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Custom Pickguard - Cutting Slot for 5-Way Strat-Style Switch

Posted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 10:10 am
by Rob Carty
I recently made a custom pickguard that incorporates a 5-way Stratocaster-style switch. I'm no pro, and cutting that slot without specialized equipment was daunting. I scoured the Intertubes for ideas on how to accomplish this task without creating a raggedy mess, and saw all kinds of ideas ranging from ingenious to "yeah, right." In the end, I used a method that came together in real time -- and it worked perfectly. I thought I'd share it with the group.

Materials: Other than the pickguard itself, my method used three things: (1) a 3/64" Dremel-style drill bit (the kind you'd use to drill a PCB board) chucked into a drill press; (2) a flat micro-file; and (3) a Telecaster-style control plate.

Step 1: Take the pickguard and drill the holes for mounting the 5-way switch. Not only will you need these holes for eventually mounting the switch (duh), you'll also need them for the following steps. Make sure these holes are the right size to accommodate the screws that came with your switch.

Step 2: Place a piece of wood, MDF, etc. underneath the pickguard. You'll be mounting everything to this material, so you'll need to drill the same holes (see Step 1) in this material.

Step 3: Take the Telecaster control plate and screw it to the pickguard (and to the backing material). Now you've assembled your rig. Off to the drill press.

Step 4: Chuck the Dremel-style drill bit into the drill press. I set my drill press to a pretty high speed.

Step 5: Using the slot in the Tele control plate as a template, lower the drill bit into the slot -- just barely touching the pickguard. Rather than drilling holes, use the bit to lightly mill or rout the slot. Go back and forth, taking small amounts of material with each pass. USE A VERY LIGHT TOUCH, as these drill bits are fragile.

Step 6: Even with a VERY LIGHT TOUCH (see above), it won't take long to mill the entire slot. You may have to stop and clean the bit to remove built-up plastic. If you see fine bits of sawdust coming out, you've punched through (duh). Did I mention you should use a VERY LIGHT TOUCH?

Step 7: Inspect the slot. Before unscrewing everything, try to make the slot as clean as possible. This isn't very difficult.

Step 8: Once you're satisfied, take the rig apart. The slot shouldn't need much work, if any. If it does, then take the flat micro file and clean it up. I found that the file works best if used at a flat angle, rather than straight up-and-down.

And that's it. It took me about 10 minutes and resulted in a very clean slot.

I hope this helps someone, someday. Cheers.

Re: Custom Pickguard - Cutting Slot for 5-Way Strat-Style Switch

Posted: Sun Jun 24, 2012 7:37 am
by Mark Wybierala
The idea of using a telecaster control plate is genius. I have done a few 3 and 5-way slots in both wood and plastic and find the process to be a great opportunity to mess up a project. Thank you for sharing.

Re: Custom Pickguard - Cutting Slot for 5-Way Strat-Style Switch

Posted: Sun Jun 24, 2012 7:27 pm
by Greg Robinson
Ha! Great minds must think alike, I've been using the same trick for ages, although I use a dremel with router-base inverted (upside-down), plunge the bit through, and keep the shank riding on the Tele control plate. The router bit and control plate lasts longer this way.

Re: Custom Pickguard - Cutting Slot for 5-Way Strat-Style Switch

Posted: Sun Jul 01, 2012 1:22 pm
by David Schwab
I use a 1/16" router bit and a laminate trimmer. Also works great for routing the switch slot into a guitar top.