This is the grand-daddy when it comes to Strat® plates – absolutely riddled with little niggles and flaws that Fender® would eventually hammer out as the guitar evolved into one of the most popular instruments in the world! What we call a 57 spec plate (as with the 62 – purely because that’s where most of us will see them, on 57 re-issues) is mounted with only 8 screws around the outside edge – which means that even when built with modern materials, they can be a little temperamental when it comes to temperature change and warping.
This is actually exasperated further by the originals (and subsequent re-inventions) coming with a single ply plate as standard, which is much thinner than a modern plate (1.8mm vs 2.3mm) – so if you are going for historical accuracy with your builds and repairs, it’s worth bearing in mind that it did change for a very good reason.
We carry the single ply plates as a matter of completeness, and know full well that sometimes, only 100% accuracy will do – and if the originals warped, then you want yours to warp too! It’s all part of the charm right? But the majority of the ones we carry are in fact a 3 ply to bring a little more of the stability you get with a modern plate into the equation. End of the day, if you’re not that bothered about sticking true to the original, then more power to you – got to get that guitar the way you want it right?
Actually a fairly specific plate to be honest, short of a Fender® “full fat” re-issue from this period, they don’t turn up all that often on your average Strat® (although it’s fair to say they do crop up with some regularity on non-Fender® guitars in similar styles)
As always with pickguards for the Stratocaster® - it’s worth remembering that all the naming conventions and dates relate specifically to guitars produced in the USA, and to a lesser extent, in Mexico – they’re fairly on the ball when it comes to sticking to the standards, so for the most part, they don’t cause any problems.
Where the system does fall down, is with your “imports” – Fender® Japan and Squier® have muddied the waters slightly – if you’re dealing with a 50s inspired guitar from the far east, it’s really worth checking out the hole plan in the Technical specifications to make sure it all matches up. Guitars like the Squier® Classic Vibe 50s for example, might look every inch the 54 re-issue, but the plate is not a 50s plate, it’s a modern one, but with only 8 holes!) – As a quick rule of thumb, all 50s Strat® plates are 8 hole, but not all 8 holes are 50s spec. As you can imagine, it can get a bit annoying.
But enough about the history and the manufacturers little niggles – how about a bit about the plate?
It’s exactly how you’d expect a plate for a Strat® to be really, routed out for 3 single coils, a switch and 3 holes for the pots (drilled out to 10mm to take CTS pots) and the 11 mounting holes around the edge with that odd one between the middle and neck pickup which sets it apart.
The plate itself is made for a 3 ply laminate of PVC (unless it’s one of the single plys, then it’s obviously 1 ply, and has the historically correct “square edge” rather than the 435 degree bevel), purely because it’s the best material for the job. Whilst it’s true to say that various other plastics have been used, most had their draw backs sadly – fine for historical accuracy, but a bit of a pig in day to day life. PVC is heat resistant to avoid warping, its colour fast, so will never change colour as it ages (although, as with most things, it’ll still nicotine stain, it’ll still bleach in the sun if you leave it there for a few weeks!).
So if you’re working on a Strat® from the early 50s (and if so, on a personal note – PLEASE don’t replace the pickguard!!!), or one of the re-issues or re-imaginings (that’s fine – they’re unlikely to pay off your mortgage any time soon), then this is the one you need, all built up with modern materials to avoid the little flaws of the originals, in a nice range of colours.
Fender®, Squier®, Strat® and Stratocaster® are registered trademarks of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation and Axesrus® has no affiliation with FMIC
What makes a Fifties?
The plate itself is actually exactly the same size and shape as any other Strat plate - overlay a modern plate on a fifties plate, and they're identical - but there are a couple of differences that are worth watching out for.
Where most of us will be familar with a Strat® sporting 11 mounting holes on its pickguard, in the fifties, they only had eight. Seven of them actually match up with the modern 11 hole plate, but the one below the switch is actually in a different place.
Interestingly, whilst there aren't many Fender® guitars that turn up with fifties plates, there are plenty of Squiers! Most of the Affinity series actually turns up with this exact plate (and, even more weirdly, the Classic Vibe® fifties, doesn't - that screw near the switch? On a CV50, is actually in the same place as a modern 11 hole plate, even though its still an 8 hole scratch plate)
Pickup and Switch Bolts
Fender® stuck with counter sunk bolts up until about 1977, so whilst this isn't limited to a 50s spec guard, you'll normally see them with counter sunk holes for the pickup and switch bolts.
Now, we've got a bit of a hodge podge here - most of our 50s plates are as above - but there are a couple from an old batch that have been made for dome head bolts. Hopefully, this will be resolved in a few months.
