The N4 Kit

A couple weeks ago I placed a thread on The Gear Page about how the luthier I hired to build a guitar for me basically stole my money and wasted a lot of my time. This resulted in me connecting with someone else who ordered an N4 neck & body from the same guy. He did eventually receive his order, but it was a painful process. This nice gentlemen was looking to get out of this project and sold it to me for almost nothing. I’m really looking forward to getting started on this one as there’s a lot to be done.

Here’s a full shot of the front and back.

Holy smokes this guitar is beautiful!

 

The body

This is a really nice, light piece of mahogany w/ a great grain pattern. I plan to basically have a natural finish that’s true to the N4 series. I remembered the body being small when I previously owned one of these guitars. …but holy crap it’s small! It’s almost as small as my children’s Squire Mini.

This picture only sort-of gets the point across. It’s about a full inch smaller at the widest point than a strat. It may not look like much in this picture, but you feel it when you hold it.
The forearm contour is much sharper than the original. While I don’t care for the look, it’s quiet comfortable and will work for my needs.
Compare the picture above to an original Davies N4. That’s quiet a difference.
Similar with the tummy cut. It’s lower than the original and doesn’t extend as far.
While the aesthetics of the contours aren’t my favorite, the body does sit nicely and feels natural.
The rear routing follows the standard 90’s, non-Davie’s era, style. The original owner shipped plates for these cavities, but they’re cut to the Davies spec and don’t fit. I’ll have to make my own.
During the build, the router slipped and took out a chunk of wood behind the bridge. You can see the patch at the top. It starts at the center line and is about 2 inches. The repair was very well done IMO. It’s barely noticeable.

This build is going to look amazing with the final finish on it. The edges also lack much of a roundover. I’m debating whether I should change this and give it some curves.

The Neck

The neck is roasted maple (sweet!) w/ an ebony finger board. I haven’t measured how large this neck is, but it feels AWESOME!. Not too thin, and not too thick. It’s right in the middle. Roasted maple is cool because the roasting process removes moisture in the wood and is supposed to make it more stable. Because of this these necks don’t require a finish, and I love the way raw wood feels.

The fret work is a bit sloppy. I won’t really know if the frets are serviceable until the neck is under string tension. I can already tell I have a lot of filing to get the fret ends smooth.
The fretboard hangs over the edge of the neck about .25 – .5 of an inch more than they do from the factory. This is my biggest concern with the kit as it completely blocks access to the truss rod and I might not be able to properly intonate the guitar. More on this later.

Headstock and nut width

The N4 sports a reverse headstock with a unique “hook” in it.
I know Gibson people love the angled headstock, but I’m not really a fan. I understand the benefits, but it’s structurally weak and they’re poorly suited for gig bags.
Here’s a shot of the nut ledge. If I go with a traditional nut, this will have to change quiet a bit.
The neck is cut for a floyd Rose locking nut and measures precisely in between the standard 1 5/8th and 1 11/16. The nut I have is the R2 and you can see the gap in this picture.
This one is with the gap split on both edges. I think the R3 or R4 would hang over. So this is probably the better option, but I’m leaning toward a traditional nut.

The Stephens Extended Cutaway

The Stephen’s Extended Cutaway is one of the coolest characteristics of this guitar. The left thumb doesn’t feel the joint at all and this aids with upper fret access. …plus it looks super cool from the front and back of the guitar!!
It’s a bummer this company didn’t do better in the 90s. I’ve read that the licensing deal they made with Washburn ultimately worked against them and was one of the causes of the company going under. All of the Stephen’s models are considered collectors items today and are highly sought after instruments.
Below are a few more pictures of the joint. This one turned out nicely. There’s a small gap at the top, but it’s not big enough to be problematic. ….I think.

There’s that gorgeous SEC joint!

 

I really like the “incline” of the SEC on the neck. The 90’s Washburns where completely flush with the body, and the Stephens have a really cool slope that rolls onto the neck. This is a neat in between and I like it. Also, that’s my dog Bella in the background.
Another view

The next three pictures show the joint with the neck aligned properly with the center line. It’s solid.

The gap at the bottom is caused by the heastock angle resting on the floor. This picture is here to show the small vertical gap on the right side of the joint.

Pickup & Bridge Routes

The guitar is routed for twin humbuckers. N4s traditionally have pickup rings, but this build does not have the deeper cuts needed to use rings. It would be pretty simple to fix this with a drill if I decide to use rings.

I plan to use the over-the-top L500-XL (the Bill & Becky one) in the bridge and a Seymour Duncan 59 in the neck.
I’m not sure there is enough clearance here for a pickup ring. There’s definitely not enough room for an allen wrench.
A ring will probably need to be filed down to fit properly. Also the routes are large and unfortunately they’re longer than standard pickup rings. I ran into this problem with my Klein build as well.
Yikes. The L500-XL looks silly without the ring. Bummer. It would be easier to forgo rings.

Scale & Truss Rod

This is where things get a little complicated, and make me nervous about this build.

True to the N4 specs the scale is 25.5 inch.
The 25.5 measurement looks a little too far back in the bridge route.
I might be able to get the strings to intonate, but it’s going to be close.
With the neck pulled back about a quarter inch, the measurements look much better. This would also provide the needed clearance to access the truss rod. I fear this means the fingerboard will need to be removed and re-positioned (and likely refretted). That is a lot of work and would cost a lot of money for someone who knows what they’re doing. My next step is to consult with a professional luthier and get a second opinion on this.
The truss rod is at the heal of the guitar. For some reason this build lacks the small channel route to allow access behind the neck pickup. Maybe that wasn’t a concern because the fretboard makes it inaccessible anyway.

Hardware

Life is too short for cheap hardware, and I’m too old to tolerate stuff that sucks. These are all quality parts that will really make this project come to life.

Final Thoughts

This is going to be quiet a challenge. I can’t really do anything until I get someone with more experience to see if it will intonate properly as built. That will determine the next steps and help me budget. It would be frustrating to have to remove the neck every time the truss rod needs adjusting, but it’s not the end of the world. However, a guitar that won’t intonate is useless. Once this is settled then I’ll need to work with a luthier who can do the following:

  1. Attach the neck. I’m not comfortable drilling this one. The neck can be pulled in either direction and it must be set perfectly straight before drilling.
  2. Drill the headstock for tuners. If this isn’t done perfectly, the strings won’t be straight in the nut and the tremolo will be useless. I’m too scared to do this myself.
  3. Build a nut. I’ll need to decide on locking or non-locking first, but it will probably be non-locking.
  4. Install the bridge posts.

Once these things are done, I can complete the rest. It will be interesting to find someone to do the work and see how expensive this will be. I’m nervous. …..plus you can see why so many people just buy a guitar that’s ready to play. :)

2 Replies to “The N4 Kit”

  1. Hey, I actually ended up giving this kit away to Richard who worked for Stephens back when they did the initial run of N4s. Check out his site here: http://www.rjwguitarrepair.com/html/_n4_lore.html
    I don’t know if he ever did anything with the body, but feel free to reach out to him if you really want it. Last time I spoke with him he was gearing up to make a run of N4s. I would love to own one that was made by him. http://www.rjwguitarrepair.com/html/contact_information.html

    Good luck!

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