Samples of completed bone and buffalo guitar pick blanks

The process shaping a guitar pick from bone(or buffalo horn) is very similar to making a nut or saddle from a bone blank so you can refer to our previous blog post for some additional information especially when it comes to the tools we used.

Guitar picks made of bone do look very cool but they really aren’t the best guitar picks if you are an aggressive player. Bone is very brittle so they will chip easily. Using these will give your guitar a different tone especially when playing an acoustic guitar. Completed picks are also great gifts when used in brackets or necklaces.

First, you will need to source some suitable material to use. Fortunately, Philadelphia Luthier Tools & Supplies carries bone and buffalo horn guitar pick blanks in assortment packs. These are the correct size for a standard guitar pick. Here is a link to purchase your set > LINK

Trace outline of pick on bone blank
Here we are tracing the shape of the guitar pick on the blank. I’m using a FastCap FatBoy marking pencil since it comes with different color lead. The white color works perfectly for this dyed pick blank.
Cutting out the outline on a tabletop bandsaw
Next, we carefully cut along the outside of the drawn line. I’m using a small tabletop bandsaw to cut out the shape. A pattern cutting scroll saw would also work.
Completed cutting out the guitar pick shape
Don’t worry too much if the shape isn’t perfect. We will fix it on the belt sander.
Refining the shape on the belt sander
It is important to only use light pressure and keep the pick moving to get the smoothest edge. Stop frequently and use your finger to feel the edge of the pick to determine how well you are doing.
Getting ready to attach the pick to a block of wood to help hold on to the pick
Here, you will need a small piece of scrap wood to attach the pick blank too. This will help you hold on to the pick during the next few steps. It is best to use our double side template tape.
The piece of wood should only be slightly larger than the pick
The wood should only be slightly larger than the pick you will be shaping.
Shaping guitar pick on the belt sander
The purpose of attaching the blank to the piece of wood is to save your fingertips. Hold the piece parallel to the sanding belt to make the pick thinner. I personally like my picks to be thick to make them easier to hold.
First side sanded to desire shape
Holding onto the wood, you can start tilting and angling the block so you can taper the edge. It will take some practice to get the right motion. Stop frequently to check your progress. Use a shallower angle to make the end that plucks the string thinner than the part you grasp.
Finishing up the second side the belt sander
After you finish the first side, flip the pick over and do the same thing to the second side trying mirror the look of the first side. You might want to use a new piece of double-sided tape since the tape will have less to hold on to since the pick is no longer flat.
Preparing 4 girts of sandpaper
Setup 4 different grits of foam-backed sandpaper on a table. I’ve found the foam sandpaper works great to get the nice rounded pick shape.
Trying and do most of the sanding on the coarsest sandpaper
You will want to concentrate most of the shaping on the coarsest grit. Once you are happy with the shape, proceed to the remainder to help remove most of the deep scratches.
Hold the pick at an angle to help see any imperfections in your work. Start back at the coarsest grit to fix any problem areas and then finish with the finer grits of sandpaper.
Placing the sandpaper near the edge of your workbench will allow easier access to the edge of the pick.
Finding imperfections now is better than finding them after polishing so stop frequently and check your progress!
This is what the pick will look like after final sanding.
Time to get out the benchtop buffer! These are used a lot by pen makers to polish pen blanks. They work great for polish nut, saddles, and picks! Here I’m loading up the left wheel will Menzerna GW16 finishing compound.
Make sure your only work in the bottom front quadrant of the buffing wheel to prevent the pick from being thrown at you or through the shop.
I always use a clean buffing wheel (no compound) for the final polish.
Make sure to get all sides and edges!
The completed guitar pick! Check out that shine! From here, you can go ahead and start plucking away on your favorite guitar or you could drill a hole in it so you can attach it to a necklace or bracelet for your favorite girl!

Everyone has different ways of shaping a new nut or saddle from a bone blank. Is there a right or wrong way? Nope. There are definitely ways that are a lot faster than others. It typically only takes me about 5 minutes from start to finish…possibly less if I’m in a hurry.

Let me show you how I make one in our shop.

