Guitar players and enthusiasts will be familiar with the laminated plastic that can be found on the body of most guitars. Have you ever wondered what purpose it serves?
The presence of pickguards protects the body and finish of guitars from scratches by plectrums or fingernails. They also serve functional purposes like beautifying the guitar, accessing electronics, adding some minor sound and the occasional autograph.
Important as they are, not all guitars feature a pickguard. This article will discuss the reasons for having pickguards in detail while also looking at why some guitars don’t have them.
A pickguard, also known as a scratch plate, is a plastic board that can be found on the body of a guitar. It is most often behind the strings on the body of the guitar.
Pickguards are mostly made of plastic, although you can also find some made of materials like plywood or acrylics. However, the best material is plastics as they are the only materials that don’t affect the tone of the guitar significantly.
Acoustic and electric guitars almost always feature a pickguard for all their features. However, classical guitars rarely ever have one. This is because they are played with fingers alone so the
Pickguards are not just there for the fancy of guitar makers. They serve clear purposes that will be discussed in this section. Some of the functions of pickguards on guitars are:
This is the most important function of pickguards. When strumming with either picks or fingers, there will inevitably be scratches on the guitar where the instrument touches its body. This factor is important with acoustic guitars as scratches affect the tone and depth of the guitar. On the other hand, scratches don’t affect the sound quality of electric guitars.
You might have noticed that pickguards are often colourful and have nice designs. This makes them a wonderful contrast to the casual design on guitar bodies. This beautifies the guitar and you can change them to another design that suits you.
Pickguards are also used to cover the electronics board of electric guitars. This makes it very easy to access the electronics by removing the pickguard.
As pickguards can be removed whenever you want, they are also used to get autographs of famous figures. Again, this is another positive born out of the fact that pickguards are removable. After getting the autograph, you can remove it and store it as a keepsake. You could, of course, also leave it on and remove it whenever you want to place it on another guitar.
This is the least reason for the use of pickguards. When you strum the strings of your guitar, gently tapping the Pickguard can add variety to the sound you make.
Additionally, the presence of a Pickguard itself is enough to change the tone ever so slightly. This change is hardly noticeable and you probably won’t be able to distinguish between the sound made with a pickguard and without it. However, a guitar can be designed intentionally so the pickguard will enrich its tone.
From the previous section, it is easy to deduce that pickguards are important accessories if not necessarily must-haves. However, you can get a bit confused that some guitars don’t feature pickguards. After seeing why most guitars have it, we should also discuss why others don’t have it.
As mentioned in a previous section, classical guitars mostly don’t feature pickguards because they are played with fingers alone. Playing with a pick increases the risk of scratches, and continuous touching will leave marks on the guitar no matter how careful you are. In contrast, touching the board with the softer skin of the fingers can not lead to scratches. However, fingernails still pose a risk of scratches.
Also, some manufacturers don’t appreciate the admittedly slight effect pickguards have on the tone of the guitar. Again, note that the effect on the tone is minimal so it’s not much of a problem. To ensure this, pickguards are always below 2 mm in thickness. Above this thickness, the tone, vibration and volume of the guitar are affected.
As said, different types of guitars have the kind of pickguards that suit them. Using a pickguard meant for one kind of guitar for another can cause reduced sound quality or terrible aesthetics. If you, therefore, want to buy a pickguard for your guitar, you have to know what fits your instrument.
The pickguard on acoustic guitars are the most common kind and they are always around 2 mm thick PVC plastics. They are found below the sound hole and are often attached to the guitar with an adhesive. As discussed previously, an overly thick Pickguard will have a stifling effect on the tone of the guitar. As the natural tone of acoustic guitars is so important, this is a crucial point to note.
Also, the optimal thickness ensures that the vibration of the soundboard isn’t affected and both volume and projection of the guitar are intact.
As electric guitars do not have to worry about dampening tones, the thickness is of less importance than acoustic guitars. The main purpose of these pickguards outside protecting the finish is to allow access to electronics like pickups and potentiometers. They are always bigger than those found on acoustic guitars and can even be big enough to cover a significant portion of the surface.
This type of pickguard is often found on arch-top hollow body guitars and carved-top solid body guitars. It is usually on metal support brackets that can be adjusted so you can change the height to suit your playing position.
On the body of most guitars, you will find pickguards installed. They are used to protect the fine finish of guitars from scratches, add a beautifying effect, used to access electronics in electric guitars, and collect signatures for autographs.