Home > Lutherie > Custom Strat Style Build – Part 1 The Neck

Custom Strat Style Build – Part 1 The Neck

This project is my second electric guitar build and I decided to build upon what I learned in the first. Having made a Tele Style neck gave me a lot of insight toward making a very similar Strat neck. The only thing I planned to do differently from the start was to make the neck much thinner less baseball bat and more like a modern neck. Radius would remain the same at 9.5″ and use the same truss rod but I would eliminate the overhang required for the 22 fret and limit frets to 21. I also decided to purchase a template set instead of making my own. Making your own templates is a good thing in general but for a new builder it adds one additional level of complexity that isn’t absolutely required. I learned I could make them but for build #2, I wanted it to be “more precise”. That said, my template maker is very slow, much slower even than his website and business statement would indicate. I like the product but you can’t be in a hurry.

Starting with the Neck

While waiting for templates to be made, I decided to go ahead and work on building the neck. It would have been easier if I had waited, but I didn’t. I started with the template that I had made for the last Tele build and made a new one from it with the Strat headstock. I used this to cut out two maple necks from one board.

Strat Neck Template Enough for two Strat Necks Two Neck Blanks

Shaping the Headstock

Nominal size for the Fender style bolt-on neck is 3/4″ for the maple and 1/4″ for the fingerboard material yielding 1″ total thickness. The headstock is nominally 1/2″ thick with a sloping and/or rounded sloping beginning about 1/2″ past the nut and ending about 1/2″ into the maple. This is place where I screwed up on the last build and I repeated again for this one.

My mistake was to use a router and a straight bit to level the headstock area, leaving the transition to be shaped by hand. My setup was not precise and instead of a clean flat route, I ended up with uneven spots, swirls and gouges. By the time I could level this section it was too thin. The problem with the headstock being too thin is that the tuning machines wouldn’t now fit. Dang it!

On the last build I found some thick washers to use as spacers on the tuning machines. This time I thought I’d “fix it” but making a applying a headstock veneer. In theory this was a reasonable, perhaps even a good idea. In practice I only got it partially right. I should have cut the veneer about 1/2″ thick so that I would have material for the transition (sloped part). I also ended up tearing out a piece when drilling out the tuner holes. It wasn’t that I didn’t know better but I botched it, none the less.

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After successfully resawing and prepping the veneer, I made a mistake drilling out one of the tuner holes and ended up with blowout. Here are a couple of shots of the blowout repair. I stated with a rubbing to visualize the area then cut a piece to “fit”. Well almost…..

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And with the transition area worked.

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Not perfect but decided to move on.

Finger Board

I prepped the finger board as I had previously done with the Tele build. I used my Stewmac fretting saw blade on the table saw and a specially made crosscut sled. In both cases the slots ended up too shallow once I had radiused the surface and once again I deepened them one by one using a thin kerf handsaw. This was a time consuming step that should be unnecessary now that I have modifed my sled to allow the slotting blade to raise higher. For the next build I just need to come up with a magic number of how deeply to cut these slots so they are deep enough after the radius has been sanded into it.

Two 25.5" Finger boards

The board on the left above is Macassar ebony and will be used in this build. The board on the left is cocobolo and will be used on a future, yet to be determined project.

Fret Markers

I repeated the process of making fret dots with my plug cutter. On the last build I made maple plugs but this time I went with black limba, the same as the body and headstock. The difference isn’t striking but I know it’s there.

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Neck Shaping

The neck was shaped by hand primarily using coarse and fine rasps. I’m pretty sure I outlined the general method of marking and cutting facets until the neck shape is rounded and proper thickness in the Tele build. I’ll have to check that. This time I was determined to keep going until the neck was quite a bit thinner than my previous attempt. At this point, I’m pretty happy with it although I’ll give it another check prior to prepping and applying finish.

Strat Neck Shaped

Fretting

So I have reached another screw up point in my build, inserting frets. Last time I didn’t like having to hammer them in so I purchased the fret bit thingy from Stewmac and pressed them in using my drill press. This worked OK actually but I did have a lot of problems due to my POS fret wire bender. I had wire that wasn’t bent enough so it wanted to pop out OR the wire had a twist in it so the fret wasn’t straight and didn’t line up with the slot. Lots of trouble followed by lots of wasted fret wire. I wasn’t happy and ended up having to apply thin super glue to several of them just to keep them down.

Inserting Frets using the Drill Press

I had so much trouble in fact, I may end up removing them all and starting over. Now that they are superglued in place, that would add another level of unnecessary complexity. This neck seems a bit snake bit but it is all part of the overall learning experience. If everyone could do it, it wouldn’t be very interesting to write about now would it.

Stay tune the build continues in Custom Strat Style Build – Part 2 The Body

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