Ever wonder why so many Gretsch guitars from the early 50s don't have their original pickguards??

Wayne Gretschzky

Country Gent
Aug 27, 2008
3,327
East Coast
THIS IS WHY...

IMG_6238.jpg


This guard, made of cellulous and painted gold by the Gretsch factory in the early 50s, went into a parts box of mine about 8 years ago, and I don't recall there being ANY deterioration. There were some other cellulous items in that box like some old Dyna spacers, that potentially triggered this reaction... I dunno. But it's interesting to catch the destruction working its way across the guard. This is when "off-gassing" goes nuclear!
 

Pemberton

Electromatic
May 4, 2022
35
Pennsylvania, USA
After all of my reading up on the deterioration of cellulose, I believe one major contributing factor would be the lack of air circulation (hence the consensus of leaving vintage Gretschs out of their cases).

But that pickguard reminds me of the '50s movie "The Blob" with Steve McQueen.

~Pemberton
 

afire

Friend of Fred
Feb 12, 2009
5,396
Where the action is!
I remember Biel Ballester had a '54 Jet with the exceptionally rare clear cellulose silver painted wedge guard that went from intact to dust in very short order while he owned it.

The golden age of Gretsch pickguards was '55 to '58, when they used heavy duty 3/16" Lucite (or similar) guards. They are stable, and thanks to their heft, almost never crack by the screw holes. Once they switched to thinner 1/8" guards, that's when the cracks started appearing.
 

wabash slim

I Bleed Orange
Feb 10, 2010
17,095
lafayette in
Cellulose was an early plastic, like Bakelite. It doesn't last forever. What does?
There are aftermarket makers that can reproduce pretty much anything you'd need, thankfully.
 

afire

Friend of Fred
Feb 12, 2009
5,396
Where the action is!
I'm thinking the Custom Shop will offer this eye candy on some of their builds! 😆
Believe it or not, I think they already do! Here's a recent Custom Shop Roundup:
fe9252002532672-xl-02.jpg

That is not what a healthy Roundup pickguard looks like. That's what they look like about halfway through their journey to the afterlife. When they're nearing the end, they'll look more like this:
s-l1600.jpg

I'm guessing that Stern & Co. noticed that some vintage Roundup pickguards look like this and recreated the look for some (but not most) Custom Shop Roundups. Whether or not the Custom Shop realized that this wasn't a variation of original guards, but a manifestation of deteriorating tortoise celluloid, I couldn't say.
 

drmilktruck

I Bleed Orange
May 17, 2009
18,940
Plymouth, MN
I had a great bubbly looking pick guard on an old Synchromatic 6014 aka Corsair. I tried to figure out a way to create a copy to use on another guitar but couldn't. Sold it to Paul Setzer.
 

Ricochet

Senior Gretsch-Talker
Nov 13, 2009
21,516
Monkey Island
Believe it or not, I think they already do! Here's a recent Custom Shop Roundup:
fe9252002532672-xl-02.jpg

That is not what a healthy Roundup pickguard looks like. That's what they look like about halfway through their journey to the afterlife. When they're nearing the end, they'll look more like this:
s-l1600.jpg

I'm guessing that Stern & Co. noticed that some vintage Roundup pickguards look like this and recreated the look for some (but not most) Custom Shop Roundups. Whether or not the Custom Shop realized that this wasn't a variation of original guards, but a manifestation of deteriorating tortoise celluloid, I couldn't say.

It's a feature!
 

Pemberton

Electromatic
May 4, 2022
35
Pennsylvania, USA
The golden age of Gretsch pickguards was '55 to '58, when they used heavy duty 3/16" Lucite (or similar) guards. They are stable, and thanks to their heft, almost never crack by the screw holes. Once they switched to thinner 1/8" guards, that's when the cracks started appearing.
Same with the pickup bezels. My first batch ‘59 model year 6120 has the leftover ‘58 smooth and really thick pickup bezels (which I really like and prefer). I notice a lot of cracked bezels on the thinner ones from ‘59 and later, mostly on the corners where the mounting screw are.
 

LMCADOW

Newbie
Dec 14, 2015
3
Houston, TX
Yep. My '54 Roundup pick guard lasted into the late '80's - early '90's where it had gone through some extended time in the closed case. It certainly was a shock to see a chunk had turned to basically dust, then see the rest rot in a matter of months. I got a couple of replacements, the last being a replica from a company I found on a web search, probably 25 years ago. Can't recall the name, but it was a perfect copy outside without the original undisclosed termination date.
 


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