Operation Plaid Hammer: Neckin' 4 - Ben and Dave's Excellent Adventure

SO! The Project Arcturus body is off curing so we can get to the point where we make it REALLY, REALLY SHINY - time to get the neck squared away! Well, not square. You get the idea.

As I may have mentioned before, the final fret dressing happens after the neck is sprayed with clear coat, but before it's given the final buffing on the buffing wheel. First step is to get the frets leveled and dressed. First step involves this guy, a fret leveling file from StewMac.

It took three grown men ten minutes to agree on what this thing is actually called. We were all wrong.

It took three grown men ten minutes to agree on what this thing is actually called. We were all wrong.

Up to this point, the frets were just nipped off with a set of flush-cutting diagonal cutters. The fret leveling file is used to put a proper (and matching) angled edge to each one of the frets. 

So many of these could be captioned, "Ben Stares Intently at a Thing."

So many of these could be captioned, "Ben Stares Intently at a Thing."

One trick Ben uses to avoid dinging up the end of the board with the file is clamping a capo across the nut slot, like so.

...which neatly leads us into the next bit - as you can see above, Ben has a razor blade, with which he's scraping the finish off the edge of the fretboard at an angle. We'll do some more of that once we pull the tape.

Now it's time for a second pass to bevel the fret edges, this time with a fret beveling file from Brown's Guitar Factory.

As you can tell from its design, this block puts an even bevel on all the frets down the entire length of the neck.

This picture exists almost entirely to prove that I ACTUALLY DID THINGS other than take pictures.

This picture exists almost entirely to prove that I ACTUALLY DID THINGS other than take pictures.

While the fret beveling file puts an even bevel on every fret, it leaves sharp edges behind. To smooth those out, we move to a fret end dressing file.

This is a process checked by feel, and takes quite a bit longer than you might imagine.

Once the edges are right, it's time to level the entire fretboard. First, we check to see if there are any obvious high or low spots, using a super-accurate straightedge made by Stewart Macdonald for this specific purpose.

Ben Stares Intently at Another Thing

Ben Stares Intently at Another Thing

Next step is to mark the top of all the frets with a Sharpie, which provides as guide line to see whether there are any particularly low frets.

Ben Stares Intently at Yet Another Thing

Ben Stares Intently at Yet Another Thing

Next, we use a leveling block to bring all the frets to the same height. Since I haven't mastered the art of applying EXACTLY the same pressure with the fret press (something Andrew is very good at) we had to take a bit more meat off my frets to get it level than would have been necessary on a normal neck.

Once the frets are perfectly level, it's time to crown them. That process makes sure that the top of the fret is perfectly rounded over, and takes off all the sanding marks from the leveling block. The file has a perfect roundover built into its edge, and leaves a smoother result.

Once the frets are crowned, it's time for a final polish. Ben uses the laser table to cut a perfect mask for the fretboard out of green low-tack painter's tape, and then uses an orbital sander with polishing pads to bring the frets up to a final sheen.

SHINY! I added another piece of green tape once we'd finished, because it's not immediatly obvious just how much stainless steel gets smoothed away. It's there in powder form, though.

Final step - we pull the tape, and Doug takes it to the buffing arbor. This puts a final polish on the frets, and also buffs out the clear coat to a perfect sheen.

Blurry Doug, using the patented Buffing Compound on the Lens for Soft Focus (tm) technique

Blurry Doug, using the patented Buffing Compound on the Lens for Soft Focus (tm) technique

Doug moves way to gat-danged fast, so I thought I'd put 'em all up. Cool!

And that's the frets squared away! Next up, the nut.

...unfortunately, at this point I got all excited and forgot to take pictures, so Ben kindly helped me with a Dramatic Recreation (TM) of what the nut making process may or may not (allegedly) have looked like on the Project Plaid Hammer neck.

First, he starts with a bone nut blank. The nut is shaped on a grinder to the desired curvature and height, which is taller than the finished height for reasons that will become clear shortly.

From this point, Ben uses tool which clamps an array of feeler gauges to the fretboard, which allows him to accurately slot each nut to the perfect height.

The 'creative reconstruction' guitar is a Daylighter, hence the different headstock.

The 'creative reconstruction' guitar is a Daylighter, hence the different headstock.

There are then a series of files an saws, stopped by the feeler gagues, which allow Ben to have the nuts cut to a perfect height and V.

And that's it for the neck! Ready for the body to be cut and buffed, then it's on to assembly!

Dave SegalComment