Size difference
Here you can see how much material is needed to be removed. It is a lot, especially if you are going to try to sand it all away.
Board and template double side masking tape
The secret to getting the thickness down quickly is to use a table saw, a long board, and our template double side masking tape.
Bone blanks attached to board
Next, attach the double side tape to the board and then attached bone blank. Make sure to put some pressure on them to make sure they are securely attached. I like to attach the original nut (or saddle) in front of the blank to use as a guide for setting the thickness.
Adjust table saw fence to thin nut blank
Place the board against the fence and set the thickness I want the blank to be. I sometimes like to leave it slightly thicker so I can fine-tune the thickness later especially when making an acoustic saddle. Here, I am using the original nut as a reference. You will need to remove it before cutting the nut blank so it doesn’t get accidentally damaged.
n the bone nut through table saw
Definitely make sure to use a zero clearance insert on your table saw so you don’t lose the blank in the saw. I should also add, you want to use a large enough board so you can keep your fingers well clear of the spinning blade.
Half way through the bone nut
Here we are about halfway through the bone nut.
Picture of the thinned bone nut
OK, so there you go, a bone nut blank thinned to size. Since I’m already set up, I usually will run a few more nuts though so I have a few extra for another job or if I mess up this one.
Tracing the shape onto the bone blank
Trace the shape of the nut onto the blank.
Using small tabletop bandsaw to cut out shape
Here I am using a small tabletop bandsaw to cut out the shape. Make sure to stay slightly outside the line. This can also be done using a tabletop scroll saw.
Cutting outside of the traced line
Here we are almost done cutting out the shape. I think this was actually a bone saddles instead of the nut shown in previous images.
Using a belt sander to clean up shape
As you can see, cutting a smooth shape on the bandsaw isn’t critical as long as you stay outside the line you drew. Be careful of your fingertips! I need to come up with a better way to hold on to the nut blanks when profiling them on a belt sander.
Sanding a single facet for nut
The nut on the left was just belt sanded with one single facet. The nut on the right is the original nut. I don’t try to make the shape perfect on the belt sander since it can remove material pretty fast.
Saddle with double facets
Here is an acoustic saddle with double facets.
Use a Hosco Nut and Saddle file to shape the nut
Here I’m using a nut and saddle file to remove the facets and blend the sharp edges. The nut is held in place with the StewMac Nut and Saddle vise…almost an essential tool when doing this type of work.
Side view of the nut after filing
Side view of the nut after filing.
Angled view of the nut after filling
An angled view of the same nut.
A view of an acoustic saddle after filing.
Here is a picture of an acoustic saddle after filing.
Final sanding using a foam sandpaper
Here I’m using foam backed sandpaper to finish the shape and smooth everything out. I typically use 4 grits…120, 220, 320 and 400 grit using the 120 grit for the majority of the work. The other grits are just removing the scratches from the previous sandpaper.
Use a foam sanding pad on a table
Here I’m holding the nut with my hand to round an edge to get the look I’m after.
Nut and saddle ready to use
You are basically done here. The matte look is very common. You can go one more step further by polishing them on a buffing wheel. You can get some awesome looking nut and saddles that way.
Polishing nut and saddle using a buffing wheel
What I’m using here is a small buffing setup that I bought from Penn State Industries (MCLS Woodworking). These are sold for buffing pens but are very handy around the shop for buffing all kinds of small items include bone nuts and saddles!
Loading up buffing wheel with compound
I basically only put buffing compound on the left wheel. I have nothing on the right wheel. I found I can achieve a very nice finish this way. BTW, here I am loading up the left wheel with Menzerna GW16 Finishing compound.
Polishing a guitar nut on buffing wheel
Remember to only use the bottom front quadrant when buffing so you don’t accidentally throw the nut at yourself. After buffing with the left wheel, I finish on the right wheel that has nothing on it. I have found that no compound is needed to get the great glossy look.
Completed bone nut and saddle
You will be amazed how nice these look after buffing. They almost look like polished stone!

Some final thoughts or questions that some of you might have.

First, is a using a table saw to thin blanks…dangerous? I think so, especially if you don’t know what you are doing or are at least confident in using one.

Second, will this screw up my table saw blade? I haven’t found that to be a problem. I do use a quality carbide tipped blade and never had an issue going back and forth between wood and bone. I have found that a good quality blade will give you a better finish every time whether on wood or bone.

Third, does the type of double-sided tape matter? Yes, absolutely. Use the best you can get. You don’t want the nut blank to come loose when you running it through the table saw. The blank can be a very dangerous projectile.

Here are some links to the items shown in this post.

Bone nut blanks…. https://www.philadelphialuthiertools.com/guitar-bass-nuts-saddles/

The best double-sided template tape – https://www.philadelphialuthiertools.com/luthier-tools/misc-tools/router-template-cnc-double-sided-mounting-masking-tape-1-x-36yds/

Table Saw – any good quality table saw, preferably, with a cast iron top and a zero clearance insert

Table Top Bandsaw – https://www.amazon.com/WEN-3959-2-5-Amp-9-Inch-Benchtop/dp/B077QMBTLP There are lots of these that all look exactly the same. Probably all made in the same factory just rebranded. Mine is actually a Sears Craftsmen.

