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 BUILD IT!  PLAY IT!  LOVE IT!


Building a hot-mod guitar – pt 3 Simon Croft cuts a custom scratch-plate for his new guitar, whilst offering some very useful tips for anyone hoping to copy the plate on their existing instrument.


although you’ll probably need to set aside a few hours. It’s also a great way to make your guitar look different from the next guy’s – and if you follow the original screw holes, it easy enough to swap back if you want to sell the guitar later on! My custom build has got to the point where I


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need to make the plate to hold the controls and the neck pickup, so here’s how it’s done…


Tooled up You don’t need a lot of tools to cut a scratchplate. The basics are a set of files, a drill and a set of drill bits, plus a ‘coping saw’ (Fig.1) (Hopefully, some of


ooking at forums on the web, it seems a lot of players find making a new scratch-plate really difficult. With the right tools and some advice on how to go about the job, it’s reasonably easy,


you will recognise the coping saw from their school days. Don’t worry if you don’t, I’ll explain everything as we go along.) There are some other materials you may find useful but they’re all pretty cheap, and I’ll let you decide whether they fit your project or not.


At the risk of pointing put the bleedin’ obvious, the first thing you need to get hold of is a sheet of scratch-plate material. Fortunately, there are now a lot of suppliers on-line, so all you really need to do is work out how big a sheet you need, the finish you think would look good on your guitar, and how much you’re prepared to pay.


Fig. 1 - Useful tools include an electric drill, coping saw, heavy-grade abrasive paper, files of various shapes and sizes, and a clamp.


Plate stuff! The cost issue isn’t trivial. I’d seen so many affordable pre-made Strat scratch-plates, for example, that I naturally assumed the raw material would be even cheaper. Wrong! Depending on what you want, an uncut rectangle can be a serious purchase. I wanted the scratch-plate on my build to be beautiful, so I was blown away when I found an iridescent green abalone shell sheet. It was almost hypnotically lovely. Then I discovered that the delivered cost wasn’t much less that I’d paid for the neck! That’s when I decided to go with a pearloid material that still looks like a luxury custom addition, but didn’t cost an arm and a leg. If you’re copying an existing scratch-plate, the best thing to do is to remove it from the guitar and use that for the template for the new one. Rather than draw (and maybe mark) the front of your new plate material, I’d suggest you turn it over and work from the back. This also means you need to turn your template over, of course. Let me talk you though how I’ve made up my new scratch-plate and you’ll see exactly what I mean.


Fig. 2 - If you are making an original shape, it’s a good idea to make double-sure that every think on your template fits before you cut the real thing.


38 3 www.playmusicpickup.co.uk


Trace Yourself, Sheila… Because I wasn’t copying an existing design, I sketched my plate outline onto the guitar body itself using a soft pencil. I’m glad I did because the new outline looks a lot better that the one I came up with when I did a mock-up of the guitar on the computer. Then I took a large piece of tracing paper, cut out the area where the bridge-plate sits and proceeded to trace not just my new plate shape but also the pickup and control routs so I knew


exactly where the holes for the electrics would have to be (Fig.2). It was really difficult to see the lines I’d drawn on


the body through the paper and marking out the routs was a nightmare, because the paper was really thin and kept moving about. Despite all that, I ended up with an outline that was good enough – on paper, anyway. I wasn’t going to cut the expensive plate material to that approximate piece of tracing paper though. Instead, I glued it to a sheet of cardboard and cut around that with a pair of scissors, taking care to cut on the outside of the line. The only places where I cut the card as accurately as I could were around the bridge plate and the neck – you’ll see why in a moment. Once I’d got my cardboard plate ‘good enough’, I put it on the body. Then I pressed my thumb


Fig. 3 - Gluing your template facedown onto the back of the plate material helps to keep the side that will be seen clean and scratch-free.


around the edges of all the control and pickup cavities. When I turned the cardboard over, this had created much more accurate lines than the tracing paper Fig.3).


Shapes of things Cutting the remaining holes in the cardboard was easy enough but I still wasn’t happy with the curves that made up the shape of the plate. To really make them flow, I used a plastic template called a French Curve. It’s got all sorts of curves and contours on it to help you make slick-looking shapes. Alas, I went on-line and discovered that a French Curve can cost £30 or more. Jeez! As an alternative, why not scan the shape you’ve drawn out and use


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