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Not a pickguard, it's an elevated
Celluloid Fingerrest
© Frank Ford, 7/1/98; Photos by FF, 6/27/98

Or is it? Jazz guitars and carved top mandolins are frequently fitted with elevated "finger rests" to allow a comfortable platform for the fingers of the picking hand. A pickguard is thin and glued to the top of a flat top instrument. We often refer to a "fingerrest" as a "pickguard" for convenience because of the similarity of function. Recently, Gibson, has made the switch to calling them pickguards.

Next, there's the spelling. Is it one word like chinrest, or is it two words? Is it hyphenated? I've always liked the look of "fingerrest" so that's the spelling I'll use.

OK, 'nuff of that.

Most vintage instruments had fingerrests made of celluloid, ranging in thickness from a little under 3/32" to over 1/8." Because of celluloid's tendency to decompose, making new fingerrests is definitely part of the restoration of arch top instruments.

Builders have shaper templates and fixtures to help the binding process, but repair technicians usually do everything by hand. That's the way I work, because I rarely make two alike in the same year.

First I'll select the thick celluloid piece I'm going to use, and choose which side will face up. Here, I'm using tortoise colored celluloid that's quite thick, namely .135 in. I notice that the sheet already has a slight curvature, so I'll orient my pattern so that the curve arches upward in the center:

Otherwise, the fingerrest may appear to "sag" when mounted on the guitar, in this case a Martin F-9 from the 1930s. Later, when I'm buffing it, I can straighten it while it's warm from the buffer, but I figure that it may "want" to return to this kind of curve as it ages.

In order to draw my pattern easily, I'll cover the top surface with masking tape:

I like this sign makers "transfer tape." I can easily draw on it, and it is porous enough to accept a water based glue if I want to place a photocopy of my pattern on top.

That's what I'm doing here. I have a pattern drawn, including the binding, so I can trim the celluloid right to the edge where the binding will be glued:

I've glued the pattern to the taped fingerrest using the same
gluing technique I use for labels. I've soaked my photocopy of the pattern in dilute glue, and simply squidge it onto the surface and smooth it down. I don't have to wait for the glue to dry before cutting, but it helps.

First thing is to true up the straight edge that goes next to the first string. Nothing like my sharp Stanley #60 low angle block plane for this job:

Next, I'll introduce the fingerrest to Mr. Bandsaw and my
small belt sander. I'll cut it to within about 1/16" of my line, and then true it up on the sander. I have to be careful with the sander and use a new sharp belt because of the danger of overheating and burning celluloid.

Here's the rough cut fingerrest, sanded, with its pattern still on:



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