At work there are a good amount of Electric guitars and basses that have the bridge saddles jammed to the bottom with high action. There is some plastic shim stock here. Can I just use this plastic to shim these? Considering what I have at my disposal here, this seems like the only option. I did one on a mediocre bass and it worked. Acceptable? How will this affect tone and sustain? I am more of an acoustic guy so, I am just wondering what you all think and feel about it.
Tom is right on this one Ned. Any change that cannot be reversed on a "vintage" or destined to be "vintage" instrument will or could greatly diminish the present or future value greatly. The difference between correctly reseting an acoustic neck and recutting an electric neck pocket is that you loose important information, as in date stamps, signatures, other factory markings, or evidence of original finish, that can be verified by removing several screws. An acoustic neck, properly reset doesn't "look" any different than original.
Milling, filing, scraping, gouging, all break the paint edge at the side and end of the neck pocket which exposes bare wood to the elements and everything else that happens by. It also promotes the standard crack on the treble side from the corner of the pocket.
Strangely, the advocates of removing the lacquer from the pocket and milling an angle neglect to advise to remove the thickish lacquer form the neck base which sort of negates the pocket work as far as wood on wood contact for an elusive iota of sustain goes.
The Fender micro tilt adjustment system does not use shims and part of the tone set on Strats is the bolt on gig with all its technical crudity - so I'm not inclined to do anything but lightly shim the pocket with some hardwood veneer if I need some better geometry. A tapered shim is optimum but a skinny shim at the bridge end of the pocket usually does the trick.
Cutting up an instrument on the basis of internet folk lore and popular opinion doesn't gel with me much these days.
Of course no one would do this to a valuable vintage piece as, in the vintage world, ORIGINALITY is everything. It's also been my experience that 'serious collectors' are not passionate about playability. The ones with the deepest pockets never even play the instruments.
I think that Leo is rolling in his grave laughing about all of this. His primary purpose in the design of Fender solid bodies, AFTER ease of manufacturing, was the ability to replace, not repair, parts as needed. The necks were to be replaced when they needed a fret job, and all the hardware was easily accessible and replaceable (except for that darned Am. Std. locking bridge). It sure didn't work out that way (: And, the factory used a dense fiber-stock as shim-stock. Their ONLY criteria was: cut it so it doesn't stick out of the neck pocket.
Personal experience report: Other than making the guitar eminently more playable, I've not detected an improvement or degradation of sound/sustain when shimming or removing shims. My only criteria for a shim is that it will NOT compress, so tape, cardboard etc., are out.
There's also a direct relationship among the bridge saddle height and the need to shim/not to shim the neck. This is overlooked way too often. I've found that having a proper break angle on the strings behind the saddle affects sustain more than shims. I've seen some guitars with very high saddles (and extreme break angles that cause tuning issues) or very low saddles (which don't supply adequate downward pressure on the saddles, therefore killing any chance of sustain.).
The process of shimming a neck is a combination of the proper thickness shim (or no shim at all) and getting the bridge set up correctly. Emphasis on getting the bridge set up correctly.
"Cutting up an instrument on the basis of internet folk lore and popular opinion doesn't gel with me much these days.". Right on, Rusty. Heck, it makes me downright angry. And....there's WAY too much of it out there today. I find the biggest offenders to be the Les Paul forum and the Tele forum. Some of the stuff they suggest and/or do is simply....stupid....for a lack of a more accurate term.
It seems that all of the "theoretical" perfectionism regarding guitar setups (and gear in general) is being promoted by what I call the "Bedroom Coalition" Those are the players who buy stupidly priced relic'd guitars and $3.5K, 5 watt amps and play nowhere but their bedrooms or living rooms.
Perfection is a lofty and at best, temporary, goal. Even NASA knows that it's impossible. That's why I only guarantee my setup work until "your next string change". Seems that 95% of all guitarists, regardless of talent, do a poor to a piss poor job of installing strings. But I digress.
I wish that players would worry less about having a 'perfect' instrument and concentrate on learning how to tune their instrument and then play in tune. No matter how perfectly the guitar is set-up, if it's not in tune, it'll sound like crap (:
An old friend just dropped off a very nice 1999 Strat '57 reissue in Fiesta Red. Pulled off the neck and a cardboard shim fell out. The owner is a good friend and I was with him when he bought this guitar new. I know he didn't put it in. He's complained about this guitar since new...weird high pitched overtones on the first string. I thought it was the nut, but it's spot on. No loose frets. The pickups were randomly adjusted including one too high...magnets could be pulling it sharp.
Anyway...after leveling the frets I put it back together and restrung and, guess what, the neck is overset. With the bridge all the way up and the tremolo pulling a full 1/2" off the body the strings are sitting on the fretboard. I really can't believe Fender let one of these expensive reissues leave the factory this way.
So I'm wondering whether to correct the neck pocket, make a full pocket shim. I'll call Fender. They have a lifetime warranty on manufacturing defects.
Well they probably put that shim in at the factory, it is common practice to shim strat necks to get the correct angle. You should tighten up the two screws on the spring claw enough to get that 1/2" down to about 1/8" tuned to pitch then correct the neck angle. You'll have to loosen the strings, tighten the screws, tune and repeat till to get that 1/8" tilt off the body. Once you get that right next is the neck angle. If the strings were sitting on the fret board then the neck is tilting much too far back. Either the neck pocket is not square (way out) or the back of the neck heel is not parallel to fret board or not flat. I never saw a Fender that needed that much shimming but I guess, it's possible. You could make a shim or use painters blue tape but being that far out of specs is rare. Get a straight edge about 24" long, put the neck in the pocket, holding it tight put the straight edge on the frets and slide it toward the bridge. When it gets to the bridge it should be about 1/16 to 1/8 inch below the bridge (bridge set in the middle of adjustments). That's about the correct angle before the strung-up. If the straight edge goes over the top as possible in your case, you'll need to put the tape on the back of the neck under the two front screws holes. Any more then three or four layers of tape is too much and you'll have to flatten the neck pocket or you'll have a big gap showing when you string up. Seems to me the neck, or neck pocket is out parallel with each other and you'll have to take some wood off the proper area, usually it's the neck pocket, you should be able to see the problem by eye if that much out.
Thanks for the advice, Allan!
I know Fender, like every manufacturer, has tolerances either side of the spec. I thought this one was just too far out to have left the factory. So, after you concurred, I took the neck off and put on my Optivisor at it's highest power and scanned the neck pocket. Sure enough, there was a minute shelf at the end of the neck pocket that is almost invisible to the eye because of the mottling. I took a chisel, cleanly chopped it out, put the neck back on and it seated itself perfectly. Now just the usual Strat trem adjustment.
One for the books.
I've seen a few (like maybe 4) like that over the decades and corrected the situation exactly as you did. It's a rare flaw but it's now something I routinely check for on every 'bolt-on' that I work on.
Good work, man & have a great week :)