Project Offset Phase five! - Vintage 'Tort' and how Mark Townsend of Spitfire captured the magic
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 either.

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

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. After a bit of a light headed moment, I decided to place an order. Be warned, these aren't cheap (and I believe they're even more now in 2020 than when I ordered mine back in 2016). 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

The waiting time at the time was 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(at the time of writing this article) per pickguard depending on specs you choose, but if it's for a guitar you plan to own for a lifetime, then it could be an investment you're willing to make. 

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 -

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 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 vibrato just make it one killer guitar to play. The Spitfire tort has given it a beautiful look to match now, it's a big 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.


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