Making a Gretsch pickguard from scratch

The materials used for making binding, tuner buttons, and pickguards on many vintage guitars weren’t the modern plastics that we know so well today – like the polyethylene water bottles and the ubiquitous yellow vinyl rubber ducks that will inhabit the Earth long after we’re gone. One of the common plastics used back then was celluloid, which looks cool, but is highly flammable and also crumbles into nothing after about 50 or 60 years (see my other Gretsch blog post if you want to learn more about these plastics). That’s exactly why I ended up making a Gretsch pickguard from scratch for our pal, Johnny Angel.

I could have used a more durable and long lasting modern plastic for this job, but in order to keep his guitar as period correct as possible we sourced a sheet of “brown tortoise” celluloid that matches what his original pickguard would have been. Luckily, plans for his guitar’s pickguard design are readily available online, so we printed one up and I went to work.

First, I cut out the pickguard pattern and positioned it on the guitar to make sure everything lined up. Once the shape and size checked out I taped the pattern down to the celluloid sheet using scotch tape and scribed the outline into the plastic using an X-Acto knife and a scratch awl.

Once the outline was marked into the plastic I cut out the general shape of the pickguard using our Laguna bandsaw.

Always wear your safety glasses, folks!

After the rough-cutting was done I refined the outline with a belt sander and a disc sander.

Celluloid is highly flammable! Seriously, proceed with caution if you ever take this stuff to a power sander.

I drilled the holes for the mounting screws using a drill press and a brad point drill bit, then countersunk the holes so the screw heads can sit flush with the pickguard.

Vintage Gretsch pickguards have a unique bullnose bevel to them that really gives them a nice finish. I rounded this one over and polished it out by hand.

Finally, I removed the protective film from the plastic and installed the new replacement pickguard for a perfect fit!

Here’s Johnny Angel sporting a guitar that couldn’t be more perfect on him!

And there you have it! Now Johnny just has to take it on some gigs and scratch it up a bit to make it match his cool old guitar.

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