How to Make a Custom Metal Guitar Pickguard!




About: Well, I'm a musician, and left handed. That, and the fact that I like to make stuff. That's pretty much it. Oh, and I think that there are WAY too many children on this site that serve no purpose whatsoever...

Some people are perfectly content with a plastic scratchplate, and that's fine.
But for the rest of us rebels, we need something different. This is for you guys.
This is my first instructable, complete with a plethora of errors and incoherent rambling!
I hope you enjoy it!

As for the making of it, not all of us can own laser cutters and other fancy gadgets that our fellow . . . instructablers? use.
Everything you see was done using these three tools (and maybe some really rough sandpaper)
~Rotary tool
~Tin snips
~Metal nibbler

Neither the nibbler nor the snips are pneumatic, they're hand operated (such a manly device, eh?)

This was my first time working with metal, so if an idiot like myself can do it, so can you!

Step 1: Picking Out Your Preferred Piece of Metal and Cleaning It.

Although you can pick many different types of metal for this, I chose steel. In retrospect, that was very stupid, considering that I wanted copper, and steel is infinitely harder to cut. So I picked up a sheet of 22 gauge galvanized steel. I then cleaned it up with alcohol, 600 grit sandpaper, steel wool, and some elbow grease! So once you've got it looking vaguely respectable, move onto the next step.

Step 2: Tracing Your Old Pickguard

This is so simple, I don't know why I made a step for it. I just took a sharpie and traced it, remembering that I want to cut to the inside edge of the marker's line. If you want to keep your old pickguard, just wipe off any sharpie with some alcohol.

Step 3: Trimming Off Excess With Tin Snips

Now for this step, I just took my snips and made some cuts here and there, taking off as much as I could so the nibbler could do it's work easier.

Step 4: Drilling Out the Pup Slots and Holes

I drilled out the pickup holes, and used the nibbler to edge my way around, finishing with the metal cutting bit, and the burr remover. I then used my plain old, black and decker drill from the stone age to drill the holes.

Step 5: Cutting With a Nibbler (hard Part)

This will take some major time and elbow grease, and you'll probably develop CTS from the nibbler, so take some breaks. The nibbler works just the way it's name says, by "nibbling" small, 2mm sized pieces of metal. Get close to the edge when you're cutting, but leave a bit to grind off.

Step 6: Using Sandpaper and a Dremel to Even the Sides

I used extremely coarse sandpaper to remove many edges, and then I used two attachments on my dremel. The burr removing one (orange and conical) and a tungsten carbide metal cutting bit. You can infer what I do with either of them.

Notice my ultra high tech mounting technique for my dremel ;)

Step 7: Cutting a Bevel

This isn't really necessary, but it makes me feel more professional. Using the metal cutting bit, with my ultra high tech mounted rotary tool (see picture;) I can make a small bevel.

Step 8: Semi-finished.

At this point, you could just stop, put it on, and say "To hell with it"
You could "brush" it, (essentially just thousands of parallel scratches from sandpaper. . . you can find tutorials on here), or opt for my method, which was to electroplate it with copper. I won't go in depth on this, as there are much more knowledgeable people on here who can help you with this.

Step 9: My Finished Guard!

I personally like the look of tarnished copper, as opposed to the nearly pink-peachy color it has after it's polished. However, if you dig that, you could hit it with some clear lacquer and be done with it.
Anyways, here she is!
I would post a clip, but since it's almost purely aesthetic, I don't really see the point.

If you stayed with me this far, thanks!
Have a good one guys.



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    28 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This has given me another idea to play with in my endless upgrades! Since I see so many lefties on here, anybody got good sources for left handed switches? I keep thinking I can just reverse wire the 4pole righty, but alas... no...

    any lefty sources are awesome.

    Thanks and a great post!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I'm wanting to make one myself, but I'm looking at using copper clad printed circuit board. Should be LOTS easier to cut, & still have that copper look.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nicely done with the copper plating!

    In fact, I am trying to do the same exact thing: copper plate a galvanized steel piece. I tried a tester piece that I put into a 2parts white vinegar/1part hydrogen peroxide solution with a 9 volt current. After a few hours I got a really nice copper plating on the steel, but it quickly flaked off.

    What type of solution did you use? Also, what voltage/amp current did you use? How did you clean/treat the steel before you plated it?

    Any tips you can spare would be greatly appreciated!!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Do you need to earth the scratch plate? I was just wiring up my guitar with aluminium checker plate scratch plate and I don't know wether it'll shock me when im finished! Sorry if that sounds silly!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    hey this is probably a dumb question: where do you track down pieces of sheet metal like that? i'm doin a similar project makin some custom mounting rings for some filtertrons. any arrows in the right direction are appreciated.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Not a dumb question at all! I bought mine at Home Depot, probably $6 or so, I can't remember. You could try a machine shop too probably, but I'm not sure about their prices.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    You should take the ground lead from the electronics and wire it to the pick guard (the wire that attaches to the jack's sleevey part, Not the j shaped tip part). That way you have tooons of shielding from RF (buzz).

    2 replies

    I did just that, I just didn't add that in to the 'ible because it's not pertinent to actually 'making' it.  It's the ultimate in shielding, especially if you were to line the cavity with copper foil or whatnot.

    Yeah, I think I might make one of these when I re-do my fuzzy guitar this summer (never do black fuzz, it gets matted and ends up looking like pubes).


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

         To the best of my knowledge, "brushed" metal is really just many fine scratches that are placed in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing.  The most common designs is the 'straight' (for lack of a better term) brush, where there are many fine lines going in the same direction.  The other is a circular brush, with many circular scratches.
         To make the 'straight' scratches, all you need to do is go back and forth with a sanding block equipped with a fine grit (I would imagine about 400-150ish, anything higher, and you won't see it, anything lower, and it's doing more than just scratching), taking care to ensure it's STRAIGHT.  If it isn't, it will look silly.  I know, because that's what I tried to do when I originally made this.  I plated it afterward because my brushing wasn't perfectly straight.
          I don't know what you would use for the circular ones, other than those stripping bits that have many strands of wire that go into your drill.

    Good luck.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     thanks, to help me with the scratches I will probably use a... don't know/remember what it is called. it looks like a T and it will line up to a table... one of those things to help make them straight. 

    jimi wtf

    9 years ago on Introduction

    didn't u have any problem by using galvanized steel? because that metal is ferro-magnetic, doesn't that affect the pickups or something??


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Pretty cool, i was thinking of something a little more shiny for my Strat, any tips of how to achieve that?, btw i love the finish on your guitar...

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Something 'shiny' eh? Depends on what you mean by that. If you mean a shiny copper, you could just put a clear coat on it and that would do it.
    For shiny steel or something to that extent, you could do a Nickel II sulfate bath (At least I think that's the compound you use for Nickel plating). I tried to do something like that with a Bigsby-esque tailpiece I made, but for whatever reason, the galvanized sheet metal from Home Depot wouldn't take to it (or maybe my amperage was too low?)
    Thanks, although the photos don't really do it justice, the flash washed it out. It's a simple mahogany stain on alder with tung oil.