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Does any one have any experience engraving pick guard material

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by jefwho, Dec 4, 2012.

  1. Just as the subject says. Does any one have experience getting the material engraved down to the second middle ply? If so what method did you use? And how did it turn out?
  2. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Vinyl pickguard material is normally engraved with an engraving machine. I do it old-school with a 1950's era manual pantograph type engraving machine. Basically, I make up a template from a maple board, which is oversized, like 7:1 or 10:1. The pantograph machine then copies the logo or text down to the smaller size.

    My machine is a cool old dinosaur, but almost everyone else these days uses a CNC engraving machine. They've come way down in price in recent years. I have a small CNC engraver that I bought from a friend a few years ago, but I haven't gotten it hooked up and running yet.

    Cutting the groove in the vinyl is actually easy. The material is very soft. The reason for the pantograph or CNC engraving machine is to accurately control the cutting tool. With text or fine lines, they've got to be smooth and precise, or they look bad.

    Yes, you can manually engrave if you want to, but it requires a lot of delicate hand skill. And you can't repair mistakes. One little wiggle or bump can ruin the pickguard. You'll need to do a lot of practicing on scrap stock first.

    If you want to try it manually, there are two approaches. One is a Dremel tool with the little router style base and a special engraving bit. You need a special bit that's ground for engraving plastic. The "engraving bits" that are sold in the Dremel displays are made for engraving metals, which is completely different. They will just burn and melt the vinyl. Even a regular pointed cutting bit will melt the vinyl and leave a ragged line. You need the special plastic engraving bit. It is ground to cut a narrow V-groove down deeper, and clears the chips without melting them. In the Dremel tool, you run it at the slowest speed.

    The really old school way to engrave is with a manual engraving tool. It's like a miniature V-shaped woodworking gouge, honed very sharp. You hunch over the work with big magnifiers and a lot of patience. It'll cut the vinyl easily. The tough part, again, is that you have to accurately control its movement, and you can't make any mistakes.

    If all of the above is way too complicated, you can cheat and take your pickguard to the local trophy shop. Almost every trophy shop these days has a CNC engraving machine. Some of their machines may not be big enough to mount a pickguard, so you'll have to show them. If you just want text, they can punch it in the computer and select from various fonts. For a logo, they'll prefer that you provide the design done in Adobe Illustrator. They can work from Photoshop or even hand drawn, but they'll charge extra. It actually doesn't cost much for them to do the engraving.
  3. pudge

    pudge Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2008
    Bottom line take to someone who has the proper equip.You could do it with a dremel but you's probably go thru a truckload of to get it right.
  4. I'm at a trophy shop all if our equipment melts it. :(
  5. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    If it's melting down in the groove, then they need to slow the spindle speed on their machine to as slow as it will go. They may also need to use a different grind of cutter bit, one that's made for soft plastics. Vinyl pickguard material is very soft.
  6. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Halethorpe, MD
    While in the Army I had access to a 50s era panto-graph that had been updated to do plastic name plates. Used an electric motor and a small pulley driving a round steel belt to a pulley about 3" in diameter must'a been about 30:1 reduction worked very well. Retired now so no longer have access. I have a panto-graph but, sadly no motor or cutting head for plastics.:(
  7. Hi.

    Luckily, evilbay and seemingly every other place that deals with such equipment is filled with engraving machines and accessories, usually for very reasonable prices.

    Except for the letter sets, those are darn expensive.

    Before taking a look at evilbay, I was going to say that a Gravograph im3 for example can be had for a few hundred, but for some reason I was wrong. The prices are astronomical compared with what I have paid (or asked) for the machines I have had.

    I bought them for a long time ago though.

    As for the original question from a few years ago, since the multi layer PG material is usually originally intended for engraving signs, the answer is pretty self explanatory :).