Improving Jason’s Early 2000’s Fender Starcaster Guitar

I’ve known Jason for around 15 years. That’s why I was so surprised when, a couple of weeks ago, he said, “I have a couple of guitars in my closet.”

“What?!” I exclaimed. I had no idea Jason had ever played a guitar.

Sure enough, after scrounging around in his house for a few minutes, he brought out 2 guitars: an early 2000’s Takamine acoustic and an early 2000’s Fender Starcaster electric.

Both were surprisingly playable, however, they definitely were in need of some refurbishment to make them sing to their full potential. I asked Jason if I could take home the Starcaster to give it some much needed TLC, and he agreed. This is the story of how I fixed up that guitar.

Step 1: Fix the action (e.g. “set up” the guitar)

Phil McKnight has a nice little method for setting up a guitar which was shown to him by Ron Thorn – TRAIN.

  • T = Tune (tune up the guitar – easy peazy)
  • R = Relief (adjust the truss rod)
  • A = Action (raise/lower the bridge)
  • I = Intonation (adjust the saddles in the bridge)
  • N = Nut (Fwiw, Ron Thorn says, “N is for noodle”, but Phil says it’s for fixing the nut)

Measuring at the 12th fret, the action was a bit high for my liking. Additionally, I think it’s easier for beginner guitar players to play with lower action (e.g. with less space between the strings and the frets), since they don’t have to press as hard to get the sounds they want. I’m guessing a lot of people quit guitar when they realize that it hurts to play initially (e.g. you need to build up calluses on your fingertips) – lowering the action makes it hurt less.

So I walked through Phil’s TRAIN process, and it’s now a much easier-to-play guitar.

Step 2: Testing a Neck Angle Adjustment

I had a hunch that adjusting the neck angle could help reduce the space between the strings and the frets. I removed the neck and tried a number of different shims, but none of them helped. So at the end of the day, I went with the angle that God gave it.

Removing the neck from most Fender guitars is a simple process:

After I removed the neck, I noticed some messy wood poking up above the bolt holes, so I cleaned that up with standard 220 grit sandpaper:

neck removed from fender starcaster

Step 3: Remove the all-in-1 pick guard and pickups

One of the 5-way switch’s positions does absolutely nothing, so there is likely something wrong with the wiring. I don’t know enough about how the wiring works on these guitars to see immediately if it’s wired incorrectly, however, I know enough about electronics to notice if a wire is broken.

After removing the all-in-1 pick guard and pickups, I took a look at the wiring. Surprisingly, it all looked good. This means that either a wire is soldered to the wrong place or that the guitar was built with a switch position that does nothing. Since I was a bit out of my element here and the guitar worked fine otherwise, I let it rest.

remove the fender starcaster pick guard and pickups to reveal the cavity

Step 4: Remove and tighten the 1/4″ jack bolt

One thing Jason noted was that the washer on the 1/4″ jack was loose. This is a very common scenario with many guitars, and the solution is relatively simple. The tricky part is holding the 1/4″ jack in place while tightening the washer. Normally this would require 2 tools: 1 to hold the jack in place and 1 to tighten the washer. But since I needed to take the jack out anyway to paint the cavity (more on that later), I was able to hold the jack with my hand while I tightened the washer, which is much easier than using 2 tools.

Step 5: Paint the cavities with conductive paint

As a general practice Phil McKnight recommends painting the cavities of guitars with conductive paint (it’s like electrical tape in paint form) to reduce potential hum and electrical shorts. Since I had both the jack and the pickguard off already, painting the cavities was simple.

Step 6: Level and crown frets

Uneven frets cause annoying string buzz and are very common in cheaper guitars. To be fair, I have also noticed uneven frets in my more expensive guitars as well. So it was no surprise that my trusty fret rocker indicated that many of the frets were not level.

  1. First, I used standard masking tape to cover all the wood on the fretboard.
  2. Next, I used my 18″ under string fret leveler to level the frets. This left them with flat tops.
  3. Then, I used my fret crowning tool to reshape the tops of the frets.
  4. Finally, I used my fret end dressing file to reduce sharp ends in the frets that were caused by the crowning and leveling process.
level and crown the fender starcaster frets
Leveling and crowning the Fender Starcaster frets

Step 7: Polish the frets and clean the fretboard

After crowning the frets, they have lots of little scrapes.

  1. Using standard 000 steel wool, I polished up the frets.
  2. Then I removed the masking tape from the fret board.
  3. Finally, using Music Nomad F-One Oil, I cleaned the fretboard. Since the fretboard was very dry after mostly sitting in a closet for the last 15 years, the F-One oil brought it back to life!

Step 8: Bolt on the neck and clean the body and headstock

After bolting the neck on, screwing in the all-in-1 pickguard, and screwing in the jack plate, I cleaned the body and headstock using Music Nomad Guitar Polish and a standard micro fiber towel. Daaaaamn this guitar looks sharp!

Here it is in all its glory!

Here’s Jason’s Fender Starcaster after my work was complete →

Jason's Fender Starcaster after my work was complete

Here’s me playing the guitar, post fix →

Send me your broken guitars!

Fixing broken guitars is a hobby of mine. If you have a guitar in need of some TLC, send it my way!