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

Wayne Gretschzky

Country Gent
Aug 27, 2008
3,325
East Coast
It's common for guitars that have been in their (plush interior) cases during the outgassing process to have the exact shape of the guard burned into the plush material on the lid.
 

GretFret54

Electromatic
Apr 30, 2022
6
Poughkeepsie NY
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.


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.
Wow this worth putting out an APB...or an Amber Alert... Thanks for sharing this haunting warning...I would thinks the newer pick gaurd mfg would have addressed this issue decades ago?
 

GretFret54

Electromatic
Apr 30, 2022
6
Poughkeepsie NY
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:

Thanks for sharing this. It looks like this is the culprit.
 

greens

Electromatic
Dec 8, 2017
48
Brooklyn, NY
.I would thinks the newer pick gaurd mfg would have addressed this issue decades ago?

Correct, nobody has used cellulose nitrate for mass production of pickguards in sixty years or so. ABS plastic will never do this.

However, I'm surprised this problem never seems to happen with Fender guitars. All those mint green guards from the early 60s are celluloid.
 

afire

Friend of Fred
Feb 12, 2009
5,383
Where the action is!
I would thinks the newer pick gaurd mfg would have addressed this issue decades ago?

Correct, nobody has used cellulose nitrate for mass production of pickguards in sixty years or so.
Actually, that's not true. Modern Hofner pickguards are celluloid and I've seen several examples of them starting to deteriorate within a matter of years. The bass player in my band had a circa 2003 500/1 and a few years ago he noticed that the pickups and upper frets were showing corrosion. I took off the pickguard and found that shrinking and crystallization were happening where a tab for the pickguard bracket was glued to the back. You can now see '70s Gibson tortoise guards starting to fail. For all I know, they may still be using it, but the rot may be decades off. It seems like the timeline is typically something like 40-70 years before it manifests. Although since they basically (and sadly) have given up on the archtop business, the 355 is probably one of the few guitars that still has a bound tortoise guard.
 

greens

Electromatic
Dec 8, 2017
48
Brooklyn, NY
Actually, that's not true. Modern Hofner pickguards are celluloid and I've seen several examples of them starting to deteriorate within a matter of years. The bass player in my band had a circa 2003 500/1 and a few years ago he noticed that the pickups and upper frets were showing corrosion. I took off the pickguard and found that shrinking and crystallization were happening where a tab for the pickguard bracket was glued to the back. You can now see '70s Gibson tortoise guards starting to fail. For all I know, they may still be using it, but the rot may be decades off. It seems like the timeline is typically something like 40-70 years before it manifests. Although since they basically (and sadly) have given up on the archtop business, the 355 is probably one of the few guitars that still has a bound tortoise guard.
Interesting, I stand corrected. But it is still pretty unusual.
 

ToneM1

Gretschie
Mar 10, 2009
246
Oxnard/Ventura County Calif.
Actually, that's not true. Modern Hofner pickguards are celluloid and I've seen several examples of them starting to deteriorate within a matter of years. The bass player in my band had a circa 2003 500/1 and a few years ago he noticed that the pickups and upper frets were showing corrosion. I took off the pickguard and found that shrinking and crystallization were happening where a tab for the pickguard bracket was glued to the back. You can now see '70s Gibson tortoise guards starting to fail. For all I know, they may still be using it, but the rot may be decades off. It seems like the timeline is typically something like 40-70 years before it manifests. Although since they basically (and sadly) have given up on the archtop business, the 355 is probably one of the few guitars that still has a bound tortoise guard.
Having been to the Hofner Factory a number of times, they have a shed out back with different types of Celluloids stored in it. One of the guys told me they have a number of sheets from the 1950's. I'm surprized it hasn't caught on fire..
 


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