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A pickguard is pretty much what it sounds like. It's generally a shaped piece of plastic that protects your shiny and beautiful guitar from the repeated assaults of your plectrum when it's pounding out some Ramones or Pixies tunes. The pickguard is very useful, preventing the guitar from getting covered in nasty looking scratches, and protecting you from having to spend cold hard cash to get your wooden lover refinished and pretty again. Instead, you can just replace the shredded pickguard every few years for a few dollars. On acoustic guitars, the pickguard is usually placed to the right of the soundhole. On electrics it's to the right of the high e string, or it covers most of the face of the guitar.

The pickguard for my Epiphone LP looks more or less like this:

|\
| \__
|_   \
  |   \
  |    \
 _|     \
|        \
|_        \
  |        \
  |         \
 _|          \
|_________    |
          \___|

(note: the indentations on the left sides are the right edges of the humbuckers)

The pickguard for a Strat looks something like this (please pardon my artistic ability):

 __                   _
|  \_         _      / \
|    |_______| \    /   \
\               \__/    /
 \                     /
  \                   /
   \  _________      /
   |  \_______/     | 
   |                |
   /  _________     \
  /   \_______/      \
 /                    \
|     _________        |
|     \_______/        |               
|                      |
\                      /
 \                    /
  \     _______      /
   \___|       \    |
                \___|
        

So there you have it. Pickguards come in different shapes, colors, and sizes, but they all have the same purpose: To keep your guitar nice and shiny. And they look cool, too.

Rock on!

Making Your Own Pickguard

So your pickguard is getting a little worn, and needs replacing, or you're like me and bought a guitar without a pickguard. You have several options. Most people go down to the music store and buy a new one, slap it on, and live happily ever after. Oh, but not for people like you and I. No, for us, making things yourself is stragely satisfying. You may say to yourself, as I did, "A pickguard is just a piece of scratch-resistant material screwed on to a guitar. Why do I need to pay someone ten to sixty dollars for one, when I could easily make one myself?" And the answer is that you don't. You can make one yourself, if you're moderately skilled with your hands. Not only that, but you can make it out of metal. If the opportunity to make something out of metal and screw it on to your guitar does not make you tremble in your naughty bits, go to a store and buy one.

And no, do not do this to an acoustic or hybrid guitar. Solid body only.

Stuff You Will Need

Your guitar
A regular sheet of blank paper
A ballpoint pen
Scissors
Tin snips
Sheet metal
Small files, suitable for working metal
Large files, for the impatient, to get through some of the rougher detail work
Masking tape
Rotary tool and/or Power Drill
Ball-peen Hammer
Something like an anvil. A small Sledge hammer or other large piece of metal.
Safety goggles
Screws
Ruler

Clearly, some of this is stuff you already (I hope) have. If you do not have or know where to get a pen, paper, masking tape or your own guitar, you need more help than I can provide. You may not have tin snips or files. These can be acquired at any hardware store, and are useful things to have anyway. The piece of sheet metal will come later, so don't worry too much about it now.

Design

This is the fun part. That is, the part that doesn't involve getting dirty. This is the part where you make a piece of paper shaped like your pickguard.

For those with no pickguard:

Place the sheet of paper on your guitar, around about where your pickguard is going to be. Trace out the shape of your pickups, bridge and neck, and cut these out. This will be easier if you remove the strings and any volume knobs that will protrude through your new pickguard.

For those with existing pickguards:

Place the sheet of paper on your pickguard, and trace out the parts next to your pickups, bridge and neck.

You want to have a piece of paper that will fit right against the naked surface of your axe. Try to make it fit as flush as possible against the pickups, bridge and neck. There should be less that a millimetre clearance around them. Try fitting it on to your guitar. If your piece of paper was a millimetre thick piece of metal, would you be able to take it off and put it on without scraping your delicate guitar parts? Good.

Now you get creative. What do you want your pickguard to look like? Pick an approxiamate shape that will cover at least the area to the right of the high E string (or the G string if it's a bass), then go nuts. Give it spiky edges, like a saw blade, or square edges or wavy edges or whatever strikes your fancy. If you just want a regularly shaped pickguard, make it regularly shaped. Trace your existing pickguard, if you have one. It's up to you, but don't get too crazy unless you're some kind of pro metalworker type. If you are, you already know what you're doing. Go hard.

If your guitar already has a pickguard, don't forget to mark the screwholes, if you will be using them. You should, or else you'll have ugly holes all over your guitar. Save the screws, too.

