Learn why a pickguard is an important accessory for your guitar. Understand its role in protecting your instrument and enhancing its appearance. Find out more here.
Ancestors once said every little thing in this world that exists has a purpose. Still, maybe you’re wondering why on earth a pickguard exists or maybe you’re just curious about if is there a real need for a pickguard on a guitar as sometimes it may hurt the finish of the guitar. There’s no need to look around because you’re at the right place.
There are a few purposes for a pickguard’s existence on a guitar including safety and protection, increased aesthetics, can be a great surface for taking an autograph, an electronic access area, a finger resting place, and of course peace of mind.
Now, before jumping into all these sections in more detail, let me inform you what a pickguard actually is in short.
What Is A Pick Guard / Scratch Plate?
A pickguard, sometimes known as a scratchplate, is a laminated material positioned around the soundhole behind the strings, which is used by aggressive strummers to protect the finish of a guitar.
There are about six types of pickguards built with common materials like plastic, acrylic, glass, etc., and some use rare materials. We’ll go through more on these later in this article. Keep reading!
What Is The Purpose Of A Pick Guard?
Besides the protection of a guitar finish, the pickguard has six purposes in total as follows:
Just think like this: You may play your guitar for one hour daily, and you spend 30 minutes strumming. If you strum 4/4 at a tempo of 100 bpm (Beats Per Minute), you will stroke 192 times on average. That’s 70,080 times in a whole year.
Do you think- in this 70,080 times, you’ll not let the guitar top hit by your pick for once? Even the experts will hit uncountable times!
[Note here that the average number of a tempo is 120 bpm. But, in case it’s a song, the tempo can start from 30 bpm, all the way up to 250 bpm]
So, by these numbers, you can imagine the hit count. There will be hundreds if not thousands of scratches that will take place on your polished guitar top finish around the Sound Hole, which will, of course, ruin the guitar aesthetics.
A pickguard serves as a stylish and functional accessory, elevating a guitar’s overall aesthetics while protecting its surface against unsightly scratches. These ornamental shields, crafted from diverse materials such as plastic, metal, or even exotic wood inlays, often embellish the guitar’s body with intricate designs and vibrant colors.
No matter how elaborate or simplistic, a pickguard can seamlessly complement a musician’s style and act as an extension of their artistic expression, breathing life into a guitar’s visual appeal.
Having a pickguard on your guitar offers both a functional and aesthetic advantage. Not only does it protect your instrument from scratches and wear while playing, but it also provides a perfect canvas for collecting autographs from your favorite musicians.
With a well-placed pickguard, you can showcase these treasured signatures without fear of them fading or being rubbed away, turning your guitar into a one-of-a-kind piece that combines your personal passion for music with the memories of meeting legendary artists.
Leading guitar manufacturers, such as ESP, have ingeniously incorporated pickguards as electronic access points on their instruments. This innovative design feature allows musicians seamless access to internal electronics, such as pickups and wiring, without disassembling the guitar’s body.
Additionally, the pickguard offers a customizable aesthetic appeal, while ensuring the instrument’s sensitive components stay protected. By integrating functionality and style, ESP and similar brands have revolutionized guitar maintenance and customization, setting trends within the industry.
Pickguards not only serve as a protective shield for your guitar’s finish but they can also be utilized as a convenient place for resting one’s fingers while playing. This often neglected function of pickguards helps guitarists maintain proper hand positioning and ensure accuracy in their playing.
By using the pickguard as a finger rest, musicians can better focus on their performance and reduce strain on their hands, ultimately leading to an enhanced playing experience and improved musical results.
Peace Of Mind
Lastly, investing in a pickguard significantly contributes to your peace of mind as a musician or guitar enthusiast. A pickguard not only protects the precious surface of your beloved instrument from unwanted scratches and damages but also allows you to maintain its pristine appearance for years to come.
This simple yet essential accessory ensures that you can focus on honing your craft and creating beautiful melodies rather than constantly worrying about the condition of your guitar.
How To Install A Pick Guard?
To apply a pickguard to an acoustic guitar, follow these steps:
- Purchase a pickguard: You can find a wide range of pickguards online or at your local music store. Choose one that suits your guitar’s style and your personal preferences. Make sure it’s designed for your specific guitar model and body style.
- Clean the area: Before you start, make sure the area on your guitar where you’ll be placing the pickguard is clean and free of dust, oil, or grease.
