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The Death of Plastic

by | Aug 16, 2015 | Blogs | 0 comments

So you spent a few thousand dollars on a guitar – only to realise that your prized instrument is covered in plastic. Volume/tone knobs, pickup surrounds, pickup bobbins, bindings, switch tips, tuner buttons, pickguards, cover plates… it’s like buying a Bentley and finding out that the ‘wood’ dashboard is in fact a fake.

It seems 2 out of every 3 repair jobs on instruments that come to me involve the replacement of a broken plastic part. High-end guitars are something we covet, fantasise over and often hold in far higher esteem than our relatives – so why engineer design faults into them by adding cheap plastic parts?

The successful development of this now-ubiquitous material is credited to John Wesley Hyatt more than 140 years ago. Legend has it that in the 1850s a $10,000 reward was offered by billiards manufacturer Michael Phelan to anyone capable of developing an alternative billiard-ball material to combat a shortage of ivory accessible to the US billiards industry. Since then plastic has made its way into almost every facet of everyday life, due to its malleability and cheap manufacturing costs.

The question is, however, if you’re shelling out four figures on a musical masterpiece – should you be expecting a little better durability and aesthetics than found in your average piece of fast moving consumer goods? Apparently Slash had a habit of destroying the plastic pickup rings on his Les Paul replica. Can’t blame him really.

I’m on a mission to rid my guitars of as much plastic as possible. Pity about my August 2nd blog photo… looks nice though you must admit, and they’re not actually fitted to anything.

There’s already no truss rod cover and no scratchplate, and all of my custom build recipients thus far bar one have requested knurled metal volume and tone knobs. Beautiful timber electronics and tremolo backplates, hard-plated metal tuner buttons and not a trace of those tacky little Mother-of-Toilet-Seat fretboard inlays. And what about removing screwed-on pickup rings altogether, whilst still providing adjustability and getting rid of those little metal tags that stick out the sides of a pickup when solid-mounted to the body? It can be done… watch this space!

Until next time, play hard and play well!

Richard Lucas

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