RESTORING AN ORIGINAL
1974 Gibson J- 50 Deluxe Binding Decay
acetone or any other gluing solvents that
were used during that period.
Greetings, “Restoring an Original” readers.
Each month I strive to bring you something
new and refreshing, with a hands-on look into
the restorations on our benches at BGF. This
month, we’re taking a closer look at a Gibson
J- 50 that came out of Gibson’s Kalamazoo,
Michigan, factory in 1974. Our client was very
concerned about the body binding decay
that was prevalent for some time and wanted
to get a better understanding of the mystery
behind it all.
Fortunately, this guitar was already scheduled
for a neck reset, as it measured very high in
playing action even with the neck straight and
the saddle bottomed out. So the neck was
removed not only for the reset, but also for
rebinding the top and back correctly. Tools
I used for the binding removal were a hair
dryer, a channel spatula, a Sloane Purfling
Cutter (StewMac 0354), and the ShopStand
and Guitar Repair Vise (StewMac 5391).
Using a hair dryer and channel spatula to remove the binding.
Clearly, this was not a classic case of celluloid binding shrinkage finally cracking to
relieve the immense amount of tension it had
come under. Visually, this body binding had
a decaying rash of self-destruction from the
inside out. One might think that it came from
those elements that are very bad for your
guitar: extreme heat or cold, high humidity (wetness), low humidity (dryness), harsh
cleaning agents, bug sprays, heavy body oil,
and acid. Other elements, like smoke and
sunlight, will change the appearance of some
finishes as well.
When removing binding, it’s important to
do so in a controlled manner. The body was
not going to be stripped and given a full
re-spray, so I wanted to keep things looking
really clean and crisp—because there was
only going to be a thin layer of nitrocellulose
airbrushed over the replaced binding once
everything was trimmed and groomed.
defective binding on guitars after a slight
modification with a longer hex head screw.
I used the hair dryer to lightly warm up the
binding and glues while I cautiously pulled on
one end of the binding. Running a channel
spatula against the ledge works well whenever the binding to body joint gets hung
up—I trimmed down a previously purchased
spatula to the size of the binding and purfling
channels. I progressed slowly, inch by inch, at
times going back and repeating the first step
by re-scoring small sections using the Sloane
Purfling Cutter. Doing it this way helped
avoid any tear-out of precious wood and kept
the lacquered finish line looking very clean.
The above elements may have contributed
to promoting the inevitable, but in fact it’s
all about the chemical makeup of this binding. Perhaps you may have already guessed
it. We were dealing with original tortoise
binding, which self-destructs as the plastic
binders start to age. Some know it as
binding rot. Do not mistake this as an issue of
environmental surroundings—though it is
true that warm temperatures may speed up
the decaying process, while coldness slows it
down. The back and top body binding clearly
could not be saved. It needed to be removed
and rebuilt with a more reliable and stable
material. I have seen tortoise pickguards on
archtop guitars begin to decay right where
the support block was glued. Solvents give
off gases, which leach out and cause destruction. Clearly, original tortoise does not like
Some of my go-to places for binding
and other plastic resources are Stewart-MacDonald ( stewmac.com) and Luthiers
Mercantile International ( lmii.com). If you’re
looking for specialty and hard-to-find materials or shapes, also check out Pickguard
Heaven ( pickguardheaven.com). Stay tuned
for next month, when we’ll be sizing, bending, and gluing the laminated purfling and
binding into the pre-existing routed channels
on this ’ 74 Gibson J- 50.
Using the Sloane Purfling Cutter.
I used my Sloane Purfling Cutter to lightly
score the sides of the ribs at the outside
edge of the tortoise binding from one end
to the other. The same was done on the top
and back of the outside edge of the white/
black/white purfling. Even though the Sloane
Purfling Cutter is marketed as a violin tool,
it becomes the perfect tool for removing
John Brown, of Brown's Guitar Factory, is the inventor of the
Fretted/Less bass. He owns and operates a full guitar manu-
facturing and repair/restoration facility, which is staffed by
a team of talented luthiers. He is also the designer of guitar
making/repair tools and accessories that are used today by
instrument builders throughout the world.