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What Are Guitar Pickguards Made Of? (Common And Rare Materials Exposed)

Find out what guitar pickguards are made of, custom pickguards, and what paint to use. Learn about different materials, designs, and installation tips here.

Pickguards often match the guitar’s headstock and are made of a variety of materials, from the common and cheap to the rare and expensive. They can be used to establish a guitar’s brand or style. This article explores the various materials used and answers common questions about pickguards. Without taking any more time, let me answer on point of the actual question: what are guitar pickguards made of?

Some common materials for pickguards are plastic (celluloid), plywood, glass, metal, acrylic, and PVC (vinyl) whereas some rare materials include exotic wood, fur, gold, silver, abalone pearl, and gems.

Let’s learn a bit more about all of these materials in depth:

Common Materials For Pick Guards

Most of the guitars you will see will have pickguards made of one of the following materials.

Plastic (Celluloid)

Thin (no more than 2mm thickness) plastic is usually used on acoustic guitars, as it is light enough to provide the necessary protection without affecting the sound of the instrument.

What are Guitar Pickguards Made of

Pickguards used to be made of celluloid but this is an extremely flammable material so its use is generally avoided these days. Vintage Martin guitars can still be found with celluloid pickguards though, so players should avoid smoking near their instruments.

Plywood

Plywood can be used to make pickguards, but you should bear in mind that the addition of another wood may change the tone of your guitar. If you do decide to use plywood, you might be better off buying a ready-formed pickguard. If you choose to make one yourself, it should be formed to the right shape for your guitar, thin enough not to affect the playability, and smoothed carefully so you don’t get splinters.

Glass

Stratocaster and Telecaster-style guitars can sometimes have a real glass pickguard. Some have added glitter, while others are available in custom stained glass designs to really make your guitar stand out. The general consensus of opinion seems to be that a glass pickguard has little effect on the tone but might damage the guitar if it was broken at any point.

Acrylic is often suggested as a more durable alternative, especially for a guitar that is going to be played regularly. You may want to put a vinyl cover on your glass pickguard for safety.

Metal

Aluminum, brass, and copper pickguards are also available for Fender-style guitars, although they are not standard. Aluminum eliminates some cycles of hum and static noise, plus the metal shields against EMI and RFI interference. One thing to bear in mind though is that metal pickguards should be used as part of a fully grounded setup because the metal causes electric and magnetic interference with the guitar’s pickup.

Acrylic

Acrylic is one of the most popular materials for pickguards, especially on solid-body guitars. Acrylic pickguards are available in many different colors and designs. As pickguards are probably one of the most popular areas of a guitar to customize, many places sell sheets of pre-printed acrylic specifically for this purpose.

Clear acrylic glass pickguards are durable and can easily be customized. You could paint or design a personal decoration, or even an advertisement, on the underside of the pickguard. This can then be sealed with clear gloss and fitted back onto the guitar.

PVC (Vinyl)

PVC or vinyl is popular for acoustic guitar pickguards. It is light, available in many different designs, and also cheap. A badly marked pickguard may need to be replaced professionally, but more often than not, players can upgrade their own instruments. Vinyl can be peeled off without damaging the underlying instrument so it’s popular for quick adaptations.

Vinyl designs can also be placed on top of existing pickguards which is ideal for advertising promotions such as a new single or tour. A vinyl pickguard with a band’s logo could potentially be sold on the merchandise table too, raising revenue for the band while allowing fans to show their support.

Rare Materials For Pick Guards

There are also rarer materials used for pickguards, often in highly customized instruments or signature models for specific top musicians.

Exotic Wood

These days, exotic wood only tends to be used in small amounts. This can be due to the rarity of the wood or the slow-growing nature of the tree producing it. These pickguards are significantly more expensive than plastic or acrylic versions. They are available for acoustic or electric guitars and electric guitars, in particular, will cover virtually the whole front body of the instrument.

Fur

Fur can be used for pickguards, but its use is usually restricted to expensive or rare guitars. It appears to be more of a statement material than something to be used every day. Pickguard material can affect the tone of the guitar, and although fur may look eye-catching, it probably won’t do anything for the sound quality.

Gold

Gold anodized aluminum was popular on Fender instruments in the late 1950s, before the introduction of their tortoiseshell patterned pickguards. This material will not electrically shield, so you will have to look into how best to achieve that. Alternatively, there is an option of buying a clear plastic pickguard and spray painting it to the desired shade, thus avoiding any of the potential pitfalls with metal pickguards.

