In this helpful, purpose written guide, Guestblogger Karlynn explains how to replace the scratchplate of an acoustic guitar. Along the way, you’ll also find out why your scratchplate is so important; why it might need replacing at all; how to start, and what you need to watch out for.
What Are Scratchplates Made of?
The scratchplate is an extra protective layer that’s placed on top of the soundboard of an acoustic guitar, just under the soundhole. Scratchplates (also known as pickguards) are usually made of some sort of plastic, but can also be made of a range of different materials including glass, shell, metal, and so on.
Why Do You Need a Scratchplate?
The scratchplate protects the wood of the guitar from getting scratched up and dented by the plectrum or your nails as you play. Playing any guitar without a scratchplate can damage the soundboard since strumming hard and fast often means that your pick is hitting the soundboard soon after it hits the strings. If the pick is hitting wood, it can leave fairly deep scratches and quickly eat through the finish of the guitar. This kind of damage is hard to repair and getting the job done professionally by a luthier can cost a fair bit of money. So, if you prefer to play with a plectrum then I definitely recommend getting a scratchplate, and if you prefer fingerpicking and don’t use a plectrum that often, then I still recommend getting a scratchplate – it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
They also look cool
An added bonus to needing a scratchplate to protect the wood of your guitar is that they can look pretty cool. A guitar without a scratchplate tends to look a little underdressed or just plain naked, so if you’re sprucing up your guitar or upgrading your scratchplate, you can add a nice personalised touch in the process. A lot of high-end guitars are mounted with a decorated or engraved scratchplate, which gives them a more deluxe look, like the Takamine EF-450C-TT and the classic Ephiphone Hummingbird.
Why replace the scratchplate?
It might be that, after a few years of playing, your scratchplate has seen better days and doesn’t look quite as slick as it once did. In this case, it might be time to replace it. Of course, it might be that your model didn’t even come with a scratchplate, or you just want a new look.
What do you need to watch out for?
- The first thing to note is that a removed scratchplate (in most cases) can’t ever be used again. So have a good think before you start removing it. The scratchplate often cracks and breaks when being detached, and the self-adhesive layer used to mount it will be completely removed.
- When picking out a new scratchplate, it’s best to go for one that’s the same size as the original, or at least a little bigger. This is because the wood beneath the original scratchplate has not been exposed to light and other external elements that naturally darken or lighten it, so when you remove the old scratchplate, you’ll immediately see a kind of ‘imprint’ of where it’s been. By getting a replacement that’s around the same size, you can just cover this up.
- You also need to be pretty careful when removing the scratchplate, since it will involve applying heat (using something like a hair dryer) to loosen the glue used to mount it. The potential problem here is that the finish of most guitars is also sensitive to heat, so you need to make sure that the heat is evenly distributed! Avoid heating up one spot for a long period of time and, if necessary, make sure to cover the other parts of your guitar during the process.
What do you need to replace your scratchplate?
- Of course, you’ll need to pick out your new scratchplate so you have something to replace the old one with. As I said above, make sure to get the right size. Anything bigger is perfect and actually easier to work with but anything smaller isn’t recommended.
- You’ll also need some kind of heat source and the easiest tool in this case is a hair dryer, which is actually perfect for the job. If possible, use one that has different settings so you can control the temperature. Never use a heat gun (the kind used for stripping paint) as this will damage your guitar.
- Having a microfibre cloth and a little lemon oil on hand will also be really useful for cleaning up.
Getting to Work
Removing the old scratchplate
- Check and check again: Even before we start removing the old scratchplate it’s worth checking one more time that the new scratchplate is going to be a good replacement. You can easily do this by laying the new scratchplate over the old one, and if it fully covers it, you’re good to go.
- Warm up the glue: Here, we’ll use a hairdryer to warm up and loosen the glue used to mount the original scratchplate. Warming the glue softens it so that the scratchplate can be carefully removed.
- If your hair dryer has different settings, it’s best not to use the hottest setting to start with since hot air can damage the varnish of your guitar. If your hair dryer only has one setting, then make sure to hold the dryer further away from the guitar as you warm the glue. You’ll be able to tell when the dryer is being held too close or just close enough.
- Regularly check how warm the body of your guitar is getting. The wood should never get too hot. The safest way to do this is to gradually move the hair dryer back and forth over the scratchplate and keep it moving so that the heat is never concentrated on one spot for too long.
- Remove the scratchplate:
- Keep checking if a corner of the scratchplate can be lifted away with your fingernail.
- Don’t use any tools for this because you’re likely to be left with a scratched soundboard.
- As soon as a corner of the scratchplate can be loosened and lifted, you can try pulling it away a little more. If there’s any resistance at all, keep warming the glue with your hair dryer until it becomes more loose.
- Don’t worry if a little glue residue is left after the scratchplate has been removed (we’ll deal with that next).
Once you’ve removed the scratchplate, there’s likely to be a little glue residue left on your soundboard which will need to be cleaned off before you mount the new scratchplate.
- Rub it off with your fingers: While the glue is still warm, you can rub away most of the leftover glue with your fingertips.
- Clean it off with lemon oil: The last little bits of residue can be cleaned off with a little lemon oil, applied and wiped away with a microfibre cloth.
- Double check: Carefully check for any left over glue by running your hand or a cloth over the surface. If you don’t feel any stickiness or resistance at all, then you can be sure that there’s no more glue clinging to the wood.
Mounting your new scratchplate
- Fitting: Now, you can loosely place your new scratchplate on the soundboard and shift it into the perfect position.
- It can sometimes help to know exactly where the scratchplate needs to sit since it has to be stuck in the right place the first time. The easiest way to mark the right position is to use a couple of bits of masking tape or even post-it notes, since it won’t leave any residue.
- Remove the backing: As soon as you’ve marked out the perfect spot for your scratchplate, you can remove the backing to expose the self-adhesive layer.
- Protective plastic: If there’s any protective plastic on the front of the new scratchplate, it’s best to remove this before mounting as well.
- Use to your markers: The easiest way to neatly mount your scratchplate is to guide it into your markers – and stick with them.
- Stick around the soundhole first: Start by positioning the point of the pickguard – the one that borders the soundhole or rosette – then carefully lay the scratchplate in place, again, using your markers to guide it in.
- A little shifting: Often, you’ll be able to shift the scratchplate a little to make sure it’s in the perfect position.
- Stick it down: 100% satisfied? Now you can press the scratchplate down across the entire surface to make sure that it’s securely mounted.
Did you know?
If you don’t really like the look of scratchplates but still want to protect the soundboard of your guitar, then why not go for a transparent scratchplate?
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