• James Leitch

My New Old Guitar: Painting a Pickguard and Assorted Electronic Nuisances

Updated: Nov 16, 2019

If you’ve been following my journey in turning my second guitar into an instrument I’d enjoy using in guitar lessons and performances, last time I decided that painting the original pickguard that came with my RX20 would be the path of least resistance to getting a color I think goes well with the guitar’s... let’s say, vintage Ivory finish. I looked at a few color combinations, but I was already really into the black and white reverse tuxedo concept we had going in the comments (shameless plug, like me on facebook if you don’t already).

So, I did some research and I bought the right paint for the pickguard and got some clear-coat just in case (Krylon Fusion All-In-One in Gloss Black, and Triple-Thick Crystal Clear Glaze 0500). That evening, I started spray painting but decided to be lazy: rather than set it on a flat surface (the ground) and spend however long bent over, risk handling it and all, I thought I’d be a very clever boy and hang the pickguard from a thing on our fence. It worked great! I didn’t have to bend over, I didn’t get any paint on my clothes or shoes, everything went really well. I was having a great time.

(Actually, this was my wife's idea)

Until I noticed the spraypaint collecting into a drip.


Then, I tried to wipe the drip away with a paper towel while I thought it was still kinda wet. Turns out maybe I might not be the smartest person you’ve ever met. Anyway, I sanded the pickguard down and applied several more coats, and sanded it back down again until I was sure I couldn’t see any more of that drip, or the bits of towel that got stuck everywhere, or the random flecks of outside dust and dirt. This dragged the process out by about two weeks. I added another couple of coats to the pickguard and all the marks I left sanding showed through. Ugh.

So, a couple of days later I added another ton of spray paint, this time on a flat surface (a flattened Diet Coke case, if you’re curious) and it came out looking better. Couple more days later, I added a ton of clear coat and it did… basically nothing, as far as I can tell. After letting it dry, I realized you could still see the original dripanyway in the right light. COOL. A painted plastic surface will never look quite the same level of neat and shiny as a factory made pickguard. But it’s shiny and black and not a gross 20-year-old white, so it’ll do.

Funny story: while licking my wounds about the pot mismatch (see below), I attempted to mount my P-Rails pickups on the pickguard just so I could mess around with my things, and lost one of the springs. It ended up taking an entire day to find it.

Guitar circuitry blues

Here’s the thing about solid body electric guitars: They are a hunk of wood with some strings stretched across them. Play one unamplified, and it makes very little sound. In terms of how an electric guitar sounds, the electrical components are the most important things: the pickups, potentiometers (pots, for the rest of this blog), switches, wire, and the output jack. They do the most work (besides the amp and any effects you plug into) in shaping the tone of the guitar. It makes sense, if you’re trying to make a cheap guitar sound great, to invest in quality electronic parts. So, having settled on and acquired my set of Seymour Duncan P-Rails, (see that journey here) I set my sights on quality pots and switches.

First decision I had to make: I have a guitar that came with a volume knob, a tone knob, and a blade-style switch. So that’s two pots and a switch. My pickups each have four different sounds to be selected, so how can I make the most of what they have to offer without having to start cutting holes for new parts? I decided I would need to use the kinds of pots that contain push-pull switches, and looking into the internet, it would seem that there are a few brands widely regarded as making the highest quality push-pull pots. But it doesn’t stop there! Guitar pots commonly come in 250KΩ, 500KΩ, and 1MΩ resistance models, and which one you use is either A LAW HANDED DOWN FROM THE GOD LES PAUL HIMSELF or a personal preference you can develop (but only after you get your masters in electrical engineering from YouTube University.) Don’t make the wrong choice or your guitar will Sound Bad Forever!

But pots alone are just volume knobs. For tone control, you’ll need to attach a capacitor. Capacitors for guitars are rated in microfarads (μF), and they come in various types, all with hordes of unbelievably devoted acolytes on the internet. Do you want Black Beauties? Bumblebees? Orange Drops? Vitamin Q? Tropical Fish? Styro-flex? Oil and Paper? With or without the Scooter Stick? Some of these are surprisingly expensive! Fortunately, switches and output jacks are a little bit less fraught with danger. All you really need to do is find a quality manufacturer. So far, so good right?

Wrong. You see, even though pretty much every electric guitar that isn’t ridiculous is one of like 5 models*, every company that supplies the electrical components makes them a slightly different size! Isn’t that fun? So the pots I bought didn’t fit the holes that were already in the pickguard. The knobs I almost bought for my new pots? They probably would’ve broken the shafts on the pots. The output jack I bought is a standard part for a ¼” plug, but the little metal plate that holds it in place? Nope! The blade switch fit the pickguard, but is ¼” too tall to fit into my actual guitar, so I can’t screw the pickguard down until I rout the actual body of the guitar. And speaking of routing the body and finally attaching all this junk to the guitar...

looks great, but...

doesn't ~quite~ fit

This is sitting on my bookshelf because I can't attach it to the guitar until I gain access to a tool that will remove 1/4" of wood from the control cavity!

Next Episode: In My Dystopian Future, There Will Be Only One Guitar Bridge

*-please don’t @ me, your JazzStanguar/asymmetrical V/Pointy Satan Thing/~.ergonomic*~ headless deal is actually very cool ok?

**- For the curious, I got:

500K CTS Push-pull pots (2)

Orange Drop .047μF 100V Capacitor (1)

Oak Grigsby telecaster-style 4 way switch (i had to order tips separately, which is highway robbery)

Coleman 22 gauge solid core PVC insulated wire

©2019 by James Leitch.