Silver

Silver and silver anodized pickguards have the same issues as gold anodized parts. They are also more expensive than their plastic counterparts, especially in sterling silver options. It might be simpler and safer to opt for a cheap plastic pickguard and spray paint it unless you are able to shield your instrument properly. The interference with the pickup will otherwise ruin the sound of the guitar.

Abalone Pearl

Abalone pearl definitely makes a statement but it can play havoc with the tone and sound of the guitar. Gibson’s Hummingbird was a notable casualty, with many early models suffering the loss of tone from the weight of the pickguard, although it looks amazing. There is also the sustainability question these days, which is why some manufacturers have produced a plastic lookalike version. Still makes a statement without any of the issues.

Gems

There are some guitars with gems set into the pickguard, but although diamonds and other minerals are hard to wear, it is not generally recommended to have your pickguard made from mineral gems. Many acrylic pickguards have a diamond-like sparkle and will be much cheaper to buy and maintain.

Can I Make A Custom Pickguard For My Guitar?

You could make a custom pickguard for your guitar – many people have. These days most popular materials and color combinations of pickguards have been made commercially by someone already, but that shouldn’t stop you from deciding to make your own.

Many online sites have sheets of material ready to have a pickguard cut out, while if you know a customizer or have a local guitar shop that can help, the world is your oyster for advice on any possible color and material permutations.

Which Material Should I Use?

There are many video tutorials on making your own guitar pickguard. Whichever material you choose, the advice is generally to create a template based on the existing pickguard and use that to cut the actual pickguard from whichever material you choose.

Often this is plastic, PVC, or acrylic. There are different options for acoustic and electric guitars. Some of the preprinted sheets can also be used to make matching picks, which would be a great cheap merch option.

What Type Of Glue To Use On The Pickguard?

Gluing a pickguard is a fine art. Both the pickguard and the varnish on the guitar are usually impermeable, so something like rubber cement may work. This evaporates to form a bond so could be suitable for some pickguards.

Alternatively, there are adhesive sheets that will hold the pickguard in place without compromising either the material or the guitar on which it is fixed. These work like double-sided sticky tape – attach one side to the pickguard, trim to fit, peel off the other side’s backing and stick it to the guitar.

What Type Of Paint To Use On Pickguard?

The type of paint depends on the material used. Generally, you should start with a base coat, often available in the spray-on form, before adding the design on top of that using paint and even permanent markers, plus any embellishment you need.

When the decoration is done you can add a sealant and attach your artwork to the guitar. Dupli Color or Krylon Fusion paint is a good base coat or spray-on color for transparent acrylic guards. You might also want to consider painting the design on the underside of the pickguard to ensure maximum durability.

FAQ

Q. What Is The Best Material For A Chrome Guitar Pick Guard?

So-called ‘chrome’ pickguards are often made of stainless steel. This is a strong metal that looks like chrome but does not need any chroming. It is also non-magnetic so won’t interfere with the pickups. If using a metal pickguard, players should also be aware of the potential adverse effects on the instrument. Most types of metal pickguards will have to be grounded effectively to avoid adverse effects related to noise or interference with the electronics.

Q. What Are Fender Pick Guards Made Of?

Fender uses white plastic pickguards for their Stratocaster guitars, but these are much bigger than the ones on acoustic guitars to enable the electronics to be fitted and repaired easily. The company is also noted for its long-standing use of faux tortoiseshell pickguards. They first started using these in 1959, when they were made entirely of celluloid. A design revision in the 1960s saw the underlayers replaced with plastic and more screws added to prevent warping.

Final Verdict

This is only an overview of the materials used for making pickguards. There are many more articles and videos out there which deal with every aspect of the construction and customization of pickguards in depth. But opting for a ready-made pickguard can be a wise decision depending on your situation.

Author | Electric Guitar and Gear Expert at Instrument Insight | Website

Cornell K. Benson is from Mansfield, OH. He is 30 years old and has expertise in electric guitars and gears. Cornell has a great understanding of electric guitars and their materials, build quality, playability, and versatility. He also has an in-depth knowledge of the history and origins of various electric guitar brands.

Author | Acoustic and Classical Guitar Expert at Instrument Insight | Website

James B. Laskowski was born and raised in Fresno, CA. He has been working as an acoustic and classical guitar expert at Instrument Insight for over 5 years. In this time, he has gained a great understanding of acoustic and classical guitars and gears, their materials, build quality, playability, and versatility. James also has an in-depth knowledge of the history and origins of many acoustic and classical guitar brands.

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