Vintage 'Tort' and how Mark Townsend of Spitfire captured the magic - Project Offset Phase four!
When you're lucky enough to be graced by a vintage guitar, perhaps a Pre-CBS Fender for example, and it's outfitted with an original Celluloid Nitrate tortoiseshell pickguard, there is undoubtedly a certain magic to it. It's three dimensional splashes of lava like yellows, glowing reds and rich dark browns. Each one different, each with their own character. For a vintage enthusiast, reproduction guards just don't even come close. Most look nice, but up close you'll notice the pattern is a lot more two dimensional, more like a printed effect than a swirl of colour like that of the originals. So, why the big difference? Vintage pick guards were produced from celluloid nitrate, which is a rather volatile material indeed, meaning that in time the usage was phased out in place of safer materials. It was also found that the original guards shrunk with time, cracked and colour 'yellowed', so much like the anodised guards Leo Fender used in the 50s which were phased out of production instruments due to the finish wearing off quickly, for numerous reasons Celluloid Nitrate guards were no longer used. 

Willie Nelson in 1966 with a Fender Jazzmaster
I had to use this example to show the 'life' and magic those early tort guards had, check out this photo of Willie Nelson believe it or not, in 1966 with one lively looking tort guard on his Jazzmaster.

Mark Townsend was captivated by the magic of these vintage 'tort' guards, and on his quest to find replacement ones as vibrant as the originals came to no prevail, he proceeded to find a way of re-creating them with more modern methods. Experimenting with various techniques, not without their own risks causing burns, blisters and who knows what else on his quest for that magic tort aesthetic. Upon discovering a technique that worked, and worked well, which understandably and respectfully, Mark wishes to keep to himself exactly what is entailed after all that hard work, he also discovered that some really wild colours were achievable, along with being a more stable pickguard which doesn't fade, shrink and tint with time. Spitfire Tortoiseshell pickguards were born. Perfect! 

Spitfire Tortoiseshell Pickguard Review
Danocaster Jazzmaster owned and photographed by Alfonso Obando, who kindly allowed me to use his photograph here.

From rich dark brown tortoiseshell, to incredibly vibrant and wild lava like swirls of colour, each Spitfire Pick Guard is packed full of personality, each a work of art in it's own right. They grabbed my attention about a year ago now, and have been lusting after them ever since.

Spitfire Tortoiseshell Pickguard review
Photo sourced from https://www.talkbass.com/attachments/image-jpg.498634/

Each pickguard is made by Mark, by hand, one by one and with a wealth of options, you get to help put together your dream vintage style pickguard. For my own, I opted for the Vintage Burgundy, combined with the Crazy 60s option which has killer yellow swirls dotted through which I think will cater for my needs perfectly.

Danocaster Jaguar with Spitfire Tort Guard
Danocaster Jaguar with Spitfire Tort guard - Photo sourced from http://www.offsetguitars.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=92627

The waiting time is around 2-3 weeks, so not long at all really to have something you'll be keeping for a long time to come. Prices may be high for some tastes, at around $200 per pickguard depending on specs you choose, but if it's for a guitar you plan to own for a lifetime, then for me it's a no brainer. I'm also all for supporting other independent businesses with a skilled craft and are passionate about what they do. Keeps the world turning huh. 

So after waiting my turn, the Mark started my pickguard and with his nice updates along the way the photos landed in my inbox... and DAMN! 

Spitfire Tort Pickguards

After a short wait for shipping, the pickguard arrived and the above photo that mark sent over just didn't do it justice in comparison the wonderful item in my hands this week!

Spitfire Tort Pickguards - James' Home of Tone Review

It was firey, lava-esq, just how I'd hoped it would be. The light aging was also beautiful done, very impressive work indeed.

Spitfire Tort Pickguards - Home of Tone Review
Marks signature along with the date this pickguard was finished adorns the back of the plate. A nice personal touch.

It turned out beautifully, and the vintage correct thinner black ply and nicely yellowed white ply layers look superb and nicely compliment the colourful swirly 'tort'. It came out as I'd hoped, nice and Lava-esq! Let's get it on the guitar then!

Spitfire Jazzmaster Pickguard UK - Home of Tone

Spitfire Tort Pickguard - Home of Tone Review

Spitfire Tort Pickguards - Home of Tone Review

If you're looking at capturing some of that vintage magic on your guitar, or perhaps have a vintage instrument with a cracking pickguard that could probably do with being kept safe, then I would highly recommend checking out Mark's work at Spitfire. Lot's a great options, great service and a superbly authentic product, you can't fault that, it's a worthy investment.
Spitfire Tortoiseshell Pickguards - https://spitfiretortoiseshellpickguards.wordpress.com/

Thanks to Mark for my own pickguard, I'll be enjoying it for a long time to come. And thank you to Alfonso Obando for allowing me to use photos of his incredibly Danocaster Jazzmaster in this blog post, I have credited the other images as always.

Gabriel Tenorio Strings - Artist Series Jazzmaster Strings

A little addition to the final photo on my Jazzmaster that the eagle eyed of your might have noticed, is the beautiful silk wrapped strings now fitted. I'm testing out Gabriel Tenorio's 'Artist Series' strings before stocking them here as an additional Jazzmaster option.

Gabriel Tenorio Artist Series Handwound Strings

These are still based on the Jazzmaster specific 11-50 GT Round strings we absolutely love here, but also have a tight fine silk wrap to match the long twist down at the ball end of the string. This adds further strength to the part of the string which needs it most on floating tremolo/bigsby loaded style guitars. These are also great if you do an over wrap on your Gibson Tune-o-Matic bridge, popularized by players like Joe Bonamassa for example. So I'm going to give these a good shakedown, having gotten used to the Gt Round 11-50 set, I'm quite interested in how these hold up. The tight silk wrap also helps curb those harmonics often found behind the bridge of an offset guitar outfitted with a floating trem. I opted for the red silk, and it looks lovely next to the all new Spitfire tort!

Gabriel Tenorio 11-50 Jazzmaster Artist Strings UK - James' Home of Tone



Before fitting both of these items, we filmed the McNelly 46/58 Pickup demos using our VM Jazzmaster, and here they are! The guitar has come such a long way from the awfully set up guitar I went to collect when buying. But it had a bit of magic, which some subtle work totally brought out to shine fully. Now these quality modifications like it's McNelly pickup set, full wiring harness, KTS Saddles and AVRI trem just make it one killer guitar to play. The Spitfire tort has given it a beautiful look to match now, it's a bit investment, sure, but one I'm personally happy to have made as this guitar will hang proudly on our walls at home for many years to come.

James.

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