Tech Talk: How to level a Telecaster neck pocket
Believe it or not, I do sometimes work on ‘traditional’ instruments, and my good friend Conor’s Thinline Telecaster reissue certainly qualifies… mostly. Conor is one of my favourite guitarists in my area: he’s an incredibly skilled tapper, purveyor of tongue-in-cheek melodic metal, and a fellow treble-hater like myself (we’re big fans of dark-sounding amplifiers).
READ MORE: Tech Talk: How I learned to stop worrying and love fretwork
Conor brought his Tele to me for a basic setup, but once I had a good look at the thing, it turned into much more. Its one-inch thick Warmoth neck had a few playability problems that turned out to be due to the stainless steel frets popping out of their slots, which had to be pressed back into place and re-levelled. That bit was straightforward, but what wasn’t was an issue with the neck pocket.
As a fan of skinny ‘60s necks, this Warmoth replacement is anything but!
At first glance, the neck didn’t appear to be properly mated to the body, with a gap between the pocket and neck heel that could be seen with the naked eye. So wide was the gap that I could hold a light on one side and see it shining through on the other. This isn’t good for transference or for stability, and a gap like that could cause problems down the road if, say, moisture became trapped there which might cause the neck to warp.
Once I had the neck off, it was clear to me that the main cause of this issue was that the holes drilled for the neck screws were undersized, which allowed the screws to grip the body. Ideally, the screws should pass through the body easily, gripping the neck only; as is, the screws tighten down to the body first, which leaves a gap. The fix here is a simple matter of drilling out those holes to a larger size, but first there’s another problem that needs correcting: the neck pocket itself.
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Mind the gap! (I’m sorry, I am American)
When light passes through you know you’ve a big problem. He’s been playing it like this for years!
Drilling out the holes for the neck screws
Checking my work. The screws now pass through easily but the holes aren’t oversized – I don’t want them shifting around!
Using the Fret Rocker to check the neck pocket for level…
…and it isn’t at all!
The neck, however, is perfectly flat
Introducing: Pocket Buddy!
Stikit Gold paper is one of those materials that comes in handy for almost every sort of job.
Upon removing the neck, something just did not look right, so I used my StewMac Fret Rocker to check the pocket floor for level. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s not flat at all. Rocking the tool back and forth shows off the curve, and that’s no good for a solid neck-to-body fit.
I can’t say for certain that this neck pocket is 100 per cent the same as it was when left the Fender Mexico factory, as the body had to be altered to accept the four-bolt Warmoth neck it now wears (this model originally had a three-bolt configuration with the Micro Tilt feature).
Paper applied to the Pocket Buddy (patent pending)
Correcting this means flattening the neck pocket entirely, which took a little more effort and necessitated the creation of what I’ll be calling a ‘Pocket Buddy.’ I fashioned my Pocket Buddy from a block of leftover wood from a previous job. I traced the shape of the Warmoth neck heel onto the wood, then cut out the rough shape using a bandsaw. I brought the wood block down to the correct shape on a belt sander, making sure to flatten out the bottom for a precision surface for the next step.
I then used a strip of wonderful Stikit Gold adhesive sandpaper, 400-grit in this case, to line that surface. The plan here is to use my Pocket Buddy, sized appropriately for the neck pocket, to level out the bottom of the rout to really shore up the fit. I could have used a router, but with the small amount of material to be removed I felt that might be overkill.
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A few quick strokes to gauge my progress
And then a few more
Checking my work
I’m still seeing light pass beneath the Rocker so I’ll have to keep going
Neck pocket level and smooth!
Neck reattached, and not a gap to be found
A tight fit all around
After a quick level and crown, this Thinline Tele plays better than it has in years
Look at those shiny frets!
I gently sanded away, checking my work with the Fret Rocker and some calipers to ensure a level surface as I went. Getting that pocket flat took about 15 minutes of careful work and left me with a neck pocket that matched the neck perfectly. And sure enough, when I reinstalled the neck it was indeed a tight fit.
One fret level and crown later and this guitar came to life with some Ernie Ball Power Slinkys. Not only does it feel more solid, the guitar is acoustically louder than I remember as well. I think Conor’s going to be pleased – I know I am!
Follow Mike on Instagram @puisheen.
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