Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
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"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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November 1, 2007 | Pickguards Thoughts

Any time the aspects of equipment are brought up, it's important to remember every unique and individual player will require a different subset of tools to get the job done. Witness the flailing elbows of Sam Bush, and the gentle caress of Evan Marshall, and one ponders, are they both really playing the same instrument?

With a great forebearance for individuality, we'll weigh in with some thoughts on pickguards and our own ideas on what is right in the world with them. Like they disclaim in the diet pill commercials, "Individual results may vary at home, with proper diet and exercise." Let's answer the question, what does a pickguard do?

Finger Guide. This in our own extremely biased opinion is the greatest reason for one. Understand anchoring your right-hand on this is an extreme no-no, but if your fingerboard is high off the top (not level like on a flat-top mandolin), playing without a spatial finger guide is like jumping rope while standing backwards on a high diving platform. You don't have that GPS guide to reinforce where your picking hand is, and that can be troubling. Again, you don't want to "plant" the fingertips or you restrict your motion. You want to "brush" or lightly touch the Pickguard.

Scratch Guard. This one is mind-boggling to us. If you are chewing up your archtop instrument's finish with your pick, you have to be doing something wrong. We talked with premier builder Dale Ludewig about this issue, and he weighed in "If you're scratching your top, your strike angle is way off. You can't be getting any bass out of your sound." Maybe one gets carried away in a loud ensemble, but like a baseball batter, just because your swing is stronger doesn't mean you're going to hit the ball any farther if you don't have proper aim. Try strumming your strings from 10 inches away with control, then try it 24 inches away with little control and see which sound is louder.

Cosmetics. This is an opportunity often overlooked. A unique pickguard can be the lipstick on your prom date. It can be that final touch that pulls other aesthetic elements together, its shape or material can complement (or contrast!) and dress up an otherwise plain instrument. They can be custom ordered, and changed. You can even have a custom inlay to express yourself visually.

Pickup anchor. If you are thinking a floating pickup in a jazzbox instrument, this is almost a requirement to help support a humbucker or some kind of magnetic pickup, and it's a great place to discreetly hang a volume wheel.

RoyP_Oval.jpgThere is some degree of controversy over how much an extended profile would affect an oval hole instrument. We don't think it actually interferes with tone projection across the room, but acknowledge it can be up for debate. Any of the benefits of a good pickguard would still outweigh insignificant acoustic interference, but we have seen luthiers cut away some of the guard to prevent this.

Posted by Ted at November 1, 2007 12:02 PM

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