Trying my hand at an Eldon Shamblin '54 Strat build: pics and process

vanguard

Strat-Talk Member
Mar 26, 2011
43
Salt Lake City, UT
The old bakelite pointer knobs proved to be a tough job. The original knobs were an unusual smaller type. Everything I could find vintage and modern was a larger standard size.
I got some nice Davies Chicago bakelite knobs, and carefully shaped them with a grinder, sandpaper, and finally a coat of nitro lacquer.

I then aged the knobs, polished them out, and got them installed. The original Strat had a couple different top designs on the knobs, so I had to try to replicate those as well. The smaller knob size was important, so that the volume knob in particular could spin its way around near the bridge pickup.

Finally, the shape of the pointer made it too easy to accidentally spin the volume control, so I pushed a rubber grommet down the post, then pushed down hard on the knob as I tightened it. It only spins with some force now, so I can't turn it down by accident. I rarely use the volume knob, so this proves to be a useful little hack.


Original knob next to the reshaped one
 

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Telecaster582

Strat-Talker
Feb 21, 2022
447
Muskegon MI
The attention to detail still amazes me. Like flathead screws, definitely original, but a pain to take out and put in. I considered it for my 52' style Telecaster but but I figured that I mess with my instruments to much to strip it out and never be able to replace say the pickups.
 

vanguard

Strat-Talk Member
Mar 26, 2011
43
Salt Lake City, UT
The attention to detail still amazes me. Like flathead screws, definitely original, but a pain to take out and put in. I considered it for my 52' style Telecaster but but I figured that I mess with my instruments to much to strip it out and never be able to replace say the pickups.
Thanks! Yeah, I think I see a mishmash of flat and Phillips, especially on those early prototypes. Through a couple heavily worn gold screws in with the chrome ones.
 

vanguard

Strat-Talk Member
Mar 26, 2011
43
Salt Lake City, UT
Aging and shaping the pickup covers was a crazy job. The original brittle "bakelite" plastic used only in early '54 had rounded edges, and wore quickly, revealing the flat work. The plastic also cracked between the holes, leaving little hairlines throughout. The really early covers also had a slight pearl effect, which I also replicated. I started with standard Fender vinyl covers, which turned to fur as I sanded them. Generous nitro lacquer applications flattened the surfaces back down, allowed for a nice polish, and gave me a nice thick nitrate type surface that will wear more convincingly like the originals.
IMG_20220704_151955433_HDR~2.jpg IMG_20220704_152000158_HDR~2.jpg
 
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vanguard

Strat-Talk Member
Mar 26, 2011
43
Salt Lake City, UT
Here I experimented with the weird painted truss plug you see on some '54s (the first pic is a vintage example). I ultimately decided against it. I reamed the tuner holes so that the bushings needed just a push with the thumb to seat. Any tighter than that and you risk cracking the headstock. Marked and drilled for the tiny mounting screws, and installed. A ruler works great for lining up the tuners.

Screenshot_20220704-224317.png IMG_20220704_135248721.jpg IMG_20220704_134109949.jpg IMG_20220704_143135570.jpg
 
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Chipss36

Senior Stratmaster
Oct 1, 2018
1,435
Texas
54 plastic was never backlight, it was styrene, the internet keeps getting this fact wrong….
 

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Scott Baxendale

Most Honored Senior Member
Silver Member
May 20, 2020
6,594
Sante Fe, NM
Here I experimented with the weird painted truss plug you see on some '54s (the first pic is a vintage example). I ultimately decided against it. I reamed the tuner holes so that the bushings needed just a push with the thumb to seat. Any tighter than that and you risk cracking the headstock. Marked and drilled for the tiny mounting screws, and installed. A ruler works great for lining up the tuners.

View attachment 580008 View attachment 580009 View attachment 579998 View attachment 579999
A violin reamer works better than the General hardware reamer for doing tuner bushings. It has less taper which matches the bushing better.

StewMac also sells a bushing reamer that goes into the drill that sizes them perfectly every time.
 

vanguard

Strat-Talk Member
Mar 26, 2011
43
Salt Lake City, UT
A violin reamer works better than the General hardware reamer for doing tuner bushings. It has less taper which matches the bushing better.

StewMac also sells a bushing reamer that goes into the drill that sizes them perfectly every time.
Yeah, they make great, highly specialized tools for the professional luthier.

I like to use what I have in my average handy person's tool box, as it forces me to think in ways I enjoy. Same reason I like cooking without loads of specialized implements. I'm not a pro, and would never get my money back from a shop full of beautiful luthier tools. I'm sure that's nails on a chalkboard for a professional like yourself!
 
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vanguard

Strat-Talk Member
Mar 26, 2011
43
Salt Lake City, UT
Some pics of the contours. The paint work in progress.

Grain fill? Why drywall compound of course.

Started with some proper gold-top brass flake nitro from the excellent Oxford company. This should green over time!

totally forgot to take pics of the body shaping duuuufff.

Like I've seen on some '54s, the arm contour goes DEEP, and drops almost down to the bottom edge on the jack cup. I did it all with a rasp and sandpaper. I also gave it the hard edge where the contour starts, another neat and strange feature I've seen on some '54s. It feels great under the arm. A crazy, but super fun job.

shaped the neck pocket walls for the hard square cuts like are, I believe, only found on '54s. The edges aren't quite as square, but close. I also carved in a slight "router hump" for more early '50s Fender fun.

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