Friday, 9 January 2015

Black Ash Telecaster: Shimming the Neck

After a few weeks of playing my Black Ash Telecaster, despite loving the sound and the action, there were a couple of issues that I wanted to fix to improve the overall playing experience. It was high time that I got this baby back on the workbench!

First of all, the expensive Bourne mini-pots that I bought for this project not only stick out from the control plate too far (they have no second nut to adjust their height) the tone pot has busted completely and now turns of its own volition 360 degrees. What a piece of shit. Never gonna go there again!

Secondly, and more importantly, (i mean who touches the volume and tone anyway? ha!), whilst the action I was able to achieve on the guitar is very satisfying, it came at the expense of very low saddles at the bridge. These very low saddles meant that their height adjustment screws stuck up so far that I kept scratching my hand on them every time I tried to palm mute the strings.

Low Bridge saddles means high adjustment screws. Ouch!
And so, the solution to this little issue, of course, is to shim the neck to bring the default height of the bridge saddles up!

Shimming the neck is really very easy. The first step is to cut a piece of shimming material. Depending on how much you need to raise the heel of the neck, you can use many different materials, from a piece of wood veneer, to a sheet of paper, or anything that isn't going to compress easily. In my case I like to use a piece of milk-bottle plastic. It's about as thick as a business card, it's very stiff and it won't compact under pressure. I cut the material to fit the neck heel and make it small enough so that it can't be seen from the open side of the neck.

Step 1: Plastic shimming material, cut to size.
The second step is to unscrew the neck completely. There is no need to remove the strings, just loosen them right off. You only need the strings loose enough to allow the neck heel to come away from the body.

Step 2: Neck is removed with the strings still connected to the bridge.
Next, with the screws sticking out a little into the neck pocket, press the shim onto the screws so that they push through the material and hold it. When I use plastic like this, I also like to take the shim back off and use a razor blade to trim off the plastic sticking up around the holes I just made. This makes it a lot easier to get your neck sitting flat again in the pocket.

Step 3: Push the screws through the shim to create the holes.
Lastly, screw the neck back on with the shim in place. Be careful to screw each of the neck bolts down evenly (a little at a time) to make sure the neck heel sits flat. When you finally tighten the screws, do the non-shimmed end first to make sure these are on the deck before tightening the shimmed end. If you don't, you might find the neck sitting up further in the pocket than your shim intended.

Problem: The neck is sitting further up at the heel than the shim intended.
With the shimming process complete, I needed only to adjust the height of the saddles to get the action back into sweet, sweet, sweet territory. Now the saddle height is such that the adjustment screws are only just peeking out of the top. 

The adjustment screws are now at a comfortable height.
My killer Ash Telecaster is now even more comfortable to play and I couldn't be happier! Now to give those Bourne pots a good going over. That's a few bucks I'll never see again!