- Determine the correct placement: Align the pickguard in the area where you pick or strum the guitar strings. It’s essential to position it in a way that protects your guitar’s finish from potential damage. You can use another guitar with a similar body style as a reference or do a quick online search for an example. Some pickguards come with a template to help with accurate placement.
- Apply adhesive: Many pickguards come with an adhesive backing. Carefully remove the protective film from the adhesive side without touching the adhesive to avoid getting oils from your fingers on it. If your pickguard doesn’t have adhesive, you can use double-sided tape or adhesive film specially designed for guitars.
- Attach the pickguard: Carefully position the pickguard on your guitar, making sure it aligns with your desired placement. Once you’re satisfied with the positioning, gently press down on the pickguard for a few seconds to ensure a strong bond with the guitar’s surface. You can use a soft cloth to press down on the pickguard, exerting even pressure to avoid air bubbles or gaps.
- Smooth out the edges: Run your fingers or the soft cloth along the edges of the pickguard to make sure it’s securely attached to the guitar’s surface. Any gaps or bubbles may cause the pickguard to peel off sooner and can damage the guitar’s finish.
- Allow it to set: Give the adhesive some time to bond before you start playing your guitar. Follow the instructions from the pickguard or adhesive manufacturer to know how long to wait. By following these simple steps, you can successfully apply a pickguard to your acoustic guitar and protect it from potential damage caused by picking or strumming.
Can I Take The Pick Guard Off My Guitar?
Absolutely, you can take the pickguard off your guitar. The process may be hard or easy, depending on your situation. For example, archtop acoustic guitars have a floating pickguard, which means they are held by screws with a small bracket. On the other hand, a flat-top acoustic has a pickguard attached to the glue. Though, you can remove it permanently.
Should I Add A Pickguard To My Acoustic Guitar?
Usually, dreadnought acoustic guitars have the pickguard built-in. If you own any other body style, you may not have one, and you’ll gradually start noticing micro-scratches on the finish. The decision to add a pickguard to your acoustic guitar can be influenced by several factors, such as aesthetics, functionality, and personal preferences.
A pickguard, a thin piece of plastic or other material, is designed to protect the surface of the guitar’s body from scratches and damage caused by the movement of the pick while strumming. Some guitarists feel that a pickguard adds a touch of elegance and charm to the instrument’s appearance, while others prefer the natural look of an unadorned guitar.
From a practical standpoint, if you find yourself frequently playing with a pick, installing a pickguard can be highly beneficial in preserving the guitar’s finish over time, especially if it is a high-end or sentimental instrument. Pickguards are also available in various designs and colors, allowing you to customize your guitar to your liking.
It’s important to note, however, that some players believe a pickguard can negatively impact the guitar’s tone and resonance due to the additional material attached to the body, but this effect is usually subtle and may not matter much too casual players.
Ultimately, the choice to add a pickguard to your acoustic guitar boils down to personal taste and the value you place on safeguarding your instrument’s finish. Whether you opt for a stylish design or a more minimalist approach, a pickguard can be a functional and aesthetically pleasing accessory to enhance your overall playing experience.
Why do Guitars Get Scratched so Easily?
Guitars are delicate, intricately designed musical instruments that can produce a wide range of resonant and harmonious tones. They consist of various components such as the soundboard, neck, and strings, all of which can impact the overall sound quality of the instrument.
Despite the robust construction, guitars often get scratched due to their inherent vulnerabilities against external handling factors. The primary reason guitars get scratched is the frequent usage of picks and strumming techniques that apply pressure on the soundboard.
The soundboard, being the central component of a guitar, is instrumental in producing the desired tonal quality, but at the same time, it is susceptible to scratches and scuff marks. To prevent these scratches, protective barriers such as pickguards are placed on the surface of the guitar adjacent to the soundhole.
While functional, these pickguards cannot provide comprehensive protection against all possible persistent strumming actions by players during practice or live performances. Additional factors contributing to scratches include accidental nicks and scrapes when placing the guitar down or carrying it around.
Moreover, the wood type and finish of the guitar may also affect the likelihood of developing scratch marks. Ultimately, although guitars are well-crafted instruments, they remain sensitive to inevitable wear and tear due to their natural material makeup and the vigorous nature of the musicians who play them.
Why Some Guitars Don’t Require a Pickguard?
Some guitars do not require a pickguard due to the playing techniques used by the guitarist that involve primarily playing with fingers, rather than using a pick. A pickguard serves as a protective barrier on the guitar’s soundboard that prevents the surface from getting scratched or damaged while strumming or picking the strings with a pick.
