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Fender Strat Neck Joint Failure

6/10/08

1.0 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg 1.1 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill 3 bolt neck.jpg
1. This 1979 Fender Stratocaster is a high mileage guitar. During the course of a refret, I discovered that the neck bolt mounting holes in the heel of the neck were starting to strip. 2. Properly Remounting the Neck to the body will require a deceptively simple operation. I’ll have to plug and redrill the mounting holes in the back of the neck’s heel.
1.2 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill remove neck.jpg 1.4 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill remove strat neck.jpg
3. Removing the Neck is pretty straight forward. I removed the strings and clamped the neck to the body with a bar clamp (with rubber- padded jaws). Now I’m backing out the neck bolts. Strats of this era have only 3 neck “bolts”. The neck is actually mounted to the body with 2 wood screws and one machine screw. 4. Removing the Neck Cont. With the neck bolts removed, I’m gently rocking the neck back until the heel is clear of the neck pocket. The wood screws grip the internal walls of two pilot holes that were drilled into the maple whereas the machine screw is threaded into the boss of a metal disc that’s embed- ded into the heel of the neck. The problem here is that the mounting holes for the wood screws have begun to strip.
1.5 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg 1.6 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg
5. Leveling the Drill Press Vice. Since the neck bolt pilot holes must be square to the heel of the neck, I’ll secure the neck into a drill press vice in preparation for drilling out the heel with the drill press. I’ve put a mini-level onto the vice’s jaw and slipped a wedge under one side of the vice in order to level the vice. Now I’m marking the wedge with a pencil so I can easily re-level the vice on my bench once I’ve clamped up the neck. 6. Securing the Neck for Drilling in the vice. Now that the vice is level I can level the neck in the vice. I would simply shim the vice on the drill press except propping up the vice with a wedge would prove un- stable during actual drilling. In order to protect the sides of the neck pocket I’ve padded the vice’s jaws with rubberized cork.
1.7 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg 1.8 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg
7. Marking the Drill Bit for Depth. I don’t want to drill out the pilot holes any deeper than necessary for the plugs so I’ve marked the drill bit with masking tape. 8. Drilling out the Heel on the drill press.
1.9 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg 2.0 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg
9. Laying out the Plug. I’ll use a compass to score a circle into the maple plug stock. Then I’ll mark the indentation with pencil lead. I usually have a few maple plug blanks laying around just for this purpose. I’ll be sure to cut the plug so as to match the face grain orientation of the neck. To ensure maximum strength, the plug blanks are quarter-sawn. 10. Trimming one Corner of the Plug-Stock with a chisel will expedite the process of “turning” the plug. I would trim all of the corners down, however, I’ll want those 3 corners to hang on to with my fingers. One might ask, “Why not plug the enlarged mounting holes with a dowel?” Be- cause the wood screws wouldn’t be able to properly grab the walls of pilot holes drilled into end-grain.
2.1 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg 2.2 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg
11. “Turning” the Plugs on a disc- sander. In order to get in close for detailed work, I filled in the corrugated surface of the shop’s disc-sander bed with epoxy. I’ve adjusted the bed angle to 3 degrees in order to give the plug a slight taper. Once I can get the plug to begin to dry fit into the enlarged hole in the neck’s heel, I’ll widdle the plug down with a violin maker’s knife and small mill file until the plug fits snug all the way to the bottom of the hole. 12. Gluing the Plugs with hide glue. Hide glue is a great choice for the plugs because it holds up under an instrument’s string tension so well. Although I was able to muscle the plugs in by hand during the dry fit, the hide glue (which is water based) slightly expands the end-grain of both the plug and the inside of the hole making for a really tight fit. I pushed the plugs in as far as I could by hand and now I’m using a mallet to very lightly tap the plug home.
2.3 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg 2.5 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg
13. Trimming the Plugs Flush with a very sharp chisel should be done after the glue has cured (about 24 hours) after glue up. 14. Marking the Heel for Drilling. I’ve secured the neck with the machine screw in place and a bar clamp. I checked to make sure the neck was laterally aligned for proper string balance. Now I’m lightly taping the screws with a mallet. The tips of the wood screws will leave small impres- sions on the plugs’ exposed surfaces. I’ll highlight these impressions with an awl for precision drilling.
2.6 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg 2.7 1979 fender strat loose neck bolt plug and redrill.jpg
15. Drilling the New Pilot Holes with the drill press is done in the same fashion as steps 5-8. 16. A Secure Neck Joint.