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Les Paul With or Without Pickguard? (WEIGHING All Factors!)

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One of the most famous guitars is the Les Paul guitar, a legendary guitar that has been widely used by several famous guitarists.

Due to their incredible versatility, the Les Paul guitars have been used for numerous genres, including county, rock, pop, rhythm, soul, blues, punk, jazz, and heavy metal.

Gibson Guitar Corporation first sold the solid-bodied guitar in the mid-19th century.

It was mainly designed by the talented John Huis, the factory manager, along with his team with the collaboration and endorsement of guitarist Les Paul.

For those of you who are already using the Les Paul or planning to get one, knowing whether keeping the pickguard is a good option or not is essential. Should you take the pickguard off Les Paul?

If yes, how to remove the pickguard on Les Paul? Will the Les Paul guitar perform better without a pickguard?

The pickguard vs. no pickguard Les Paul is quite an extensive discussion. However, do not fret! Because we have simplified things for you to a great deal in this article.

Therefore, get in your most comfortable position because we are about to break it down to you if Les Paul with pickguard install is better and all the other relevant details.

The Legendary Les Paul and Its History

Les Paul has been among the most popular guitars for a long time. Designed by a factor manager, it had all the important features and looked to become a professional guitarist’s favorite instrument.

Its typical design consists of a solid mahogany body with a maple top showcasing some carvings. Its mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard makes it easy to handle while in use.

Les Paul comes with two pickups with independent tone and volume controls along with a stop tail bridge. Although many variants exist, the typical model is fairly famous even today.

The Les Paul guitar was originally planned for a gold finish and two P-90 pickups. The humbucking pickups were added into the Les Paul set in 1957, along with excellent sunburst finishes.

From 1958 to 1960, surprisingly, the Les Paul sunburst edition was considered a complete commercial failure with significantly low sales and production.

However, as time passed by and the fanbase of electric guitars widened further, it became one of the most successful and sold guitars in the world. Therefore, the Les Paul guitar was redesigned in 1961 as what is now known as Gibson SG.

The original Les Paul with a single cutaway and a carved top body was reintroduced to the commercial markets in 1968.

Since then, it has been produced in a wide range of editions and versions, fitting each guitarist and their choices.

Along with the Stratocaster and Fender’s Telecaster, Les Paul became one of the most massively produced electric solid-body guitars. The Les Paul guitar was and is still used for a large number of genres, including rock, jazz, and blues.

What’s the Use of Pickguard Anyway?

Before deciding whether a pickguard is necessary for a guitar and if it has any effects on the performance, knowing what it is becoming vital.

Thankfully, pickguards are not part of technical machinery with complicated components, so understanding how it works is pretty easy.

A pickguard is a device applied to a guitar’s surface (or bass) to protect its finishing from minor scratches and scraps as it is being used or stored.

The pickguard prevents the guitar from getting unnecessary finger or nail scratches across the top where the strumming hand touches the guitar.

A pickguard is mostly made of plastic; however, some manufacturers may even use metal or other appropriate materials.

Apart from scratches from the strumming hand, a pickguard also has some other benefits as well as types. Let’s discuss some of the most common ones:

Types of Pickguard

1. Acoustic Guitars

While you can use several types of pickguards for acoustic guitars, thin 2 mm sheets of plastic pickguards work best for them. The thin sheet offers two vital benefits- clarity and fine vibration.

A thick pickguard sheet can dampen the guitar’s tone to a great level, and tones hold considerable importance with acoustic guitars.

A pickguard messing up the guitar’s tone can modify its sound to a great level. Therefore, a thin pickguard sheet becomes necessary.

Secondly, a thick pickguard can cause issues like low soundboard vibration (upper part of the guitar).

This ultimately reduces the instrument’s volume along with its projection. So, getting a thin plastic pickguard for your acoustic guitar is imperative.

2. Solid Body Guitars

For solid body guitars, Stratocaster pickguards work best. Most of the solid-body guitars come with a Fender-style body.

Therefore, a Stratocaster pickguard protects the large surface area against minor damage and scraping.

Besides protecting the solid-body guitar’s finish, a Stratocaster pickguard also acts as an access point for the guitar’s electronics, such as the potentiometers, pickups, etc. Alternatively, it becomes a back-access panel if the pickguard is small.

3. Floating Pickguard

Another type of pickguard is the floating pickguard, typically found slightly raised on one side by a metal supporting bracket. The floating pickguard allows height adjustment for the player’s ease.

The floating pickguard is mainly seen on carved top-body guitars, such as the Gibson Les Paul guitar and numerous LP copies.

You may even find the floating pickguard on archtop hollow-body guitars, including the Gretch Chet Atkins Country Gentlemen.

Therefore, you may even come across some users referring to the floating pickguard as the archtop pickguard. However, both are the same.

4. Golpeador

Some Golpeador flamenco guitars showcase a glopeador pickguard. It is mainly fitted on the top or below the sound hole.

The pickguard comes in handy for tapping out percussion rhythms with the palms and fingers. Some may even say it is not a pickguard.

5. Materials

The most popular pickguard material is plastic since it is pretty cheap and easy to find and work with. Moreover, you will find a limitless range of colors and textures when using plastic pickguards.

Before plastic became popular as a pickguard, most guitarists and manufacturers used celluloid as the prime material; the reason why you will find it on many vintage guitars.

Though it was quite popular, plastic is a lot cheaper with more varieties with lesser risks. On the other, celluloid is highly flammable and causes a serious fire to the surroundings. It also shrinks over time, affecting the guitar’s overall body shape. 

