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

greens

Electromatic
Dec 8, 2017
48
Brooklyn, NY
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
I've read that deteriorating celluloid in a case without circulation can corrode the metal parts. But does the lack of circulation affect the celluloid itself? I suppose the example in this thread would suggest so.
 

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.
Quick Guards has not only the 6130 Roundup, but huge selection of Gretsch pick guards, not to mention a ton of other brands.
 

afire

Friend of Fred
Feb 12, 2009
5,379
Where the action is!
I've read that deteriorating celluloid in a case without circulation can corrode the metal parts. But does the lack of circulation affect the celluloid itself? I suppose the example in this thread would suggest so.
It definitely corrodes metal parts. And the lack of circulation does affect the celluloid itself too. As celluloid deteriorates, it emits noxious gasses. Trapping these gasses in the case evidently accelerates the process.
 

GretFret54

Electromatic
Apr 30, 2022
6
Poughkeepsie NY
Only a guess but I would not be surprised if the combo of newly finished paint or finish lacquer, when trapped in a case for months, mixes with the off gasses of the plastic or celluloid pick guard.

This could be what's causing a corrosive chemical reaction.

I am researching this off gassing matter now as I am working on a project of restoring an investment Birdland Gibson that was case bound for years and now displays pick up corrosion only near the pick guard attachment.
So beware all you owners who think your safe (for years) in a protective case.
You may not be.
 

stevo

Friend of Fred
May 1, 2012
7,012
Atlanta
I have a few modern/new cellulose picks. I wonder if they're just as likely to spontaneously disintegrate? I kind of want to watch it happen...
 

loudnlousy

Gretschified
Oct 18, 2015
12,174
Germany
Interesting sidenote:
All that 50ies and 60ies woodscrews used by Gretsch never seem to corrode.
(At least on all the vintage Gretsch guitars that I used to own.) Usually they stay shiny as new.
Must have used a better chroming-process back in time.
 

stevo

Friend of Fred
May 1, 2012
7,012
Atlanta
Only a guess but I would not be surprised if the combo of newly finished paint or finish lacquer, when trapped in a case for months, mixes with the off gasses of the plastic or celluloid pick guard.

This could be what's causing a corrosive chemical reaction.

I am researching this off gassing matter now as I am working on a project of restoring an investment Birdland Gibson that was case bound for years and now displays pick up corrosion only near the pick guard attachment.
So beware all you owners who think your safe (for years) in a protective case.

You may not be.

I suspect this is specific to cellulose and probably just older cellulose nitrate. Old cellulose films are known to be a particular hazard. I suspect it's similar with the old pickguards. This stuff just breaks down and as you say, outgasses and reacts with its surroundings etc. Seems like film reacted with metal in the cans etc.

See if this helps you in your research:

 

afire

Friend of Fred
Feb 12, 2009
5,379
Where the action is!
I am researching this off gassing matter now as I am working on a project of restoring an investment Birdland Gibson that was case bound for years and now displays pick up corrosion only near the pick guard attachment.
It's my understanding that Gibson has been using something other than celluloid (ABS, I believe) for binding since at least the 1950s. But they continued to use tortoise celluloid for pickguards. Disintegrating pickguards are fairly common among old Gibson archtops and that's almost certainly why you're seeing corrosion only near the pickguard. Maybe not anytime soon, but eventually any old tortoise celluloid pickguard is going to head in this direction:
36209d1475181594-all-old-pickguards-doomed-dsc04602-jpg

I'd say clean it up and keep it out of the case. I know some people will remove original pickguards and replace them with a non-celluloid replica as a precautionary measure. If you do that, don't make the mistake of storing the original in a sealed baggie unless you want to see it turn to dust in a real hurry. HERE is a good article that explains celluloid deterioration and has some tips for preservation.

Interesting sidenote:
All that 50ies and 60ies woodscrews used by Gretsch never seem to corrode.
(At least on all the vintage Gretsch guitars that I used to own.) Usually they stay shiny as new.
Must have used a better chroming-process back in time.
Chrome is far tougher than gold plating over nickel. I've seen a rotting tortoise DeArmond riser attack a chrome pickup and cause some nasty green gunk buildup, but it cleaned up relatively easy. It evidently found a weak spot in the plating and all of the buildup emanated from that spot. But the chrome itself was mostly undamaged after cleaning.
 

YaDaddy

Gretschie
Mar 16, 2020
441
Marietta, GA
THIS IS WHY...

View attachment 181472


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!
Clearcoat that thing and call it a one of a kind. I think it looks great!
 

Wayne Gretschzky

Country Gent
Aug 27, 2008
3,325
East Coast
It definitely corrodes metal parts. And the lack of circulation does affect the celluloid itself too. As celluloid deteriorates, it emits noxious gasses. Trapping these gasses in the case evidently accelerates the process.
Yes... the pickguard depicted in the opening post was stored in a plastic zip-lock baggie. Doh!!
 

Pemberton

Electromatic
May 4, 2022
33
Pennsylvania, USA
Speaking of air circulation and deteriorating celluloid, I have my vintage Gretschs hanging on my living room walls. I also use an air purifier in the same room to keep it smelling fresh (we have two cats), but at the same time it circulates air around the room, bathing my guitars in a subtle breeze. I’m thinking, and hoping, that this will help slow binding deterioration. At least that’s my wishful theory.
 

dspellman

Gretschie
Jul 4, 2020
265
Los Angeles
It definitely corrodes metal parts. And the lack of circulation does affect the celluloid itself too. As celluloid deteriorates, it emits noxious gasses. Trapping these gasses in the case evidently accelerates the process.
Specifically, this stuff is made of nitrocellulose, the same material in nitrocellulose lacquer. The difference is that a solvent is added (acetone, toluene) to turn it into a lacquer. Nitrocellulose is cellulose (cotton, paper, etc.) nitrated with nitric acid in the presence of sulfuric acid as a catalyst. What's outgassing is nitric acid (largely) in vapor form. It'll eat pickups, coil wire, frets, screws -- you name it.

You can delay this by putting a VCI (Vapor Corrosion Inhibitor) emitter into your case with the guitar. It actual emits a vapor (not harmful to the guitar in any way) that will prevent or delay corrosion due to acid in the air. NASA and the military store parts in bags that have VCI built in, and it's pretty normal to find people storing their rifles, etc., in VCI bags.

 

duojet55

Electromatic
Dec 21, 2010
23
Arkansas
This was what was left of my '56 Rancher's pickguard. Fortunately, I made a tracing of it a few years ago before it broke up into bite-size pieces. Last I saw of it, it was dust.
RancherPickguardDeteriorated.jpg
 

Jams

Electromatic
Mar 7, 2022
11
Haddonfield, NJ
Just pulled my 56 Rancher pickguard out of the zip lock plastic bag after replacing it a couple years ago. Replaced because the outgassing was corroding strings to the point of breaking.
 

Attachments

  • 20220526_075121.jpg
    20220526_075121.jpg
    188.6 KB · Views: 5
  • 20220526_075059.jpg
    20220526_075059.jpg
    199.1 KB · Views: 5


Top