Luthier? I hardly know her! Part 2
Posted on July 17, 2014 | By ebassford
As soon as I started this project, the simple task of attaching my fancy new tuners to the headstock proved beyond me. I was frustrated: three of them fit just fine, and one just wouldn’t go. I could see that the bushing was not totally flush with the headstock, and I feared I had rendered the tuner inoperable by exercising poor wrench technique and stripping the threads. I stupidly went so far as to order an additional tuner from the manufacturer. Same problem. What gives?
What I did next, and should have done initially, was consult forums to see if other users had experienced the same issue. Of course they had, and the solution was simple: I just had to contact the manufacturer and request longer bushings. My headstock is thicker than the standard Fender design, and the stock parts didn’t fit, but if you buy a set of tuners Hipshot will just send you the longer version. Free of charge, shipping and all. Already I have wasted money on something I don’t need. But whatever, fuck it, I’m not doing this to make money. Anybody need a single Hipshot Ultralite bass tuner? Get at me.
Once I finally got the parts I needed, installation was a breeze. Each tuner just requires tightening with a wrench and the drilling of one hole. I used a straightedge to line up the tuners, drilled the hole, and tightened the nut on one side and the screw on the other side. Final tightening of the nut caused each peg to rotate ever so slightly, ruining my perfect alignment, but it’s only noticeable up close and I don’t have a real workbench or anything and I’m going to give myself a break on this one. They look good and feel sturdy. I have a few more things to do before I can put the neck back on and see how they actually work. I did finally succeed in adjusting the heavily-stuck truss rod, which assuages my fear that it may have been broken. I won’t be able to see the effect of this change until I put the whole thing back together. I am debating whether to take the truss rod nut out and oil it so it will be easier to adjust in the future, or just be happy it works and not push my luck.
The part that will take the longest is the finish, and it’ll be easier to do with the bass disassembled, so I decided to start on that next. I have to sand off the finish at the back of the neck with increasingly fine grains of sandpaper, finishing it off with steel wool. This process was initially stymied by the fact that I do all debris-generating work on my balcony, and the day I started was pouring rain. So I only got the first round of sanding done. I’d like to sand off all this hideous old finish on the whole instrument, but doing so would compromise the wonderful headstock logo that made me want to buy it in the first place. So I’m going to do a strictly functional job on the neck to make the back smoother to play, and leave the headstock alone.
Look at that shine. Awesome. Compare that to the ugly yellowish tinge of the headstock. It’s amazing how much nicer bare wood is than a thick, cheap finish.
There is still much to do, and many decisions to make. I am still bothered by the ugly glossy finish on the fingerboard, and the internet tells me the best way to do this is to scrape between the frets with a utility blade. But I like the big square fret markers, and the fact that I can see the wood grain through them tells me they are painted on rather than actually inlaid into the wood like on a nicer instrument. So do I try to scrape around them, which I know I will screw up because they have rounded edges and I have average fine motor skills? Do I sacrifice them completely and do without fret markers? Do I consider painting on new ones? If I’m painting on new ones I could do something cool with shapes or material. There are a lot of possibilities, and whatever I do has to look good with the body. I’m still not sure about the body. I want to do something with it, Flip, who does all the Bassford family guitar maintenance, tells me I should invest in a cabinet scraper instead of sanding by hand. Using a scraper seems like one of those substantive woodworking skills that might be beyond me without some actual training, and maintaining a scraper is way more involved than I had realized. And I shouldn’t redo the whole body, because I want it to match the headstock at least a little bit, and the headstock has to stay the way it is. I will probably puzzle through the scraping by trial and error and refinish an artfully-determined section of it with this nice walnut stain I got as part of my gun maintenance kit. Yep, you read that right. According to Flip, Tru-Oil is the best way to refinish a body and neck (but not a fingerboard) that doesn’t require the spraying of toxic chemicals. Tru-Oil is designed for wooden gun stocks, and apparently works great on guitars too. I ordered this kit which also includes a bunch of other things needed for finishing. But for now, sanding is fucking exhausting, and I am calling it a day. In our next installment, we’ll be finishing the back of the neck and maybe doing some other stuff. I’ll also finally be buying a pair of safety goggles so I can shape the body with my Dremel without flinging fine sawdust directly into my eyes. You know, like the pros.