Making Your Own Pickguards
Some may think of a pickguard as a simple
item, and it can be a simple job with the
right tools and the know-how, but there’s a
big difference between a properly finished
pickguard and a half-hearted attempt. As far
as making pickguards versus buying them
goes, I prefer to make the template and
the sample pickguard, then send it to Paul
Chandler at pickguards.us. He stocks a wide
variety of materials while offering great quality and service at an excellent price.
Making the Template
The first task is making your jig so you can
consistently make high-quality guards. You
can spend a few hours ahead of time making
a great template, which will then allow you
to make pickguards quickly and accurately.
There are a few ways to approach this:
1. I start with a CAD drawing, program my
CNC to cut the template and then make the
pickguards by hand. My reasoning is that it’s
nearly as fast to make them by hand, and it
frees up the CNC for more labor-intensive tasks.
A CAD template
2. By utilizing templates purchased from
various guitar shop suppliers such as Stewart-MacDonald or Warmoth, and arranging the
required pickup templates, you can create
your own custom pickguards with the aid
of a table router. The pickup cutouts are
the most important element to making a
pickguard look like it came from the factory;
sloppy cutouts will ruin everything. Double-stick tape holds everything together for table
routing, then the outside perimeter shape
can be bandsawed close to size. The tem-
plate can then be sanded to its final shape.
If you don’t have a CNC machine, this is the
way to go.
I will demonstrate making the pickguard for
our neck-thru XS Model guitar, which we
detailed in our past series, “So You Want to
Build a Guitar.” The template material should
be .375” to .500” thick to accommodate the
various router bits we will use. You can get
away with a 1/4” Masonite bit in a pinch,
and it’s useful for the occasional one-off pickguard, but the thicker material will last you
much longer. I use 1/2” thick Garolite, available from McMaster.com. It has other trade
names such as Bake-o-lite or Phenolic and is
available in several colors. I tend to use the
brown or black Garolite Grade XX – it’s inexpensive, doesn’t warp, machines great and is
hard as nails. It’s also handy for a wide variety of shop uses, from drilling jigs to sanding
blocks. I suggest making two templates: one
to be used as a drill template and a duplicate
for routing. Once your template is made,
here are the basic tools required for the job.
Table Router – a basic, handheld electric
router mounted upside down into a simple
router table available at Home Depot will do
Drill Press – a small, bench top drill press
works perfectly here. Three drill presses
would be ideal so you could dedicate one for
drilling screw holes, the second for beveling
screw holes and the third for drilling larger
Small Bandsaw – the smallest, cheapest
bandsaw you can find should work well since
we’re only cutting 1/8” plastic.
• Handheld drill motor
• An assortment of drill bits: 3/32” for small
humbucker screw holes, 1/8” for any standard Fender-type holes for pickups or 5-way
switches, and 3/8” for potentiometers.
• 1/4” “Flush Trim” router bit, Amana part
#47092, featuring a 1/4” diameter bearing on
the tip. If you don’t have the need for tight
1/8” corner radiuses (to fit humbucker covers)
you can use a larger diameter flush trim bit
such as 3/8” or 1/2” and get longer life. 1/4”
bearings get beat up if not maintained.
• A tool that is mandatory for clean bevels
on screw holes is an Adjustable Countersink
with a 1/8” piloted tip, available at
Rutland Tool.com. I like to keep two on hand
– one preset for small Gibson screws and the
other for larger, Fender-type screws.
The fabled Adjusable Countersink
In the end, your finished template should
look like an extra fat version of the pickguard, with all the screw holes, pups and
controls in place and to size.
Join us next month when we’ll start cutting
our beautiful pickguards!
Any questions or comments visit
Fine Tuned Instruments LLC,
home of his “b3” instruments.