Guitar Making – Custom Beetle Wing Pickguard

[F]or an entomological bent on this very special commission for Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, I created a pickguard using 600 emerald beetle wings infused with urethane resin. The process is very involved and required making many test samples before embarking on the final form.

The first consideration was how to juxtapose these wings. The thickness and curvature of the pickguard shape posed a challenge. I didn’t want to break apart the wings as they would lose their identity. Topologically, they resemble miniature ceramic roof tiles, so I decided to interlay them just like roof tiles to form a continuous covering. Perfect!

I embedded the beetle wings in epoxy resin using a vacuum pump. Once in place, a perimeter mold is cut out and screwed down onto a Formica platter with mold release compound on it to ensure separation at the end of the process. Cup by cup, resin is catalyzed and put in a vacuum chamber to de-gas it and remove all the tiny bubbles. It is then carefully poured over the wings.

The overall thickness of the pickguard grew to a formidable 3/4″. Since I wanted to keep the guitar a regular shape so it would feel ‘normal’, I had to rout the body and deeply embedded the pickguard into the guitar’s body (another engineering challenge!). Once installed, only 1/8″ of pickguard protrudes above the body’s surface where it is beveled like an ordinary pickguard. This overall effect gives gives the pickguard a three-dimensional wing-scape.

Below is a slideshow of images showing the pickguard making process.

Check out my other Blog post documenting other building processes. You can read more about this guitar, see photos of the finished instrument and videos of the band here.