Belt Sander – Another Amazon link – https://www.amazon.com/WEN-6502T-4-3-Amp-Belt-Sander/dp/B07KL4QGSQ . Same as above. Mine looks exactly like this one but is branded Ryobi for Lowes

Hosco Nut and Saddle files – https://www.philadelphialuthiertools.com/luthier-tools/files/guitar-nut-and-saddle-shaping-file-set-3-files/

StewMac Nut and Saddle Vise – https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Types_of_Tools/Vises/Nut_and_Saddle_Vise.html

Foam Sandpaper – https://www.philadelphialuthiertools.com/luthier-tools/abrasives/micro-mesh-2-x-2-soft-touch-pad-variety-pack/

Small Buffing Setup – https://www.pennstateind.com/store/PROBUFF.html Lots of lesser-priced buffers are available on Amazon and eBay if you are looking to save some money. The compound that comes with it might be OK.

Menzerna Buffing Compound – https://www.jescarguitar.com/?product=menzerna-wax-16

30. April 2018 · Comments Off on Printable PDF for Measuring Pickup Pole Spacing · Categories: General, Tools · Tags: , , , , , ,

One of the most common questions we get is “What pickup covers will fit my guitar?”. Sometimes I actually do know what size cover will fit a specific pickup. A good example would be “What covers will fit a Gibson ’57 Classic?”. The Gibson ’57 Classic need a 1 15/16″ (49.2mm) pole spaced covers. Easy. A harder question would be “What size cover do I need for my Gibson?”, “What fits a PRS SE?”, “Do you know what size covers will fit a Bare Knuckle Pickup?” or “I have a guitar from the 1970’s, what size should I order?”. My standard answer to all those questions has always been “Please measure the center to center distance between the two outside pole screws”.

OK, let me get to the reason for this free downloadable PDF. I had a customer ask me a few weeks ago what is the correct size he needs for his pickup. I gave him my standard response to measure the center to center distance… His reply was “do you really think I can tell the difference between 1mm!”. That actually got me think that there must be an easier way because deciphering all the small lines on a ruler can be difficult and also error-prone.

So my solution is this printable PLTS Pole Spacing Tool. I set it up to only show one pole spacing at a time so there is no counting the little lines on a ruler. All that needs to be done is line up the dashed lines to the center of the pole screws. It is set up with all of the pole spacing we offer at Philadelphia Luthier Tools…48mm, 49.2mm, 50mm, 51mm, 52mm, and 53mm. I even added fold lines to help you fold the PDF so it will easily fit under the strings.

Here are some helpful hints for printing and using this tool. First, very important, this PDF needs to be printed actual size with no scaling of the page to be accurate. it has probably defaulted to something like “90%” or “fit to page”. You will have to look around since they aren’t always described the same way or sometimes hidden. I use Google Chrome browser. When the print dialog box comes up, it is hidden under “+ more setting”. The setting is called scale. In the case of Google Chrome, you want to set the scale to be 100%. Included on the printout are 2 square boxes. One represents 1″ and the other 25mm. Only use the tool if they measure exactly 1″ or 25mm.

Second, make sharp creases when folding the PDF. It will help tremendously when measuring the pole spacing. A loosely folded paper won’t allow you to get close enough to see the center of pole screws accurately.

Third, always measure all of the pickups. A lot of manufacturers will use a different pole spacing for both the bridge and neck pickups while others will use the same for both positions.

Download the PDF here

Here are some pictures of how to fold and use the tool.

Step one in folding the PLTS Pickup Spacing Tool

First, crease and fold at the outside fold marks inward.

Step two in folding the PLTS Pickup Spacing Tool

Second, fold the next two marks towards the center.

Finished PTLS Pole Spacing Tool

This is how the completed tool should look like.

Checking pole spacing of the neck pickup

Line up the dashed line with the center of the E to e pole screws.

Checking the pole spacing of the bridge pickup

Line up the dashed lines with the center to the outside pole screws.

10. December 2014 · Comments Off on Unplated Pickup Covers…part 2 · Categories: General · Tags: , , ,



Hand polished unplated pickup cover

Last week I showed you how to achieve a brushed metal look using a Scotch Brite pad and a non-plated pickup cover. Next, we will hand polish a raw unplated pickup cover and then make it look like an aged pickup cover with faux string lines.

First, you will need a metal polishing compound and some old rags.  Any brand metal polishing compound will work fine.  You can use the metal polish impregnated cloth called “Miracle Cloth”. This is what I used to achieve the look you see here. It works great for polishing frets too. One warning about metal polish….don’t use it to polish any gold-plated parts.  It can strip the gold plating off very fast!

