Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Adding a gold pickguard to a Fender Jazzmaster

Today, my American Jazzmaster looks like this:

Hawt. But let's look at how we got here, and why.

Until this weekend, this guitar looked like this:

I'll bet some people like this better, but I don't. It's a classic look, yeah, but not everything classic was better. I like tortoise shell pickguards on sunburst, but not on black. I got a black Jazzmaster knowing I'd eventually mod it. Mint looks pretty good too, but I already have a Jazzmaster with a mint pickguard, so I wanted something different.

I had black and gold in the back of my mind for a while. I didn't really know where the idea came from, until one day I remembered Tom Verlaine playing this at the 50th Anniversary Jazzmaster concert my wife and I went to a few years ago:

It was a Fender Custom Shop guitar made just for him - of 12 made for that concert, it was the only one in black. All the others were sunburst. This was my inspiration.

Here's what I used:

Allparts gold anodized aluminum pickguard, black plastic parts sourced from Ebay. The seller of the plastic parts claimed they were "all original Fender parts", but that can't possibly be true because they don't make black Jazzmaster pickup covers. I'm sure they're also Allparts. The knobs and tips might be Fender - they make these for Strats, which share some of the same parts.

Allparts is really the only decent source for a new American JM gold aluminum pickguard. Incidentally, this is what the very earliest Jazzmasters came with - not tort, gold. (But not the black ones, which came later. Still, everything looks better with gold.) The proper Jazzmaster pickguard material is metal.

Here's my old tort pickguard. Fender's reissue tortoise shell has gotten a lot better over the years. It's now pretty close to vintage in both color and figuring. Earlier reissue pickguards were like vomit. I'll keep this one around in case I ever want to put the guitar back to stock.

Underneath the pickguard with everything but the pickup covers removed. The blue tape is my own.

The distinctive AVRI pickups.

My guitar has to be one of the few AVRI's without a date on it anywhere. I hope this isn't a problem for me later on, but my neck date has been rubbed out (at the factory - you can still see a hint of it, but can't make out what it says) and all the other areas where dates can be written (pickguard shield, brass shielding tubs, etc.) are blank. I'm sure it's a 2012 but I have no idea why Fender would do this. They probably just forgot, or got lazy in the last year of production for these 1962 reissues.

First task is the new covers. Easy... these fit like a glove.

Next task is the pickguard itself. Unfortunately I had a couple issues with this pickguard.

Issue #1:

I noticed this gap down on the bridge side caused by the pickguard resting on top of the bridge thimbles. No amount of fiddling with it could get rid of this. I finally realized the problem was actually at the neck:

It's simply cut wrong. There's not enough space between the neck cutout and neck pickup. I tried sanding it, but this is a metal pickguard. Time to bring out the big gun...

I hated to do it, but sometimes you gotta get serious. I shaved off about 1/10" of metal near the neck - barely anything, but enough.

Issue #2: I didn't get pics of this, but the rhythm switch and roller knob bracket screws are threaded for a thicker pickguard, meaning these parts kind of just flop around if you don't shim them somehow - and they'll stick up too far if you get shorter screws. I got lucky and found a little pack of tiny rubber washers in my basement - I cut them in half lengthwise with a razor blade and that made them the perfect thickness and material to act as a shim underneath the pickguard.

Issue #3: I scratched the guitar all up with the pickguard while I was doing all this! I used some of my Guitar Scratch Remover polish to clean this up. This is a metal pickguard with sharp edges - it's like taking a box cutter to your guitar.

The last task is just replacing all the knobs and tips. The tips unscrew like nothing, and the knobs just press on. I didn't get the chrome Telecaster knobs like on the Tom Verlaine guitar, but I might someday. I kinda like actually having numbers, though.

The end result, once again:

Yessir, I like it. Now I feel like my American Jazzmaster is really mine. I feel a connection to it like I feel to my Japanese Jazzmaster.

UPDATE: I forgot to talk about one of the most important parts - grounding. Fail to properly ground your guitar and you will have loud buzzing. With a gold pickguard this is a little different - you don't need a pickguard shield at all, but you do need to scratch the anodizing off around the holes on the underside:

That's all I needed - it doesn't take much, but the anodizing acts as an insulator so to properly ground the pickguard and all components, they need to be touching bare metal.

I highly, highly recommend a multimeter to test for ground. They're $20 and easy to use. The main ground wire on American reissue Jazzmasters goes to the bridge thimble, so here I am testing the pickguard (on the part near the neck that I'd already sanded off earlier) going to the thimble. That confirms the pickguard itself is grounded.

Don't forget to check the jack, pots and switches too. On most Jazzmasters, the rhythm switch, for example, gets its ground from the pickguard shield. I just sanded under everything but the roller pots - that assembly has its own ground wire going to the shielding on my JM, so I left it alone. Once I was done, I tested everything with the multimeter, then rested the pickguard on the guitar, strung up one string and tested that everything worked properly through an amp. With that verified, I screwed everything back together and restrung.

Don't skip any steps!

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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