Home > Lutherie > Custom Strat Style Build – Part 4 Assembly

Custom Strat Style Build – Part 4 Assembly


The traditional finish for solid body electric guitars has always been nitrocellulose lacquer. Although there are advantages to applying lacquer there are also many disadvantages for hobby and small shop builders. Lacquer is highly flammable and toxic to breath. It also requires a rather toxic lacquer thinner for clean-up. With so many modern finishes available today I have side-stepped the problem and opted to use a water-based poly. Much less toxic to breath and clean-up is easy with tap water. Like lacquer, water-based poly dries extremely quickly so you can get “build” relatively quickly. For the neck I used, Tru-Oil with the exception of the headstock where I also applied water-based poly. I did this to add a bit more protection for the headstock veneer.

   Headstock Veneer


Although the heavy lifting had been completed on this build there were still a few details that needed my attention. The pickup and control cavities were lined with conductive copper tape in the manner of my last build, the Telecaster style guitar. It is almost guaranteed that you will slice your finger at least once during this process as the tape is made of metal and the edges can be like a razor. This usually happens as you attempt to smooth out the bubbles. With care, cuts can be minimized.

Using my cavity routing template I began by tracing and cutting out pieces for the bottom of the cavities. Next I lined the walls. I cut a length of tape slight wider than the cavity depth so that I had a bit of overlap with the bottom piece and small lip on the top. The latter would provide connectivity with the shielded pickguard providing full isolation. It is desirable to a) make it neat with b) using as little tape as necessary but it is really hard to do it wrong. The main consideration is make sure all the shielding is overlapped so that it is all electrically connected. I used my meter to measure conductivity throughout the process.

There are also two additional isolated areas for consideration, the jack cavity and the bridge.

The foil in the jack cavity will be grounded when the jack/jack plate are contacting the lip of the cavity shielding.

Connecting the isolated metal bridge is another story. First, a connecting tunnel had to be “blindly” drilled between the bridge area and the control cavity. I purchased an extended-length (~18″) 1/8″ drill bit for this purpose. You can’t exactly drill horizontally between cavities but the extra long bit allows you to lay the bit down closure to the body without the drill getting in the way. To protect the body I cut a 4″ length of 1/4″ pvc pipe and inserted the bit through it to help control the bit angle an provide a barrier between the spinning bit and the body. Once I had finalized the location, I selected an area underneath the bridge where a wire could make good contact when screwed to the body. I drilled from this location toward the control cavity in as horizontal a path as possible and I still came through towards the bottom of the cavity. This part of the build really frightens me. On the Tele build, I drilled through the back of the body and I wasn’t happy about that.

With the hole drilled, I ran a piece of braided wire (any wire would do) through the 1/8″ tunnel and tacked it on both ends with solder to the copper shielding.  I tried to make sure the braid was affixed in an out-of-the-way location so it didn’t interfere with the pickguard and jack wiring.

Fretting & Nut Shaping

Before I could play my new instrument I had some things to sort out. I had to fabricate a nut. I started with a pre-shaped nut and sanded the sides to fit. String notches had been started and I used my slotting files to deepen them.

Something's Missing

People routinely tell you that you can make many of your own luthier tools and jigs and this is absolutely true…. but….. You might sometimes find that the tool you have fabricated isn’t quite right. If you couple this with inexperience you can sometimes run in to trouble. This happened to me fretting my instrument. I’m not experienced to begin with and I have had a number of problems getting it right. First off my fret slotting table saw sled wasn’t allowing me to get my fret slots deep enough which meant they were too shallow after I had put the radius on the fretboard. Deepening them by hand turned out to be time-consuming and potentially dangerous if the saw slipped out of the kerf. I have now addressed this for future builds but this neck was already assembled.

My next goof was using the fret leveling beam where I was too aggressive in my attempt to get everything level. I did my best and even polished up all the frets but at the end of the I wasn’t happy with the job. Reluctantly, I decided to pull the frets and start over. I purchased a fret puller and guard and this definitely helped but ultimately I did have some chip out. Would have been better to not have to have done this but at the same time, it allowed me to learn something new. If you have never experienced it, you can’t really learn about it.

Drill Press w/ Fret Press Caul

My re-fret was more successful than the first and I also did a better job crowning the frets with a new tool, the Z-file. I have been polishing frets to a nice shine using a Dremel with a buffing wheel and green polishing compound.

Refret Complete


Until you actually undertake a project like this, you really can’t appreciate the immense number of details that have to be overcome. Along the way I have had to repair a chunk in the body, make a headstock veneer to fix the headstock being planed too thin, then repair the veneer which I subsequently damaged, snug up a loose tuning machine hole, deepen fret slots by hand, re-fret the fingerboard, repair the tear out from removing the first frets,  level a high fret, fix a couple poor solder joints and the list goes on. Thank goodness, everything went WELL!

In the end, I love the process. I’ve learned a great deal, my skills have improved and I look forward to making fewer and hopefully different mistakes on my future builds!

Custom Strat

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