Pick Guard Making
Making a pick guard adds a nice touch to a custom guitar and allows the guitar maker to use any materials that the customer desires. If this is for a personal guitar, making a pick guard is as easy addition and depending on wood selection can really look outstanding. Veneers are available in every conceivable grain patters, color, figure, and look. These can be laminated together to make an edge pattern that is every bit as striking as what the face veneer looks like. They can also be made from one solid piece, and both of these methods are explained in this article. CLICK TO ENLARGE/REDUCE IMAGES.
Tools and Materials Needed:
STEP 1 (Laminating Method)
If making the piece out of laminated sheets of veneer, a press needs to me made to ensure that the sheets adhere properly with nu bulges or bubbles that would make the finished guard look unprofessional. This can be as simple or elaborate as desired, but simply consists of two flat boards and some bar clamps. The veneer press I use for this operation is 8" X 8" because it's big enough to handle a piece of veneer that will yield 2 pick guards, and small enough that it's easy to clamp tightly. Too wide a press is hard to get good clamping pressure in the middle of, and sometimes results in bubbles that cannot be flattened out.
STEP 2 (Laminating Method)
Once the press is made, cut a few layers of veneer just big enough to fit inside the press completely using a razor blade. The number of sheets depends on how thick the guard needs to be, but in my experience three layers of veneer make a suitably strong guard. Layer them so the best looking piece is on top, and there is an alternating color in the middle for contrast.. Take the wax paper and line the insides of the press so that the veneer/glue sandwich about to be laminated will come out after the glue dries. Then, take the veneer sheets and apply a thin layer of glue in between them using fingers or a glue roller to spread it evenly. Make sure the glue gets distributed over the entire surface so no gaps show up later in the process. Once the glue is applied, straighten up the pieces and put them in the press. Start adding bar clamps until the glue is squeezing out of the sides. Clamp them tightly, but don't over-do it and cause all the glue to come out. Let sit for as long as the bottle says to, for Titebond it says 24 hours, and since the drying time will be hampered by the wax paper and the press, I would trust the bottle and actually leave it overnight. Normally I start working with Titebond in a few hours on anything else, but laminating veneer takes a bit longer. Go to step 4.
STEP 3 (Solid Piece Method)
Plane the desired piece of wood for the guard down to a thickness of 1/16" - 1/8". This can be done on a planer, sander, or by any other method desired. Once it's the right thickness, proceed to step 4.
STEP 4 (Both)
Now that the blanks have been made for both the laminated veneer method as well as the solid piece method, it's time to trace the pick guard shape onto them. Try to get as many out of the blank as possible, working with different ways of laying them out. Use a pencil to get a nice dark line in the shape of the pick guard. Also, if the guard is to be mounted with screws, the holes can be drilled at this stage.
STEP 5 (Both)
Using the scroll saw or other saw, carefully cut out the shape. A support piece of wood may also be used under the thin material to keep the tear out to a minimum. After that, sand the edges down to a smooth curve, and sand lightly to 220 grit or 320 grit depending on how the wood shapes up. Some look fine at 220, others show scratches more. Another thing that can be done is to break the corners on the top rim of the guard with sand paper. This can be done lightly, just to round them, or they can be sanded through on a 45 degree angle to expose the different veneer colors. I like to put the veneering on display and showcase the color variations so I normally sand through the sheets on an angle to expose them. After breaking the edges, sand them to the same level as the top surface.
Finish the pick guard with the desired finishing product, coating only the edges and top surface. The bottom surface should remain unfinished so the softer wood makes contact with the guitar top rather than a hardened finish, meaning less scratches. I understand that they are below the pick guard, and no one would ever see them anyway, but this way the guard can be removed if that ever becomes important and still have a nice finish. Let them dry as long as the finishing product manufacturer recommends before installing.
Installation happens one of two ways. The guard is screwed into place using very tiny screws, or it gets a coating of double stick tape and is press fit onto the guitar. The tape is my preferred solution because it is designed so that the guard can be removed after it's been torn to pieces by vigorous playing, and replaced with a fresh one. Real double stick tape (not loops of single stick tape) is tough and sticky, and won't let go without a fight. Cover the edges really closely with the tape, then put a few strips down the middle for good measure. Press in place on the guitar, and it's done. To remove use a butter knife or skinny plastic card and go slowly. The tape will pull up cleanly if it's allowed to come apart slowly, but if it's pulled too fast it will take grain with it.