A pickguard (also known as scratchplate or golpeador in Flamenco music, and uncommonly, a fingerrest) is a piece of plastic or other laminated material that is placed under the strings on the body of a guitar, mandolin or similar plucked string instrument. The main purpose of the pickguard is to protect the guitar's finish from being scratched by the guitar pick.
As well as serving a practical purpose, the pickguard may also be used for decoration and is often made in a contrasting color to that of the guitar body (popular variants are white pickguards on darker guitars and black pickguards on lighter guitars). As well as plastic, other pickguard materials can include acrylic glass, glass, plywood, fabrics, metal and mother-of-pearl/pearloid varieties. Expensive guitars may have luxury pickguards made from exotic woods, furs, skins, gems, precious metals, Mother of Pearl and abalone pearl.
Pickguards come in various designs and shapes but designers usually try to match a headstock and pickguard design. Both can be used to incorporate logos, branding or elements of the manufacturer's style.
Acoustic and classical guitars
Aggressive strumming with a pick can easily damage the polished surface of the guitar's soundboard. Pickguards fitted to acoustic guitars are usually made from thin (2 mm) sheets of plastic (such as PVC), attached with an adhesive just below the sound hole. The material should not be unduly thick or heavy since this might reduce vibration of the soundboard and alter the tone or volume of the instrument. Although not a job for the novice, a badly scratched pickguard could be removed and replaced by a guitar technician or luthier. On some older Martin guitars it is quite common to see the black pickguard curling up at the edges where the adhesive bond between the plastic and the wooden top has broken down. This does not usually present a problem and adds to the "character" of the instrument.
Classical guitars rarely have a pickguard since they are usually finger-picked and are not subject to much scratching. Conversely, the Flamenco guitar is subject to heavy strumming and tapping with fingers and fingernails and often has pickguards fitted both above and below the soundhole. Such a Flamenco pickguard is sometimes called a "tap plate" or "golpeadore".
Fender-style plastic pickguards are usually fitted on solid-bodied electric guitars such as the Fender Stratocaster and Fender Telecaster (and their many replicas) and often cover a large area of the top surface, because Fender guitars are front routed. Most of the guitar's electronic components (pickups, potentiometers, switches and wiring) are mounted on or behind the pickguard and this design simplifies repairs to the wiring once the pickguard is removed. Repairs are usually much harder with Gibson-style guitars, especially archtops, since all the internal parts are only accessible through the f-holes in the soundboard.
On most carved-top guitars, such as the Gibson Les Paul, the plastic pickguard is usually elevated on adjustable metal support brackets. This design was introduced by Gibson in 1909. It allows the height to be adjusted to suit the guitarist's playing position, especially if this involves resting one or more fingers on the pickguard (thus, it is also called a finger rest). Electronic parts are not usually mounted on this type of raised pickguard.
While custom pickguards are made from variety of materials, most mass-production manufacturers use various plastics. The following are the most common:
- Celluloid. Commonly associated with "vintage" guitars, this plastic is available in variety of colors and designs, but it has several cons that hinder its usage nowadays:
- This material is extremely flammable. Performers who smoke near their instruments with celluloid pickguards can occasionally put everything on fire with a misplaced cigarette.
- As a solvent based plastic, celluloid tends to shrink over the years, making the pickguard curl around the edges. It puts extra stress on the wood beneath the pickguard and sometimes cracks appear. This is very common on older Martin acoustic guitars. On electric guitars, where the pickguard is attached with screws, vintage celluloid pickguards tend to develop cracks due to stress caused by shrinking.
- Vinyl (PVC). This material does not tend to shrink and is not highly flammable.
- Acrylic glass.
The pickguard on a solid-bodied electric guitar is often the first item to be modified (modded) by enthusiasts wanting to add creative designs or use different materials. Many companies now offer custom-made replacement pickguards to give an instrument a unique look.
The pickguard is sometimes deliberately missing from a guitar's design. For example, superstrats with neck-thru designs aim for maximum sustain and tend to have no plastic parts, pickup frames or plastic potentiometer handles. Anything that might dampen the sound is stripped off the guitar.
- Fingerrest in Illustrated glossary at FRETS.COM
- Pickguard in Illustrated glossary at FRETS.COM
- WikiAnswers - How much would a guitar signed by A Simple Plan be worth?
- Pickguard colors and materials chart at Warmoth