Now that we have the body, we need the neck to go with it! For a Fender style neck we’ll need a piece of maple about 1″ thick surfaced. You’ll also need a fret board. It’s much easier to do the neck with a separate fret board than the single piece neck on vintage Fenders. The familiar skunk stripe down the center of the back is for installation of the truss rod from the back of the neck. Except on vintage 60’s repros, all Fender necks have the rod installed from the back. While this looks pretty cool it takes more complicated jigs and if its a single piece neck the ability to cut the slots in the neck itself.
The easiest and simplest way to do the fret board is to buy it with the radius and slots done by the supplier. They use CNC templates for the slots and the cost is slight compared to the appropriate set up for cutting them in your shop. You can cut the slot by hand with a miter box and back saw of the correct dimensions. For example, if you want a scale of 25 1/2″ you can use what is called the rule of eighteen, or more accurately 17.817. If you take the scale length (in this case 25 1/2″) and divide it by 17.817 you will get the distance from the nut to the first fret. The remaining distance is now divided again by 17.817 and that is the distance from the first to the second. This is done until you have the desired amount of frets. Now you’ll need a good set of calipers to transfer those figures to the board. This is not as easy as it sounds because you must be consistent in your use of the calipers so that you don’t grow or shorten the scale length. Most suppliers will charge less than $10.00 for this service! I use a table saw with a hollow ground blade to .023″ with a jig and templates that are made of polycarbonate, the positions of which are cut with a CNC. I can cut the slots in about 10 minutes but this requires the cash outlay and if you’re only doing a couple of boards a year it doesn’t make sense monetarily.
Most of the remarks on building the body apply to the neck as well. Use a bandsaw to cut the neck to shape and templates to route the final shape with a pattern makers bit. I use a 1/4″ round bottom bit to cut the channel for the truss rod. I make a simple jig that consists of a base longer than the slot will be plus the diameter of the router base times two and another piece glued to the base to act as a fence.
I then do a run with the router just to cut through the base (1/2″ baltic birch plywood works well).
Then I mark my maple neck for the truss rod and using double stick carpet tape, attach the jig to the neck using the slot you just cut in the jig as reference. Make sure to measure the rod’s thickness. If it’s a double action truss rod (recommended) just measure the depth of the rod and route to that. If it’s single action, you will need to go to about an 1/8″ from the bottom of the neck. The deeper the rod is in the neck the better it will work (single action only, of course). Fender rods are curved deeper in the center than at the ends, so the easiest way to do this is to cut the slot at a consistent depth and make maple filet pieces that are cut to the curve and installed so that the fatter pieces are at each end.
As a note: When I’m routing the slot I don’t take the full cut but do it in increments of about 1/8″ at a time. Maple is hard and it’s possible you could break the bit or at the very least, have a rough trough.
Next week: part 2.