Problem: Poor Fit, Poor Quality
What is this? Read below.
You wouldn't think it would be that difficult to make pickguards, but we have seen many, many problems over the years:
We had a friend who was going to order a custom-made Tele pickguard with a mini-humbucker opening from one of the largest suppliers of pickguards in the US. He said he was buying the pickup from the same place, so he'd have them physically check the fit before they shipped. It got here, he brought it in for us to install, and it didn't fit. The pickup could not be inserted into the pickguard opening, because one of the corners was sloppily cut and created an interference fit.
We had a customer send a blonde Road Worn Tele in for some work. He was looking for the Blackguard look, so he had replaced the white pickguard with a single-ply black one. There was a full 1/16" or more gap around the entire pickup - a pickup that has been in production for more than 60 years. The opening where the pickguard nests with the control plate was made with the wrong radius, so it didn't fit properly around the Fender control plate (which is 1.25" wide, and, again, hasn't changed in more than 60 years). So the pickguard rode up over the edge of the control plate. The sticker on the back was from another large US supplier.
We ordered HSS pickguards from yet another US supplier, one who has done OEM work for a couple of guitar manufacturers that you're familiar with. The first time we tried to prewire one with Fender Custom Shop pickups, the pickups wouldn't fit into the neck/middle openings. Literally - no way, no how were the pickups going into the openings. We called the manufacturer; they commented that we were the first customer to ever complain about it. They followed that up with an emailed image of their master template with single-coil covers in two of the openings, as if to prove to us that we were mistaken (above). But neither of the covers in the photo were Fender's! You know, if your replacement Strat pickguard can't be used with actual Fender pickups, that's a problem. By the way, they're not the only company whose product has this problem, we've seen it several times with pickguards from other manufacturers.
And on and on. Mint green the color of pistachio ice cream. Strat pickguards with the wrong profiles. Screw holes that don't line up. Humbucker openings that won't admit F-spaced pickups.
Our position is that if you want to make pickguards for Strats and Teles, they need to fit just like Fender's! This seems to have been a tall order in the past, with a few notable exceptions, such as Callaham.
But no more, Dude. Acme has arrived.
Solution: Acme CNC Pickguards
We bought a big machine, some software, some tooling, and a bunch of plastic from the same vendor that Fender buys theirs from. Then we went to work.
First were the shapes. We laser-scanned some un-beveled Fender pickguard blanks to create 3-D point clouds, then refined these into 3-D models. We didn't use any beveled pickguards because we wanted perfect shapes, and we did a number of different pickguards to get all five Strat/Tele screw patterns, plus exact locations for pickup openings, including humbuckers.
Then we modified our machine. Nobody makes CNC machinery for cutting pickguards, they make them for machining metal and wood. So there was a learning curve, and some trial and error before we got it right.
But now, beautiful CNC pickguards, in the right colors, and the fit is dead on. Finally, it's simple to get the pickguard you need that fits right the first time.
Benefits of CNC
Fender punches their pickguards, we've watched them doing it at Corona. The operator steps on a footswitch and Wham!, out comes a perfect shape, and it takes only a couple of seconds to feed in another piece of plastic and step on the footswitch again. It's super fast, and super consistent. But then they perform manual secondary operations for the bevel and for the countersinks, and this is where the consistency falls down.
The beauty of CNC is that there are no secondary operations, the machine makes the whole thing at once. It changes tools as needed to perform the various operations, but the material remains in the vacuum fixture throughout the process, and there are no manual operations.
So they're just dead-on. We can offer the various perimeter-screw placements, and they're dead-on. We can offer various sizes of humbucker openings to accommodate pickups from different manufacturers (there's a fair amount of deviation, dimensionally, between pickups from different manufacturers), and they're dead-on. We can program in countersink depths, and they're dead-on. Really, it's a beautiful thing. We get kinda weepy sometimes.
All of our pickguards ship without shielding material applied to their backs. Instead, we have four different full-back aluminum shielding plates that are laser cut, so they fit our pickguards perfectly. And their universal hole pattern allows them to be used with all three of Fender's perimeter-screw patterns. Hey, might as well go over the top, right? If you're going to do a thing, you might as well do it right. And they're half-price when you buy one with one of our pickguards. Out of respect for your wallet, Bwana.
So get one for your Fender guitar, and you will be One Happy Camper.