Recently, a client of mine named Bruce went to see ZZ Top in New Orleans. Being huge ZZ Top fan, he snagged a VIP pass, which amongst other things gained him an audience with Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard, and Dusty Hill. How cool is that?! He had heard that ZZ Top has a policy of not signing autographs, but he managed to sneak his Gibson Firebird pickguard backstage, and when somehow managed to get the boys to sign it anyway. Score! Now, Bruce is a serious player, and didn’t want to abandon his Firebird just to preserve the signatures, so he asked me to devise a way to protect the autographs that would still allow him to play his guitar.
Bruce brought his pickguard (sans guitar), and had read a suggestion somewhere to make a clear plastic sheet that would overlay on top of the pickguard. I thought this was a fine idea, and all I had to do what figure out how to make it accurately without ruining his pickguard. Ideally, I would have preferred to use a router table for this job – but as I just moved into my new shop a month ago, I haven’t invested in a router table yet (and of course, you know when I do it will be the best I can possibly afford). But as necessity is the mother of invention, after careful consideration I came up with a way to do this using my drill press. Here’s how I did it.
First, the pickguard with ZZ Top’s signatures in all it’s glory:
I used some very thin clear plastic (roughly .25mm) to make the pickguard shield from. Normally I wouldn’t use the drill press to do this kind of work (as it won’t spin fast enough, even at it’s highest setting), but since the plastic was super thin I figured it would be safe. Just to be sure, I practiced this entire process on a scrap pickguard lying around the shop – there could me NO mistakes on this one. Screwing up Bruce’s signed pickguard would have really sucked.
My first step was to rough cut a piece of plastic and secure it to the pickguard. I used 3 layers of double sided tape to stick it to the pickguard, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.
The next step I couldn’t take pictures of in process, because, well… it would have been dangerous to try this one handed and I like keeping my fingers. I installed a router bit with a top bearing into the drill press, which would roll along the edge of the pickguard, cutting the clear plastic in the exact shape of the pickguard. I had to stack the tape three deep so that clear plastic would reach the blades on the router bit, which are spaced a bit aways from the follower bearing. I was super careful during this process, and moved very slowly so the router bit wouldn’t catch on the plastic and ruin the pickguard (or remove my fingertips).
This worked out fantastically. I peeled off the protective film, drilled holes for the screws and pickup switch and voila! A perfectly matched pickguard shield.
Since Bruce didn’t bring his Firebird with him, he was kind enough to email me a picture of the pickguard shield installed on his guitar. Looking good!
While this wasn’t exactly the ideal process to do a job like this, it still turned out perfect and I’m happy with the results. Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard are now safe to jam with Bruce all over New Orleans.