However, not all guitarists rely on a pick for playing their instruments. Fingerstyle guitarists, for example, use their fingers to pluck the strings, producing a gentler sound that doesn’t necessarily cause damage to the soundboard. Acoustic guitars with thicker finishes or more robust materials, such as maple or rosewood, may not always require pickguards due to their inherent strength and resistance to wear.
Consequently, the absence of a pickguard on a guitar doesn’t necessarily compromise the instrument’s durability or performance, especially when the guitarist embraces the nuances that fingerstyle techniques can bring to the music. In conclusion, the need for pickguards significantly depends on the playing style and preferences of the guitarist, as well as the specific guitar model and materials used in its construction.
What about Flamenco Guitars?
The flamenco guitar, a distinct variant of the classical guitar, offers a unique and fascinating approach to creating music, with its rich and percussive tonal qualities. Played with the fingers instead of a pick, the flamenco technique involves a variety of strumming patterns and accents to produce its enchanting sound.
To protect the finish of the guitar body from the intense strumming motions, a pickguard – also known as a “golpeador” – is commonly used to protect the top of the guitar from any scratches or damage, and is often made from a clear or patterned plastic material.
The pickguard serves as a functional yet subtle addition to the flamenco guitar, safeguarding the beautiful finish of the guitar without detracting from its aesthetic charm. As the musician skillfully moves through intricate strumming, tapping, and percussive techniques, the flamenco guitar – with its equally stunning visuals and delightful audio – truly captivates and mesmerizes its audience, transporting them to the passionate world of flamenco music and dance.
Do Pickguards Affect Tone?
Pickguards are an integral part of a guitar’s design and aesthetics, often seen as a practical accessory for protecting the top of the guitar from being scratched by the pick. However, there is a lot of debate among guitarists and experts on whether pickguards affect tone or not. The primary purpose of pickguards is to shield the finish on the top of the guitar from damage, which often raises the question – do pickguards affect tone?
In order to understand the potential impact of pickguards, one must examine the material they are made of and the type of guitar they are used on. For instance, plastic pickguards are less likely to have a significant impact on the resonance and sustain of an electric guitar as compared to an acoustic guitar.
This is because electric guitars rely heavily on the pickup system for sound amplification and tonal characteristics. On the other hand, an acoustic guitar relies on the top of the guitar to create its resonant properties, which may be slightly affected by the presence of a plastic pickguard. Although the difference in tone may be minimal and not easily audible to the average listener, many purists argue that the mere presence of a pickguard can alter the instrument’s natural resonance and sustain.
In conclusion, the debate over whether pickguards affect tone is subjective and depends greatly on the individual’s perception and playing style, but it is worth considering when designing or modifying a guitar.
Q. Does The Thickness Of A Pick Guard On A Fender Stratocaster Change The Way The Guitar Sounds By Reducing Noise?
The thickness of a pick guard on a Fender Stratocaster won’t affect the guitar’s sound by reducing noise from my experience. However, the impact of pickguard thickness on sound may vary depending on factors like material and individual playing technique.
Q. Why do some guitars don’t have pickguards?
Some guitars don’t have pickguards to show off the natural beauty of the wood or provide a cleaner aesthetic. Others may have a different style of pickguard or none at all due to personal preference or the type of music being played. Some guitarists may also remove pickguards to reduce weight or improve resonance.
Q. Do classical guitars have pickguards?
It is sporadic to see pickguards on classical guitars. So, the answer is NO.
Q. When were the pickguards first introduced to the guitar?
The floating pickguard is commonly seen on carved-top solid-body guitars (such as the Gibson Les Paul) and arch-top hollow-body guitars (such as the Gretch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman). Gibson originally introduced this design in 1909 with its arch-top acoustic models such as the Gibson L-1.
Q. Can I paint a pickguard?
Yes, you can paint a pickguard. However, it is important to prepare the surface properly before applying paint and to use the right kind of paint. Some pickguards may also require sanding or priming before painting. It is important to do research or consult with a professional before attempting to paint a pickguard.
In conclusion, a pickguard is an essential component of a guitar that protects its top from scratches, dents, and other damages caused by playing. It also enhances the guitar’s aesthetics and can be customized to match your preference. Investing in a quality pickguard ensures that your instrument stays in top shape for longer, allowing you to enjoy your music-making experience without any worries.
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.
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.