RESTORING AN ORIGINAL
’ 56 Fender Telecaster – Hole-a-Riffic!
Have you ever looked at the condition of a
guitar in a state of stunned disbelief and said to
yourself, “Wow, what was the owner thinking?”
That’s what happened to me as I laid my eyes
upon this 1956 Fender Telecaster for the first
time. At first glance, it looked to me like someone has been really excited about trying out
their brand new hand drill. Perhaps there was
some sort of fetish for drilling holes and then
plugging them with long sheet metal screws.
The body had multiple holes with screws threaded in, but fortunately the neck had only one hole
in the fingerboard between the 18th and 19th
fret slot. A customer found this hidden treasure
and shipped it to us for a complete restoration.
A screw hole in the fingerboard of our 1956 Telecaster,
between the 18th and 19th fret.
Beauty of a ’ 56 Neck
This master-crafted, one-piece maple neck
with a walnut filler strip on the back had a
very pronounced “V” shape to it. It had that
old school Fender feel with its classic 7-1/4"
fingerboard radius, factory-installed low profile
frets, and black dots. There was an assortment
of areas showing wear extending through the
finish and into the fingerboard wood. Penciled
in below the Phillips truss rod adjustment nut
was the month and year: “ 2-56.”
The out-of-round hole in the fingerboard was
1/2" in length with a diameter slightly under
5/32". There were two ways for addressing
this. The first was to remove a 1/4" width of
top fingerboard wood with a chisel, squaring off the sides, and graft in a maple veneer
starting from the edge of one fret slot and
ending at the other. Our other option was to
plug the hole with a maple dowel and size-to-fit a maple cap from old stock 1/16"-thick
maple veneer for correct grain alignment and
In my opinion, either choice would not give
100 percent invisibility to the trained eye, but
I decided to go with the second option, and
began gathering all the tools and materials
that we would need. The list included:
• 5/32" carbide drill bit
• 3/16" round hollowed out aluminum stock
• A drill press and mini-lathe
• #83322 silicone carbide circular sharpening
bit by Dremel
• Maple dowel stock
• 1/16" maple veneer
• 1/4" punch and hammer
• Aged/tinted nitrocellulose lacquer
• An artist paintbrush
Capping The Hole
The neck was mounted to the drill press
table and the previously drilled hole was
drilled to true up the sides using a 5/32"
carbide drill bit. We used our mini-lathe for
making a maple plug to insert into the hole.
We use the mini-lathe for an assortment of
things in the shop. My favorite is making
hard rock maple plugs for blown out screw
holes on the neck heel. It’s a one-time procedure and you’ll never see the guitar back for
that same repair again.
Our aluminum round stock, before (left), and after being
hand-sharpened with a Dremel bit (right).
To make the maple cap, we used some 3/16"
(outside diameter) round hollowed-out alu-
minum stock. I sharpened the inside edge
using a #83322 Dremel bit, gently turning by
hand. Once the 3" length aluminum stock
was sharp, it was lightly clamped into the drill
press chuck. The custom bit cut through the
maple veneer and slightly into the soft back-
ing mahogany reinforcement board as it fin-
ished its cut without damaging the previously
sharpened edge. (Note: It’s a good idea when
you’re making a specialized one-off part to
make a few extras, just in case you will need
one later on down the road.)
I used carpenter’s glue for gluing in the maple
plug and cap. The cap was lightly pressure fit
using a 1/4" punch and hammer. A damp Q-tip
was used to moisten and raise the grain before
we removed the micro-raised grain fibers very
carefully with 400 grit production sandpaper.
We applied a topcoat of finish, and then the
tinted nitrocellulose lacquer finish was applied
sparingly with an artist paintbrush. Very fine
hairlines of wear were created with an old fill-looking shade inside those lines. For the final
step, before the finish cured to 100 percent,
the finish was lightly burnished with a lint-free
cloth and 0000 steel wool.
Drilling the maple cap with the modified aluminum stock.
The finished fretboard.
That does it for this month’s restoration. Until
next time, keep those chisels sharp!
John Brown, of Brown's Guitar Factory, is the inventor of the
Fretted/Less bass. He owns and operates a full guitar manu-
facturing and repair/restoration facility, which is staffed by
a team of talented luthiers. He is also the designer of guitar-
making/repair tools and accessories that are used today by
instrument builders throughout the world.