A friend is putting together a double cutaway Telecaster and needed a pickguard. As far as I know no one offers production doublecut Telecasters, which means that pickguards for them aren’t available either, so I offered to make him one. Again, because of their scarcity, that meant I had to make the template from scratch. It was my first time making a pickguard and I hit a few snags that could easily be avoidable.
He sent me a drawing of the guard that I believe he made by copying a regular Tele guard. The drawing is available here. The scale is 1:1 so anyone should be able to print it and use it, which is what I did.
I got a 3/4″ thick piece of plywood and that was my first mistake – it’s too thick. I had to use a lot of sanding drums (handheld and stationary), and the thicker the piece of wood, the smaller is the chance that all of it will touch the sanding drum at once. It also meant that it was impossible to make the straight edges straight. Like the back edge of the pickguard that sits against the bridge:
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until I was almost done making the template.
So I went ahead and got a 3/16″ piece of MDF/particle board. It was much easier to work the contours and straight edges with this piece. For instance, here’s that same back edge on the MDF piece.
Here are the two templates side by side. See how thick the plywood is!
The next step was the toughest – cutting the hole for the neck pickup. Centering it isn’t a big deal, but how do you cut the hole at that exact width and with that exact profile (meaning the circular edges). The width of the hole as it’s drawn is 9/16″ exactly, but I wasn’t sure what was the radius of the sides (i.e. the half-circles). I practiced on the thick template by placing two straight pieces of wood 9/16″ apart and cutting with a router while avoiding doing the half-circles. I don’t remember why, but it didn’t work as well as I hoped. Then I found a 9/16″ spade bit, so I used that in a drill press. I spent a lot of time aligning it every time before lowering the bit down to drill.
I didn’t take any pictures after the drilling, but I cleaned out the hole with a router – again I placed two pieces of wood 9/16″ apart and cleaned the route. This didn’t work as well as I hoped because those pieces of wood were kind of soft, and apparently had a couple of bumps, so the cavity didn’t turn out perfect.
Cutting the guard with a router wasn’t so bad. Although I did use a table router that only works at a frighteningly fast speed. Also, remember to move the piece against the direction that the bit is moving in. So if the bit rotates CCW, move the piece from right to left, or down-up, and not left to right. Going left to right, the router will just throw the piece away from you.
Then came my biggest blunder. Maybe you can tell from this picture:
The half-circle for the control plate is on the left. I made a lefty pickguard and my friend is right-handed. I actually didn’t notice that at all until I sent him this picture and he asked if the picture was inverted. Of course, the template wasn’t cut for lefty. The problem was that I finished making the template at midnight after a really long day, so I wasn’t paying attention and taped the plastic to the wrong side of the template. So now I have a lefty double cut Telecaster pickguard. Very useful. So yeah, pay attention.
A couple of days later I went and cut a new pickguard. It actually turned out better than the first (nicer beveling, especially around the horns, better location of the pickguard screw holes).
Lastly, the countersinking of the screw holes – not sure what’s the proper Fender countersink bit, but I drilled a center hole and then used a 3/4″ countersink bit. I drilled a little, checked with a screw, drilled a little more, checked again, and repeat until it was the right size. It came out really well this way.
The template took the longest to make, so I wouldn’t recommend making a one-off guard for money. It was a worthwhile project and I learned a few important lessons, but god damn it took so long and I’m not at all interested in making another pickguard. Maybe I’ll learn how to use a CNC machine and make the next one with that.