Truss Rod Access
With a Fifties Strat®, your always going to see the access for the truss rod at the heel of the neck, never at the headstock (which wouldn't come in until the 80s!) - as such, the pickguards are often "notched" with a little recess to allow access.
Now, full disclosure - not all of our plates have this - its something we brought in recently, and some of the older plates have been made without it - but fingers crossed, they'll all be the same eventually.
Now, officially, a Strat® from the fifties, would only have come in one style - single ply, and about 1.8mm thick from top to bottom - and if you do go that route (what we call a "thin 1 ply" - dont be shocked and appaulled that its a bit wobbly - its not ideal, but if you've got your heart set on WLD (What Leo Did) - then thats the way to do it. Interestingly, the 1 plys always came with a flat edge, and no bevel.
We know its a bit of an issue nowadays, so along with the 1 ply thins, we also make 1 ply thicks - which look pretty much identical, but are 2.3mm thick - gives them a little extra strength, and they're much less prone to warping.
We also carry plenty of colours in a more modern 3 (and 4) plys - at that point, we're so far away from histroical correctness, that we build them with the 45 degree bevel on the appropriate edges.
Tortoise Shell Explained
You’ve probably noticed with the pickguards, we do A LOT of different variations in tortoise shells – and even then, we barely scratch the surface when it comes to completing the line-up.
Basically, Tortoise shell, originally, way back when, when it first started (long before the electric guitar was a thing) was just that – pieces of a tortoises shell, fixed together into a shape, and polished until semi-transparent (some of the early acoustic pickguards were actually made this way)
Now, obviously, none of us want to see a return to those practises, but seemingly, everyone liked “the look” – so with the advent of plastic in the early part of the 20th century, science found a cheaper way (it wasn’t until the seventies when trade in hawksbill turtle (the main source of Tortoise shell) shells became illegal!)
The first “plastic” Tortoise Shells were made from Nitrate plastics, usually Celluloid – and, frankly, it’s pretty gorgeous! Its semi-transparent, it’s got a sort of leopard skin look to it, and it soon worked its way onto guitars (again, most acoustics)
The problem is – Celluloid plastics are astonishingly flammable – they have a low point of combustion, and once they’re burning, they don’t go out until the fuels gone, or they flame is deprived of oxygen. As you can imagine, no one really liked working with Celluloid. It was risky to use (cutting = friction = heat) it was dangerous to store, and it wasn’t really suitable for the job at hand ( it changed colour when exposed to sunlight, it warped, it shrank, it was generally, pretty badly behaved!)
Never the less, it did eventually find its way onto electric guitars by the late 50s and early 60s, but was soon replaced for something more suitable and much safer.
Nowadays, you see Tortoise shells in either Polyoxymethylene (more stable as a material, but still very flammable) or PVC (which is fairly bomb proof, but does give off toxic fumes if burnt)
Now, getting to the modern day – Tortoise shell comes in 5 “variants” for us (ignoring the Celluloid offerings, they’re still out there, and great for historical accuracy, but just be VERY careful with them – not only in buying them/storing your guitar once its fitted, but also in actually sourcing the stuff, we’ve yet to find a factory who will even consider making a plate with it (too big a fire risk) and even when we do, its very cost prohibitive (more expensive to buy the things then we could ever dream of selling them for!) – there are guys out there making them though – but as a rough guide, expect to pay upwards of £150+)
Now this is a funny one. For the longest time, it was the only Tortoise shell we had access to, and honestly – its OK – turns up pretty often on mid-priced guitars, such as the Squier® Classic vibe and vintage modified lines – personally, I think of it was a cheats Tortoise shell, because it seems to be a screen print sandwiched between the layers of PVC, and as such, it looks a little flat. It is, however pretty uniform, so if you want all your tortoise shells to look the same, classics the way to go.
3 Ply Brown
Now we’re talking – rather then a “flat layer” brown tortoise is the real deal – layers of semi-transparent PVC (one yellow, one brown) over laid to give that characteristic look. For whatever reason, the 3 ply version shows a little more yellow in the mix then the 4 ply. It shows a great depth of colour as a result, and if pressed, I’d say it was my favourite of the shells.
4 Ply Brown
Slightly darker then the 3 ply version, less yellow bleed through in the mix (presumably because the yellow “layer” is thinner)
3 Ply Red
Similar to the brown version really – yellow and red, one on top of the other, but it’s the same principle, same results, just a little more vibrant then the brown.
4 Ply Red
Where the brown 4 ply shows a little less yellow, the red version pretty much cuts it out completely. Its almost bordering on a red pearl for us, and certainly not without its charms. Ideal if you really hate the idea of the yellow peeking through.
