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Threaded Inserts for Fender Guitar Neck

So I have this Lake Placid Blue Telecaster body and a maple neck.  And a bunch of parts.  I'm going to build put together a Telecaster!

I have some incredible Marc Rutters hardware that I'm replacing the stock hardware with.

You may also be surprised to read that I'm going to make some changes to the electronics too.

However, first things first.

I put threaded inserts on all my bolt-on neck guitars.  Leo Fender originally used wood screws on the Tele and subsequent guitars because it was effective and inexpensive to build.

Over time though, the wood screws have a tendency to strip out.  Enter the inserts.

On the right, we have a stock Fender neck "bolt."  It's actually a wood screw, but it gets called a bolt.

And on the left we have a machine screw (which is technically a bolt...go figure) we'll be using with the inserts.

By comparison, the wood screw looks a bit crude to me.

I've done this enough times that I've made a simple jig to hold Fender-style necks (or actual Fender necks...) squarely in place to be drilled for the inserts.

The inserts must go in square and level.  Period.  If the insert is mounted on an angle, it most likely will not work.

My jig is really just a piece of pine with some vertical "walls" to hold the neck square.  I use a couple of clamps to keep it in place.

If you look closely, you'll see a cedar shim (like a cabinet installer would use) stuck under the first fret to help level the neck in the horizontal plane.

I use a small level to ensure it's...well, level.  By adjusting the shim under the end of the neck as needed we can get it perfectly level.

There are probably more sophisticated ways of doing this, but this jig and method work well for me.

This is the next step in the process.  We'll be using a 6mm drill to make a hole for the insert to go it to.

It's essential that the drill goes exactly into the center of the existing screw holes.  If it's off by much at all, the bolt won't line up with the insert.

I use a 5/32 drill bit in the drill press to align the hole with the press.   The bit fits exactly into the hole.  I don't drill anything, I use use the bit as an alignment guide, or pin.   The metric equivalent is 3.9688mm; I think a 4mm bit would be perfect also.

Now, being careful not to shift anything on the jig or the drill press table, we put the proper size bit into the press and drill our holes.  The inserts you use will indicate the size of bit you need.

The inserts I use require a 6mm hole.  However, a 1/4 hole will work also - 1/4 is just a tiny bit (get it?  Bit!) larger.  If you don't have a 6mm, a 1/4 will work fine.

(Get this: I just looked these up on the McMaster-Carr web site and it indicates the hole required is 15/64...but the package I have says 6mm.  I think any of those sizes will work - they're all extremely close.  Since they're going into wood you have a tiny bit of leeway.)

Here I am drilling the first hole.  You'll see that I put a piece of tape on the bit to use as a depth gauge.  The heel of the neck is pretty thick, but you shouldn't just wing it!  You don't want to drill through the fingerboard.

Then we repeat the process for the other holes.  It's tedious, but again, you need to be precise in aligning and drilling the holes.

I use a little Pro-Cut to lubricate the threads on the inserts, and then screw them in.  A bit of wax will work fine too.  I just use Pro-Cut since I have it for my blades and files.

Don't be alarmed if you have a bit of chipping - the hole in the front got chipped out some when I drilled it.  No big deal.

We need to screw the inserts in so they are level with, or just below the surface of the wood.   If they stick up, the neck won't mount flush to the body.

Some notes about the type of inserts to use:  I've used stainless inserts and brass inserts with more threads than these, but I've switched over to these zinc alloy inserts for all my builds.

They go in much easier than stainless, having less threads also makes them go in easier, and finally, these inserts have a hex drive which is the best way to drive them in.  I get them from McMaster-Carr.

If you want to use stainless, or have more threads, go for it.  But I've used them all and these are the easiest to install.  Once that thing's bolted together, it's not coming apart in any event.  I don't think the material or the number of threads on the inserts is too critical.  Just my opinion. 

Here are the bolts in place.  They're square - the 24mm lens I'm using makes them look a little distorted.

The bolts are stainless steel oval heads.  Leo Fender liked oval head bolts, and I can see why.  They look great.

Then I did a quick bolt-up to make sure everything was aligned.  The bolts went in perfectly with no issues at all.

You can really torque these puppies down - some people claim the inserts and subsequent improvement in tightness of the joint improves sustain.  I'm not so sure about that, but I do like the peace of mind of having the thing put together as tightly as possible with no possibility of the screws coming loose.


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