Now that you have your design, take a look at how big it is. Measure the design's approxiamate dimensions. You will need a piece of metal just barely big enough for this.

Roughing

Oh yeah, baby. Bust out the yellow pages and look up a place to get sheet metal. This can be tricky. If your design is small, you can probably find large enough sheet metal at a hobby shop, but be prepared to pay twice as much as you would otherwise. Sheet metal is pretty expensive anyway. So look up Steel Distibutors, Sheet Metal, Copper Products, whatever sounds right. This part depends on your own phone book, so I can't help you too much. Feel free to call them up and ask if you could buy one 8" by 10" piece of brass, or whatever you need.

You have a few decisions to make. First and foremost is what kind of metal you will use. I wouldn't recommend aluminum, as it's too soft to work easily, will deform and possibly break, and won't hold a finish nicely. Steel is just the opposite; working any steel will be a lot of work, and end up very heavy. Also, steel is isn't that pretty. Copper and brass are good, so long as you keep in mind that they will tarnish significantly over time. If you have copper pennies or other coins where you live (which you probably do), you can see what colour that metal will end up looking like, although it will start out a much brighter, lighter colour. Canadians can look at a Loonie to see what brass will end up looking like. I'm not sure about brass coins anywhere else, though. Also, you should be looking for about 1mm thick metal. For those of you living under the oppresive yoke of Imperial measurements, ask the people at the metal place what a millimetre of metal looks like. Better yet, move.

So you've got your metal. This is where the realy icky stuff starts. You will need something analogous to an anvil, if not an actual anvil. Most of you will not have an anvil, and so you can use the side of the head of a sledgehammer, like me. If you have an anvil, use that.

Put your safety goggles on. If you have never worked with metal before, you may not realise the peril you are placing your so, so soft eyeballs in. Really, put them on. I am so not kidding. Place the whole, uncut piece of metal on your anvil-equivalent, and hit it with the ball-peen hammer. Not hard, just enough to make a nice, little, round dent. Do this a lot. In fact, do it so much that the entire piece of metal is evenly dented, like the surface of an ocean, nothing but peaks and valleys. While you are doing this, the metal will deform, curling upwards. It will curl more the softer and thinner the metal you use and the harder you hit it. This will take you a long time, so be patient. Don't hit your thumb. Enjoy the process. If you hit your thumb, you probably won't be able to enjoy the process, so that part is pretty important. Keep flattening out the metal, and peening it. Yes, it's a word1. It may take a lot of time and patience to get a very flat, uniformly textured piece of metal, but you can do it. I believe in you.

You now have a very pretty and ungainly paperweight. take your paper design and tape it on to the metal with masking tape, in the obvious way. Make sure you put it on the right way up, or you will have to re-texture your piece of metal like some people I could mention. Get out your tin snips and roughly cut out your design around the edges. Keep your safety googles on and use your rotary tool (which should have an accessory suited for cutting things) to start any holes you may need to make for pickups. If your pickguard is like detunedradio's Epiphone, you won't need to do this. If you are profoundly patient, you can drill a large hole and file outwards, and you won't need a rotary tool, either, but you may need to take some time off from work or school to finish. Or to get your head examined.

Patience

Take a deep breath. Don't have a drink to celebrate. That would be a bad idea. You're almost there, you can drink later. All that is left is a lot of filing. Your paper design may not have much holding it on at this point. That's okay. Make sure you've got all of the volume-knob holes and such drilled through, and you're done with it.

I can't help you much beyond this point. Try not to scratch up the surface of your pickguard, and take as much time as you need to file down the edges. Don't drop it on your foot. Don't poke yourself in the eye or try to file your finger off. Once it's done (that is, once you can fit it onto your guitar and it looks nice), screw it on. If this requires getting screws, go get some. Small ones. Make sure they're wood screws. Those are the pointy ones, with wide threads, so you can actually stick them into wood. You should probably pick rounded screws (the tops, that is), unless you want to countersink the holes, which you probably don't because the metal is so thin. Don't scrounge around for matching screws in the garage. Screws are cheap. Go buy some.

Yes, if you don't have existing screwholes on your guitar, this is scary. You can do it. Give your guitar a little hug and promise you'll be gentle. Then, be gentle. Try to make the screws hold the metal as flat as possible.

Congratulations! Restring your guitar if you have to. Plug in and rock out. Tell me how it went. Send me a picture.


1 Yes, Webster doesn't describe this exact technique. The important thing here is that I like saying "peen". Say it with me. Peen. Say it with me and wiggle! Isn't it worth it?

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