PLEASE READ:  We recommend you wear protective gloves while working with unplated pickup covers. The bottom edge can be very sharp and can easily cut your finger. Filing the bottom edge smooth before you start work is also an option.

We will begin by applying a small amount of metal polish to the rag and rubbing it into the surface of the pickup cover. Use circular motions until you have covered the entire surface. Periodically, wipe off the polishing compound to see how you are progressing. If you are happy with the result, you can continue buffing until the pickup cover is bright and shiny. Use a new cloth or a different area of the cloth when doing the final polish.

 

Hand polished unplated pickup coversNow that we have a nice hand polished pickup cover, lets add an aged look with faux string lines. You will need some painter’s masking tape cut into very thin 1/32″ strips and some very fine grit Micro Mesh soft touch sanding pads.  The three highest grits (6000, 8000, and 12000) will work best because you only want very light marks.

1.  Lay out the thin strips of painters tape over the screw holes to simulate the string location and then trim the extra tape.   Applying some pressure on the tape will help keep it in place during the sanding process.

String lines step 2String lines step 3

 

2,  Sand lightly with Micro Mesh soft touch sanding pad.   It will take some experimenting to get the right look.   Try pressing the sanding pad into the edge of each piece of tape.  This will help emphasize the string line.

String lines step 4Initial sanding of pickup coverString lines step 6 Close up of sanding

3.  To help soften the look, I like to rub the front of the pickup cover on an old piece of carpeting.   Here I am rubbing the pickup cover on the carpet on my workbench.

Using carpet to soften the sanding marks

4.  OK…it’s all done.  This is not my best work but you get the idea.   The nice thing about working with unplated pickup covers is you can easily re-polish the cover and start over if you don’t like the results!

Close up of completed string linesString Lines finished

 

If you have any questions you can send us an email at support.

18. November 2014 · Comments Off on Unplated Raw Pickup Covers…part 1 · Categories: General · Tags: , , , ,

Unplated Raw Pickup Cover 2Most of the guitar pickup covers we sell at Philadelphia Luthier Tools & Supplies are available in Chrome, Nickel, Gold, Jet/Smoked Black Nickel, and Unplated Raw. The unplated pickup cover is the most popular we sell. It’s either because they are cool looking, inexpensive or maybe both?  Besides being unplated, they are absolutely unfinished and haven’t had anything done to them. Because of this, they can arrive with minor scratches, scuffs and a little grease from the manufacturing process. If these are going to be plated by the manufacture, they will still need to be buffed to remove any defects prior to plating.

A very nice feature of the unplated pickup covers is that their look can easily be changed with very little work.  You could go with the raw look, as shown above.

Or maybe the brushed metal look: Brushed look unplated pickup finishA hand polished look:

Polished unplated pickup finishor the aged look with string line:

String Lines finishedEach one of these looks can easily be achieved with less than 30 minutes of work.

Lets start with the easiest one to make…the brushed metal look.  For this you will need a sheet of Scotch-Brite (or equivalent) abrasive pad. I like to use the 6″ x 9″ size since the larger pad will make it easier to achieve straighter brush lines.  You probably won’t find the 6″ x 9″ pad at your local hardware store. Your best place to find this size is at an industrial supply house like Grainger, MSC, MacMaster-Carr, etc or just do a Google search. They are usually less than $2.00 each  Get the ultra fine grade and a couple of other coarser grades. Each one will give a slightly different look to the pickup cover.

Scotch-Brite Large Ultra Fine Sanding PadPLEASE READ:  We recommend you wear protective leather gloves while working with unplated pickup covers. The bottom edge can be very sharp and can easily cut open your finger. Filing the bottom edge smooth before you start work is also an option. 

First, clean off any grease from the unplated pickup cover with a paper towel or rag. Place the Scotch-Brite pad on your work bench directly in front of you. Use one hand to keep the pad from moving and the other to slide the pickup cover, face down, in long straight lines. Do this a few times while taking a look at your work after each pass. It usually only take 2-3 pass to get a nice uniform look.  You might find it easier to make a straight line by pulling the pickup cover towards you. You will have to experiment to find out what will work best for you.

Sanding directionYou can do the same thing to the sides once the front is done. Make sure to follow the direction of the lines on the front to make a uniform look.

After SandingBe sure to check back next week as I will show you an easy way to polish a non-plated pickup cover without using any power tools.  We will follow that with how to make faux string lines for the aged pickup look

If you have any questions you can send us an email at support.