Hi, and welcome to RobbieCalvoGuitar.com’s new blog series, “Your Personal Guitar Tech” and my name’s Will Kelly. I’m a monthly columnist for Vintage Guitar Magazine, and operate the “Hard Knocks Guitar Shop”.
Neck Relic Fretboard Shot
We’ve all played an old Fender guitar, and absolutely fell in love with the feel of the neck. Upon closer inspection the reasons become obvious: the grey worn areas that just fell so comfortably into our hands, the yellowed lacquer and the silky but not sticky, feel to the neck. Well, here’s how to get that same effect from a new neck, without waiting 50 years!
Neck Relic Skunk Stripe
This is a standard, Strat style neck with a ‘skunk’ stripe made of walnut inlaid over the truss rod, maple with an Indian rosewood fingerboard with a 9” radius and 6105 frets. The entire neck has been finished in clear nitro lacquer first. I let this cure for about ten days so it will react properly to ageing techniques.
2) Now, utilizing an assortment of scraping tools I slowly remove the glossy finish from the rear of the neck. Pay close attention to how your hand fits the neck when in a playing position, and accentuate the finish removal in those places first. For example, there’s usually not as much wear on the bass side of the rear of the first fret position, but rather more on the treble side.
Neck Relic Prep
That’s because your thumb rarely rests on the side of the first fret position. So, mimic those physical tendencies with your own wear patterns. I use a woodworker’s knife to slowly scrape away the nitro finish, then progress to a razor blade to smooth out the raw wood areas, and finally end up using a fine grade steel wool to smooth the rear surface of the neck to a nice, satiny finish. You should have a mix of raw wood areas and areas where the nitro finish is still clinging to the wood.
Neck Relic Supplies
Here are the things you’ll need, in order to undertake this ageing process. In a small glass container, pour a couple of ounces of Lacquer thinner, and mix in a few drops of black lacquer paint. I use lacquer tints from Stewart McDonald, which come in all different shades. With a rag, wipe on the black tinted thinner, paying careful attention to the raw wood areas. You don’t want to oversaturate the raw wood to the point where the coloring gets too dark. You want to shoot for a light grey color with hints of the raw wood’s natural tones still showing through. Between coats, use an ultra fine grade steel wool to smooth out the finish. The thinner will ‘raise the grain’ on the raw wood areas, and rubbing them down with steel wool smooths out the wood fibers again. Run the steel wool lengthwise up and down the rear of the neck (but don’t sand the rear of the headstock) and stop at the nut in an uneven, ragged line. Follow this same technique at the butt end of the neck, where the flat portion of the neck block starts on the heel.
Neck Relic Nearly Complete
After the last buffing, I use some tinted amber lacquer to add ‘age’ and depth to the finish. Use this very sparingly, only as a light shading coat rather than a thick glossy finish coat. That’s going to come next. Remember, layering the ‘dirt’ and sweat stains is much more authentic looking than just globing it on in one pass. Take your time, and be conservative with all the tints you apply.
5) Once you’ve gotten the neck looking and feeling like you want, it’s time to seal the wood back…I use two very thin coats of clear nitro lacquer with each coat followed by a buffing out with OOOO steel wool.
Neck Relic Complete
The purpose of the final coats is to seal the pores of the ‘raw wood’ areas to keep out moisture and real dirt. In time, if you play the neck enough, the wear areas will just get even more authentic looking, and even better feeling to the hands. This is a cool way to customize a new guitar, and help ‘break it in’ faster for your personal enjoyment. This technique is not reversible, so don’t go trying this on your new $4k PRS. Practice on a cheap guitar, then start modding your new Stratocaster!