Other common pickguard materials include the following:

  • Mother-of-pearl
  • Fabric
  • Pearloid
  • Plywood
  • Acrylic Glass / Glass
  • Aluminum
  • Artificial Furs and skins
  • Gems and precious metals

Benefits of Pickguard on a Guitar

Since we are now aware of the pickguard materials, let’s talk about some of the main benefits of pickguards. Apart from protecting the guitar’s body against minor damages, a pickguard has the following effects:

1. Tone

Many factors influence an instrument’s tone. In the case of guitar, a pickguard is one of these factors.

If you have a pickguard on a hollow-body acoustic guitar that has a resonant body chamber, a pickguard will have a small effect on its tone.

The more resonant your guitar is, the greater will be the pickguard’s effect on its tone, even if it is amplified. This is why archtop guitars usually have a floating pickguard which has a minimal tone-dampening impact on the tone.

Moreover, it is not just the archtop guitars that are affected; another popular model, Gibson 1965 Hummingbird, also had a dampened tone.

The users were greatly upset due to this issue despite the guitar’s beautiful looks, hence the nickname ‘tone killer.’

A solid body guitar will not be as affected as the tone mostly comes from the strings’ pickup, the neck joint type, bridge type, electronic components, net, and the instrument’s overall weight.

However, some manufacturers may completely omit the pickguard from the guitar to reduce dampening and maximize the sustaining abilities.

2. Decoration

There is a reason why so wide varieties exist in the pickguard category, from colors to patterns to textures. Apart from protection, pickguards are also an accessory that plays a vital role in design and aesthetics.

Some scratch-plate pickguards contribute to the guitar’s overall looks, giving it a contrasting feel or helping it match with the basic color.

For instance, you can have a dark wood body with a light-colored pickguard and vice versa. Similarly, you can have a floral pattern as your guitar’s pickguard, giving it a nice look.

3. Percussions

Another critical factor to consider when buying any instrument is percussion. It has an essential role in fingerstyle acoustic guitars with scratch plates, often used to tap out a beating.

A pickguard can also affect the percussion, so ensure you get one that suits your guitar and its body.

4. Autograph

Some users also prefer getting autographs on their scratch-plate, or some guitars are mainly recognized by the signatures on them.

Singed pickguards can be easily moved and attached to other guitars as sold as memorabilia. Therefore, some users may use pickguards as an emotional souvenir.

Les Paul: Pickguard or No Pickguard?

A pickguard’s use is primarily dependent on the user! But your Les Paul guitar’s finish and the overall design also play important roles.

The Les Paul guitars with a quilt or flame finish seem to perform and look better without a pickguard. In contrast, a plain Les Paul top goes better with a matching pickguard as it improves the instrument’s overall aesthetic.

Most experts suggest that high-quality Les Paul guitar tops do not need a pickguard, but installing a pickguard works better for low-quality Les Paul guitar tops.

How to Remove the Pickguard on Les Paul?

If you plan to remove the pickguard from your Les Paul guitar, do it as gently as possible to cause minimal damage. Once you take out the pickguard, you will see two screw holes on the guitar top.

For instance, the 2016 Gibson Les Paul Traditional standard and the 2020 Less Paul guitar have preinstalled pickguards. However, the technique for removing the pickguard is mostly the same. Follow these steps:

  1. Look for the pickguard screws on your Les Paul guitar. You will most likely see two screws, one facing the ground and the other near the neck. But the number varies.
  2. Unscrew the screws with a tool or manually (you will need a tool most likely).
  3. Take off the pickguard carefully. And you are done!

While some users like to keep the holes open without putting the screws back in, others prefer to put them back in or cover them with stickers or some decoration. However, we recommend putting the screws back in so you don’t lose them.

Les Paul Pickguards Without Pickguard

Some Les Paul guitars do not come with a pickguard. Gibson skipped preinstalling pickguards into their Les Paul guitars for a short period.

The absence was clearly visible inside the hard-shell case. The users would have to drill two holes into their guitars to install a pickguard. Some of them are:

1. Traditional Les Paul

The traditional Les Paul guitar came without a preinstalled pickguard. The Heritage Cheery Sunburst and Tobacco Burst guitars had finished too beautifully to be messed up with screws.

They did come with a cream-colored pickguard for which mounting was optional.

2. Les Paul Axcess Standard

The Les Paul Axcess Standard is another beauty without a pickguard. Its DC rust finish with a maple top gives a stunning look. The Indian rosewood fretboard complements the chrome hardware and the gold top-hat control knobs.

3. Slash Victoria Les Paul Standard

Another model is the Slash Victoria Les Paul Standard which comes without a pickguard. It comes under the Artist and Slash collections with nickel hardware, gold-hat control knobs, pointers, and cream plastic parts that highlight the top.

The Slash Victoria Les Paul Standard includes a cream pickguard, but installation is user-dependent.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does a pickguard have any effect on a Les Paul guitar?

While pickguards do not significantly affect a Les Paul guitar, they influence the tone, percussion, and overall aesthetic. Moreover, a pickguard can be used to give autographs and hide electronics.

How does a pickguard benefit a Les Paul guitar?

A pickguard protects the Les Paul guitar against minor damages, such as scratches, and maintains its finish for a more extended period. Moreover, it can improve the guitar’s overall aesthetic.

Is a pickguard’s material important?

A pickguard’s material holds great importance as it protects the Les Paul guitar’s finish since aggressive strumming can damage it. Additionally, too thick pickguard material can dampen the tone, vibration, and sound.