Wondering why pretty much every electric and acoustic guitar has a pickguard? Are they necessary, or just for looks? And do they affect the sound of the guitar?
So why do some guitars have pickguards, and others don’t? In this article, I’ll be addressing all your burning questions about pickguards and why they exist. So let’s get started!
The Quick Answer
Some guitars have pickguards for protective or decorative purposes. Pickguards are designed to protect the front of your guitar’s body from damage with the pick. They have little to no effect on the sound of a guitar.
Most guitars have pickguards because they are great at protecting your guitar from scratches, as they can be easily replaced, and they add a touch of flair to the design. The reason why some guitars don’t have pickguards, is purely for aesthetic reasons.
Do Pickguards Affect Tone?
Pickguards have an incredibly small affect on the the tone of the guitar, so small in fact, that you’ll probably never be able to hear it.
Most pickguards are made of plastic, whilst the bodies of pretty much every acoustic and electric guitar, are made of wood.
Wood is great because it has gaps and grains, which allow the vibrations that occur when strings are plucked, to be soaked in. This increases the depth of the tone, the sustain, and makes the instrument sound more resonant.
So what happens when you slap a great big plastic pickguard on the top of your guitar? Well, it can dampen the sound.
But the effect is super minimal, and you’d never be able to tell the difference if you heard two identical guitars back to back, with one that had a pickgaurd.
This is because the top of the guitar isn’t the more important area when it comes to creating this resonance and sustain. The back and sides of an acoustic guitar are more important.
The impact of pickguards on tone is even less prevalent with electric guitars because the tone wood doesn’t matter as much as it does with acoustic guitars. The pickups are far more important on electric guitars than the body wood.
So Are Pickguards Just for Aesthetics?
Okay, so why do pickguards actually exist then, if they don’t really impact the tone of the guitar?
They’re basically just there for the aesthetics.
Some guitars simply look better when they have pickguards as it makes the guitar look more interesting, particularly with different colours and effects like tortoiseshell.
Another advantage of pickguards, besides looking cool, is that they protect the wood and finish on the front of your guitar, hence the name.
This happens when you’re strumming. Some pickguards are located underneath the pickups on an electric guitar, or the sound hole on an acoustic. This stops you scratching the body of your guitar with your plectrum (pick) if you strum past the strings.
Some pickguards on electric guitars cover much more space, like on the Strat for example, where they go around the pickups as well. This stops you scratching the area behind the pickup.
Of course, after a while, your pickguard can look pretty scratched up. But that’s no problem, because you can simply unscrew it and replace it on electric guitars.
Then you can swap it for a nice and shiny new one. It’s a much better alternative than scratching the body of your guitar, which you can’t just simply replace.
It’s a little more complicated to remove the pickguard on an acoustic guitar, because there are no screws. You usually have to apply a bit of heat, and then use a feeler gauge and a bridge removal knife to lift it off.
Are Pickguards Really Necessary?
So are pickguards really necessary?
The truth is, no, not at all.
They simply add to the aesthetics, and protect the finish of the guitar. But if you’re careful, and don’t strum the face of your guitar with your pick, then your won’t need to protect it with a pickguard.
Can you Add a Pickguard to a Guitar?
Yes, you can add a pickguard to any guitar. You’ll just need to remember the following steps.
Adding a pickguard to an acoustic guitar
- Take the strings off your guitar.
- Use some low-tac tape to mark where you’re positioning it.
- Use hide glue/ or an adhesive sheet designed for pickguard application.
- Apply to the back of your pickguard and position it in place.
- Wait until the adhesive is fully dried before re-stringing.
Check out these videos to learn how to install pickgaurds on electric guitars. The process is a bit more complicated, so unless you know what you’re doing, then take your guitar to a pro before trying this at home.