When we talk about pick guitar as they relate to acoustic guitars, we often think about the old celuloid pick guards that were used on the pre-war guitars put out by C.F. Martin and Gibson. Later versions of these pick guards were often made of more stable and less flammable plastic, which was a step in the right direction, but still….plastic is a sound insulator or isolator, so what is an alternative to this?
How about wood? If a complimentary wood could be used or a wood that matches the side and back plate that is a good option. Also a wood that would match the wood veneer of the headpiece is another good choice.
Types of Wood:
Usually selecting one of the choices above gives you a wide variety of hardwoods to choose from, ranging from mahogany to rosewoods, maple and even into the exotic species like striped ebony, and the like. Whatever wood you land on, just make sure it is a hardwood to stand up to the abuse intended for a pick guard – this is protection of the softwood tops.
My personal choice for finish is a natural, oil finish. This tends to draw attention away from the pick guard, but still darkens the wood and lets the beauty of the grain show through. Another obvious choice is to finish the pick guitar in a similar way the top is finished, with a nitrocellulose lacquer, urethane finish or varnish.
Some luthiers prefer to install the pick guard on the instrument top and finish the pick guard the same time as the top.
My preference is to completely finish the top, finish the pick guard and apply the guard to the top with double stick adhesive or contact cement.
When you use the double stick adhesive you can still remove the pick guard after a reasonable amount of time. This gives the guitarist the option to remove the pick guard if he or she prefers to play strictly fingerstyle guitar, where there really is not a need for one.
Pick Guard Construction:
While a good many wooden pick guards are constructed from a single, thin veneer of wood (approx 1mm thick), you must use stable wood that is thoroughly air dried and free from any cracks or checks. Also removal of a single thin piece of wood will almost certainly destroy it.
Another option is you actually laminate at least 2 very thin layers of veneer together and crossing their grain a 90 degree angles. When gluing these, it is best to do so in a vacuum press or a veneer press to obtain the flattest possible stock. This will then require minimal sanding to finish the piece and you will have a very sturdy, crack resistant piece of wood.