How to make a custom wood pickguard

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Issue 265 June 30, 2016

Dan Erlewine made a black walnut guitar for Jerry Garcia in 1970. Recently a Grateful Dead fan asked Dan to make a replica of that guitar. In this Trade Secret, Dan shows how he made the pickguard out of laminated wood veneers.

About the guitar in this video: Dan's making a replica of a black walnut Strat he made in 1970. He's even using wood from the same tree!

In this Trade Secrets video:
  • One pickguard won’t work as a template, but three will!
  • Laminating plastic guards to create enough thickness for routing
  • Routing a perfectly shaped pickguard
  • Why use a table-mounted router

Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: Stewart-MacDonald - Trade Secrets!]

Making a custom pickguard

[on-screen text reads: Dan Erlewine - Guitar Repairment, Author]

Dan Erlewine: In 1970, the Grateful Dead came to Ann Arbor, Michigan and played a park concert. After the concert, Jerry Garcia came into my shop. I was working on an old 1939 D 18 at the time. So I made a neck for it and I inlaid ivory numbers in it as sort of a camp joke. What fret am I at? Jerry dug that he thought it was cool and he liked a black walnut Strat that I was building. So he ordered a guitar and this is it. He wanted the black walnut body with a rosewood pickguard, maple neck with Brazilian rosewood inlays. Now 45 years later, I've just taken an order to make a tribute guitar. I knew my friend Rodrigo Gomez was coming from Sao Paulo, Brazil and we'd have fun together making it. Now we're about done with the guitar and about to string it up and we just made a pickguard for it from the same wood veneers that I used back in the sixties.

Create the pickguard template

So this tribute guitar is going to have some real mojo. That's a router template [on-screen text reads: Neck Joint Routing Template for Fender -], nice slick piece of acrylic, made perfectly that the router and its ball bearings follow [on-screen text reads: Bosch Colt Router -] and that ball bearing comes right up against this laser cut jig that has a smooth edge. So how thick the template is is important because the ball bearings need to ride up against that, not only as they start to cut, but as you lower the router down in for the depth. If it wasn't for that, I could take a pickguard off the shelf and say, "This is a router template, but it's not thick enough." [on-screen text reads: Strat Pickguard -] To get around that, we took three pickguards and we're gluing them together. This is the work board we're going to make this pickguard on to align three pickguards in a hurry while we're spreading the sticky glue that dries really fast. The board's rough cut to the basic shape of the pickguard to make it easier to get to with clamps and a router bit. When it's dry, we have a template.

Rod's drilling a hole on each corner for dowels to keep the three pickguards aligned while he glues them. Rod drilled those holes through the plastic and into the wood. With this drill bit, I took that drill bit and drove the hole in this piece of mild steel. So I can end up by pushing it through my dowel plate and it shave off the little extra bit of wood and I get just the right custom dowel pin for the four corners.

The double stick tape [on-screen text reads: 3M Double-stick Tape] is to fasten wax paper to the work board. This keeps any glue squeeze out from sticking the plastic pickguards to the wood. Remove the foil sealing because it won't glue. Use Naphtha [on-screen text reads: Behlen Naphtha Solvent -] to remove any glue left from the shielding. You might need a razor blade, too.

Rodrigo Gomez: There you go. [on-screen text reads: StewMac Bind-ALL Guitar Binding Glue]

Dan Erlewine: Thank you.

Slosh it on good. That's where the acetone comes in handy. You can dip into that. I'm going to go put the fan on. These are waxed off with flora wax. [on-screen text reads: Double Cam Clamp -] You're supposed to say nurse.

[on-screen text reads: Swivel Handle Clamp -]

Rodrigo Gomez: Nurse.

Dan Erlewine: Doctor. Do you want a big one for the center or are we good?

Rodrigo Gomez: Good job, doctor.

Dan Erlewine: Okay, we gave that about a half an hour to dry because we went to lunch. Scraped any squeeze out clean and it's a really clean template made from a factory pickguard. Use the template to drill all the holes for the mounting screws and the hardware. Counter sync the morning screw holes and fasten them tight. Nice and flush.

Rodrigo Gomez: Yeah, sure.

Route the pickguard using the template

Dan Erlewine: So the router won't catch. Well, actually in our case, so the router table won't catch because we're not going to route this handheld like this. We're going to use a router table because when you get on a little corner like this and it's handheld, it's tippy, and if you tip once, you're going to tear up your piece and the work board and everything else. So we're going to use a router table. The Don MacRostie Binding Trimmer with all the parts taken off of it is the perfect router table. And I'm going to do the vacuum and while Rod does the routing. You ready Rod?

Rodrigo Gomez: Yeah.

[Rod places the guitar body blank on the routing table and starts slowly working the outside edges of the body blank against the router]

Dan Erlewine: Okay, let's have a look. Use a Forstner Bit to remove most of the wood in the cavity. This makes routing easier and is less chance of the bit hogging.

Rod's great with the Dremel [on-screen text reads: Dremel Rotary Tool -]. He's drilling small holes for the toggle switch and we'll connect them later with a small saw. You can hand hold the router to clean up the pickup cavities since there's no danger of tipping.

Rodrigo Gomez: Here you go, Dan.

Dan Erlewine: Whoa ho. Man, you make it look easy.

Rodrigo Gomez: Yeah, with the template, you can make it much easier.

Dan Erlewine: Can make them all day. That's Brazilian Rosewood with a simple oil finish. Tried and true [on-screen text reads: Tried & True Original Wood Finish -]. Just rounded on the edges. This one is black walnut veneer with maple in the center. So we exposed a beveled edge using the beveling bit [on-screen text reads: Pickguard Bevel Cutter -] that also uses a ball bearing on the same template. And this one, on Jerry's tribute guitar, is pretty fancy barrel black walnut to match that horn and we just lacquered it and he's been strobe tuning it and it's ready to go out the door. Let's hear that thing.

[Rod starts playing a blues song with the electric guitar they just built]



Dan Erlewine

Guitar Repairman and Builder

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