For completeness sake, heres a photo of a celluloid plate too - i think we can all agree, it looks absolutely glorious, and theres a real depth to the "shell" effect - but if you look closely at the photo, you can probably see that the plate (in this case a Jazzaster) has badly warped, its been kept in the same conditions as the PVC plates above, for the same amount of time, but its way past being usable now.
Pearloid plates are similar to the tortoise shells, but theres a little less subtly between them, and they dont really have anything overly interesting in their history - as far as i can tell, they're always been PVC, and the variations in colour and pattern are pretty easy to follow.
So lets take a closer look.
The most common pearloid you're going to see - "white pearl" - i think its safe to say we all know the look. Interesingly, Pearl pickguards are actually made from a material intially intended to be a faux "mother of pearl" (which is the inside of an oyster shell)
More common then you'd think strangely - fairly safe to think of it as the Parchment version of white pearl. For whatever reason, the pearling is a little tighter, with fewer blank spots between the reflective sections.
If Aged Pearl is the Parchment, then Ivory Pearl is most definately the Ivroy to the white - much more creamy in colour. Usually, you only see if in a 3 ply triple Ivory - not very common nowadays, but does occasionally turn up.
This is a fairly new pattern as far as we can well - actually a much closer representation of that "mother of pearl" look that the original pearloids were going for. Rather then being broken up into reflective "squares", its more bothches and swirls, gives it a nice crisp finish.
If Avalon is getting closer to mother of pearl, then its probably only right that we've got one thats getting close to its opposite number, abalone (which is the inside of the shell of a few species of marine snail) - its certainly a very "unique" pattern, and again, is more swirls then squares.
Black pearl is always a bone of contention for us - its not "really" black - its more a dark grey colour - there is a blacker version out there (not that we can find it!) called "Moto Pearl" - but yeah, they've both got their place.
Hardly an all time classic, but not without its charms. Nice tight pearling, very few gaps between the squares, so nice and uniform - a love it or loathe it colour i suppose. Pair it with a black body and black plastics, and its a nice little statement piece though.
Colour aside, its a fairly traditional pearloid - reflective squares, blue tint - looks a bit crackers on its own, but with the right body, it can work really well.
Again, a bit of a novelty colour for me - not exactly what you'd call a classic, but if thats your thing - more power to ya.
"Whites & Creams" Explained
Ok, even i'll conceed that this isn't the most thrilling of toics at this point, but there is actually plenty of confusion when it comes to the "off white" pickguard colours, so seeing as we're ticking off pearls and tortoise shell varients, we might as well address the parchments, mints and creams too.
So lets get stuck in
We carry all our white plates in the above "shade" - its a completely opaque pigment, and is what you expect really, a very clean, crisp, pristine white.
Occasionally called "aged white" in the trade - parchment is the next shade in from white, slightly darker with a very slight creamy/yellow tint - think of it like old news paper.
Ivory 3 ply
As called aged white (and a source of much confusion!) - Ivory is the only plastic that differs in colour in its 3 and 1 ply forms. The 3 ply above is quite a yellow, almost buttery cream, almos shades of nicotine staining.
Ivory 1 Ply
And, for completeness sake - Ivory 1 ply. Strangely, never called Aged white - differs from the 3 ply version quite drastically, its much more a cream colour.A little softer, much less nicotine yellow.
Now, Mint is where things get really fun.
Mint was originally designed to mimic the "greening" of white celluloid plates as they age, but as they've become more popular, tastes have changed a little, so you see some variations within mint, so we differentiate between these variations.
At the bottom, you've got Mint "B" - the original Mint - its quite dark, and quite green. Any guitar you see online with a mint plate, is likely to have a mint B - its the most common of the mints.
Slap bang in the middle, you've got Mint "A" 3 ply- this is a slightly ligher then B, and is a half way house between parchement and Mint B for me - a little more subtle, a little less green.
And right at the tip, we've got 1 ply Mint "A" - slightly different to the 3 ply version, a little less green again.
Knobs & Covers
No one ever believes us when we explain this one, but its a really handy tip.
When you're thinking about the knob colour to pair with your pickguard, remember, there is some variation between the plate colour and the other plastics colour that share the same name.
They do come from the same factory, they are made from the same materials, and the pigment levels are exactly the same - but it does happen. Apparently, its to do with the differing thicknesses of the plastics.
So - a handy guide!
You'll have no difference between covers, knobs and pickguard with Black, White or Parchment - they're your safe bets.
Mint A, Mint B and Ivory are a little trickier - there is some variation (and this is industry wide too, not just Axesrus® parts) - and thats why its very rare to see an all mint Strat®.
The common solution, is to embrace the miss match to be honest - mint guards with ivory or parchment, ivory plates with mint. It actually looks very authentic too