Celluloid is fragile compared to modern plastics. It may last decades but it will change. Yellowing, cracking and shrinking may develop and no way to predict in what order. Lots of old Fenders still have their original guards. Others were trashed usually by people making modifications. Lashing Guards are the exact same material from the exact same factory - they will last/perform the same way.
Do not subject Celluloid to solvents. Acetone melts Celluloid as do some alcohols. This does not mean spilled beer will eat your guard. Harsh alcohols like Methyl Hydrate are what I refer to. Anything in the "solvent" category, even Isopropyl can eat celluloid. Not exactly the type of thing most people place near their guitars. Celluloid is very similar to nitro cellulose finishes. What harms celluloid will probably mess up your finish before reacting with the guard. Caring for your guitar normally is all you need to do. Vintage guitars and nitro finishes are best cleaned with a simple dusting or a moist (with water) rag.
Leaving Celluloid in a hot trunk will warp it. Again - you will hurt your guitars wood at the same time so these are not special instructions just common sense.
Play guitar, enjoy and watch as your Celluloid takes on its own character. This is the beauty of organic compounds. They show their age beautifully. As we all have seen with the newer plastics and finishes - no matter what you do they do not have the character of the organic compounds. This is why we resurrected Celluloid pick guards. As "Key" from Strato-crazy once told me : "Much of the character on old strats is in the plastic"
Some myths about Celluloid:
Rubbing it to hard will cause friction that could ignite. This is BS. Celluloid will ignite immediately if subjected to open flame. However simply rubbing it is not going to do anything. We cut it, drill it, sand it, buff it etc all the time. It is very flammable for sure but people get carried away (never trust an internet forum). Common sense is your best friend.
Dropping a cigarette on your pickguard could start a fire. Dropping your cigarette anywhere could start a fire. More probably, a cigarette on a Celluloid guard will melt and burn leaving a noticeable scar. It may indeed ignite. Usually it takes open flame but a hot enough butt hitting just so - yes it could light up .. so could your hair, shirt, curtains ... etc.
Once a train car full of Celluloid exploded from being in the sun. This is a wives tale. No one has been able to supply the date, train company, insurance carrier or any other provable detail regarding this mythical event.
Celluloid is illegal. No it isn't. Celluloid is obsolete. Its a specialty item and that's why no one in America makes it. The raw materials used to manufacture celluloid are indeed controlled explosives and manufacturing or transporting it in raw form take much paperwork. A guitar pickguard is not illegal nor a controlled substance. Celluloid is still used for ping pong balls as it is the only plastic offering the "bounce". Other uses are pens, picks and .. pickguards. Eyeglass frames used to be made from Celluloid and those are now illegal in many places. Reason being Celluloid "spits" when ignited. That's why those cool tortoise eyeglass frames look different today than the vintage ones. Celluloid is better looking but it was not a risk governments felt people should take being near the eyes.
Dolls used to be make from Celluloid. This is true. Those cheap hollow dolls in the 60's we now find with caved in faces - those are usually Celluloid. Again, because of its instant flammability Celluloid was banned for use in Children's toys. The exception still being ping pong balls.
Some guitars left in the case have been found with disintegrated pickguards. Actually this is true BUT ... not stratocasters. In the 50's and 60's there were two suppliers of celluloid. One from Italy and one in New Jersey. Fender used Italian celluloid. The new Jersey stuff is the stuff that went wildly bad. Gibson tuner tips anyone? Unfortunately it was used on some very nice guitars such as D'angelico. Likely being since they were in such close proximity. The New Jersey stuff for whatever reason was wildly unstable and rotted away on its own. That company is long gone. Binding, inlays, tuner buttons ... when you see examples that crumble away its most likely New Jersey Celluloid.
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