Olly’s Red Strat

I made this guitar entirely from a plank of broadleaf maple that I acquired from my friend and exceptional acoustic builder, Barry Kerr, probably the best part of 15 years ago.

As has happened on a regular basis since, I found myself without a “demonstration guitar” and decided to build a Strat, entirely out of nicely figured maple- the body, neck and fretboard, all out of the same piece of wood. What could go wrong?

On the Red Strat, I’ve used the same neck fastening system that I’ve since used on the Radiomasters- stainless steel bolts screwing into threaded steel inserts that give a really solid  neck to body join.

So I figured that any flexibility that may have been present could be taken care of by either the truss rod or the neck adjustment system…

When the guitar was finished, it was done using transparent two pack and I fitted a set of Fender Texas Specials and an American Wilkinson trem with Graphtec saddles.

Now, the Strat really looked the goods and I loved the sound of those Texas Specials, but pull back on the neck and it was possible to have the strings lay flat against the frets…

I thought that appearance was the main consideration and if you didn’t pull on the neck, everything was fine. However, a customer really took a fancy to the Red Strat and it was sold. But a year or so later, when he ordered an archtop from me, he asked if I would accept the Red Strat as a trade-in, to which I agreed.

I played the guitar myself for a year or so until Olly said that he’d like to buy it. It would sort of stay local because he was the guitar player in our “office band” and so it changed hands again.

Ten years or so later, it is about to become the property of Olly and Ally’s son Rick and so Olly gave it to me for a refurbishment. The frets were well worn and I decided that a fret replacement was the go.

When the frets were pulled out, the neck quite happily went back to neutral which is what I would hope for but doesn’t always happen…

Anyway, the Red Strat was completely refretted using the same fretwire as before and the frets levelled, reshaped and polished.

So far, so good.

But when I put new strings on, the top frets all fretted out. A quick look down the frets clearly showed a bad case of the dreaded Rising Tongue Syndrome. This is something that arises with some acoustics, but also bolt-on neck electrics- for no particular reason other than a guitar repairer’s life isn’t meant to be easy.

No, it’s seems to be a result of the section of the fretboard that is above the actual neck being subject to different factors that allow the fretboard tongue to move as a result of humidity, timber shrinkage or expansion or perhaps string tension and it means that the tongue- (the section of fretboard beyond the neck)- is no longer in line with the fretboard that runs along the neck and becomes higher, or “rising”.

And exactly that same phenomenon has happened here. For no particular reason, when I was making this guitar, I thought “I know- I’ll make it 23 frets”…and that may not have been a really good idea because of the flexible nature of the timber used. The problem now is that only 21 frets are actually on the neck. The others sit on the unsupported end of the fretboard, in mid-air. But when I take the strings off, everything returns to straight again. Very odd.

After some serious pondering, it seemed that I needed to be able to adjust the fret heights as they are when the neck is under tension, but of course the strings then get in the way. But what was needed was something like the StewMac neck jig that I have seen in my StewartMacDonald catalogues for some ten or fifteen years.

On looking it up on StewMac’s website- (http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Jigs/Erlewine_Neck_Jig.html)- it was going to be a very expensive fix if I purchased the Erlewine jig…

So…I made my own version. Not quite as elaborate, but fortunately, just as effective.

Comparing the two, I’ve only supported the neck with two adjustable supports and I’ve done away with placing the body on stilts, and instead clamped it directly onto the cork tile-padded mdf.

The headstock is rigidly held down using a fabricated clamp and the headstock is placed into appropriate tension by this device…

…an adjuster from a router.

The StewMac device uses dial gauges so that the tensioned neck can be duplicated. I pondered on that for a while before I opted instead for tuning the guitar to pitch with the strings on and then fitting the guitar into the jig and adjusting the clamps so that the guitar’s tuning was maintained .  That has to replicate the neck under string tension. With the strings removed, what was happening became abundently clear…

Where the fretboard had distorted became clearly obvious when my straight-edge was placed along the fret tops.

So the excess height in the top 5 or 6 frets is now removed…

…and the frets reshaped and repolished.


With the masking tape peeled off, the strings are re-installed and…

…everything is right where it should be. I can actually set the action even lower than Fender’s recommended 2mm at the seventeenth fret.

A very satisfying outcome.

And here’s something I should have done all those years ago- take a photo or two of Olly’s Red Strat…