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How to Make and Install Pickguards for Acoustic Guitars – Full Text

Today’s Tips du Jour Mailbag question comes from Alaska.

“Dear Robert, I have just finished making my guitar following your online videos and it came out great. I’m worried about scratching it and want to make a pickguard. Can you show me how this is done? – Tom in Alaska”

Well sure, Tom. Let’s get right at it. This is pickguard material that I got from LMI. It comes in several different designs from clear to your finished tortoise shell look. It comes with adhesive backing or without. So let me show you how to make a pickguard using these materials. The first thing to do is know the shape you want. I’m going to use an old pickguard to make a new one. You can also go to LMI’s website where there are downloadable PDF files with various pickguard shapes. I’m going to start by placing my template on my pickguard material and tracing around. Because of the paper backing material, it’s hard to see your line. But if you catch it just right in the light, you can see it. And you want to turn this over the cut it. That’s why I traced it on the back side. For some reason the scissors seem to cut better but I’m cutting from the backside. So I’m going to cut up close to my line but not quite all the way to it. I also want to be very careful that I try not to leave any sharp edges. The procedure for cutting out the clear pickguard material is the same. Now, just to clean up the edges a little bit, I like to come in with a small sanding block and make sure that there’s no sharp edges on there. Everything’s nice and round. You can also sand right up to your line that way if you’d like. For the inside radius here, I’m just going to use this piece from my spindle sander and come in here and do that. And this pickguard is ready to go. Now, the tortoise shell material is a little harder to work with it. In order to cut it – it’s very brittle – so you have to heat it up. I’m going to use a heat gun. You could also use a hair dryer. I’ve heard also of people just dropping it in a pan of hot water for a few minutes. I’m also going to double side tape my template onto this material. I’m doing it from the backside because that’s where I’m going to be cutting it from. Now you want to be very careful when you’re heating this. You don’t need a lot of heat because the material will shrink. That’s usually about all it takes. I’m going to come in with my scissors and I’m going to cut it over sized. With my template cut out, I’m going to take it over to my spindle sander and sand right up to my template outline there. Once that’s done, I’ll take my template off and finish it by hand. I now have the pickguard material sanded flush with my template so I’m going to remove the template and now use my sanding block to remove any sharp tips. Now if you’re making a replacement pickguard for your guitar and the soundboard has oxidized with the ultraviolet light over time, then you need to be really tight on your pickguard tolerances on the sides so you don’t have any of that discoloration showing on the edge of your pickguard. Something else you could do is come in a use a razor blade like a scraper and just scrape the edge slightly. Make sure it’s at a 90 degree angle and just clean it up. Some people also like to put a bevel on the edge of their pickguard. Because this pickguard is just a little thicker, it looks a little more refined if you just bevel the edge slightly. So come in with your razor blade, hold it at a slight angle, and just scrape that bevel into it. If you wanted to you could also make a template out of plywood or MDF or something, stick this to it, take it to your router table and run a chamfer bit around it. But this bevel gets scraped in pretty quickly so it’s not a big deal. Something else to be careful with this pickguard material is that it scratches very easily. So if you happen to get scratches on the top of it during the manufacturing process, you can just take it to your buffer and buff any of those scratches out of it. You can also get a little shinier edge on there instead of a dull edge if you do that. Okay, I’m going to go to my buffing wheel and get some of the scratches out that I put in it in the manufacturing process. If you don’t have a buffing machine, you could also use some clear plastic polish or cleaner to buff it by hand. To hold the pickguard, I just double sided taped it to some plywood. That allows me to come in and use it on the buffing wheel without worrying about getting my fingers. I now have a nice shiny pickguard that’s ready to be installed on the guitar. Now, if you’re installing this pickguard material or the clear pickguard material, it already comes with a self-adhesive on the back. You just peel and stick. Once it’s on the guitar, then you peel the film on the top side, revealing the nice shiny surface. This pickguard material is a little different. There’s no adhesive on the back. So you can either use a spray adhesive or a transfer adhesive. First of all, make sure the back of the pickguard is clean. You don’t want any cling-ons or any goobers. Those are technical terms. Those will show up through the pickguard later. So now I take the transfer adhesive that I got from LMI. Peel and stick to the back of the pickguard. I can now use my razor blade to trim that right up next to the pickguard. Now to place the pickguard on your guitar, there’s more to it than just peel and stick. You want to be very careful with placement. You also want to be very careful you don’t get any air bubbles or debris under there. So make sure the guitar is clean. Then take your pickguard material – I’m not going to do it on this guitar because this guitar is already sold and the guy doesn’t want a pickguard but I’ll show you how to do it. I’ll talk you through it. First of all, position the pickguard where you want it. Next, come in and place a piece of take along one edge. That’s going to work as a hinge. You can now lift the pickguard like so and when you flop it back down, it’s going to go right back in place in the correct position. Something else you want to do is take a spray bottle – it has a couple drops of liquid detergent in it – and just spray it on the surface. Remove your adhesive backing and then just flop the pickguard over into place. Lay it down. There will be water under there. If you want to place a paper towel or something inside your guitar that’s a good idea because some of the water will drip down into the soundhole, you’ve got a label in there, it could be bad news for that. It could also leave marks inside the guitar. Once the pickguard is in place – you’ve sprayed the soapy water on there, you’ve removed the adhesive backing, you’ve flopped it back over into place here on your tape hinge. I then come in with a hard rubber sanding block and just remove the water out toward the edges. This helps keep you from getting any air bubbles in there. Just work the water out toward the edges like that. When you’re all done, clean up the excess water, remove your tape and then just peel the clear cellophane cover off the top and you’ve got a brand new shiny pickguard on your guitar. The process for the tortoise shell pickguard is exactly the same. Position it where you want it, place a piece of tape as a hinge. You’re then able to lift it up, remove the covering over the adhesive backing, spray a little water on there, lock it right down into place and then squeegy out the excess. And you, once again, have a nice shiny pickguard. So Tom, as you can see, making a pickguard is not a big problem. I personally find it more difficult to install it correctly. Anyway, I hope this information helps and happy playing.