would notice unless they were pointed out. At this point the neck still felt a little too tacky to begin assembly, so I placed the neck and body back up on hangers in the spare bathroom to wait another week or so.
In the meantime, I had another dilemma; should I just totally shine the budget and use this as an excuse to pick up some nut files and a bone blank or take it to my local tech once assembled and kick down the $75 for him to cut a nut? A quick look through the latest Stewart-MacDonald catalog indicated that it would be less expensive – as well as less risky – to let my tech tackle the job. So, not including the additional lacquer from the local hardware store, we’re now looking at $1150.84 before we’ve played a single note.
After allowing some extra drying time for the neck and body, I started putting the guitar together in earnest. Things went together very easily – the string ferrules went in with a satisfying resistance that let me know they were exactly the right size. I used a Fiskers hand drill for all of the screw holes and took my sweet time, keeping the freshly sprayed lacquer happy. Still without a nut, I installed the tuning machines on the neck and placed the bridge using the pre-existing string holes as my guide by sticking toothpicks where the A and B strings would normally pass through. I then bolted up the neck, stuck a folded up piece of paper in the nut slot and loosely strung up both E strings, bringing them up to just enough tension to be used to sight the alignment of the neck and bridge. Laying the pickguard in place indicated that I was in the ballpark, so I drilled the mounting holes for the bridge. It should be noted that the Callaham bridge has two additional screws at the neck side of the bridge, intended to keep microphonic feedback to a minimum as well as transfer additional vibration to the body.
Once the bridge was secured, I placed the pickguard and control panel, moving them around until things looked good before drilling and screwing them down. Honestly, I tried not to be too anal during this process. I’ve seen plenty of old Teles that weren’t too hung up about being symmetrical, which is the same rough-hewn vibe I wanted this one to exude. Because the control plate came pre-soldered, wiring the butterscotch beastie up consisted of soldering a couple of leads from the pickup and the jack to the control plate assembly. I would love to say at this point that I strung it up and rocked harder than anyone has rocked before, but the truth was I still needed a nut. Luckily, my typically overbooked tech had a few immediate openings and I had my guitar back, strung up and ready to go three days and $75 later.