Finishing the binding trimming project

A MacRostie Binding Trimmer in action.

A close-up of the MacRostie router bit.
Welcome to a front-row seat at PG’s Restoring an Original column. We’re back at it and moving forward with replacing the decayed binding on a 1974 Gibson J-50 Deluxe. Last month we talked about how this was not your classic case of celluloid binding shrinkage and that we were dealing with original tortoise binding, which seems to find a way to self-destruct over time as the plastic binders—substances that cause mixture components to cohere—start to age.

The neck is off because it was originally scheduled for a reset, so this is the perfect opportunity to remove and replace the top and back body binding. I used a hair dryer, a Channel Spatula, a Sloane Purfling Cutter (item number 0354 from Stewart-MacDonald,, and a ShopStand and Guitar Repair Vise (item number 5391) for the removal. As I began removing the binding, I knew it was important to do so in a controlled manner. Remember that the body was not going to be stripped and fully re-sprayed. I was planning to keep things looking really clean and crisp, because I knew there would only be a thin layer of nitrocellulose airbrushed over the replaced binding once everything was trimmed and groomed.

The Faux-Tortoise Treasure Hunt
It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to find .100" x .275" celluloid nitrate binding of the faux tortoise variety. I made lots of calls and heard a lot of “I don’t think you’re going to find any,” “Sorry, that’s all we carry,” or “It doesn’t exist in the United States.” So I set out on a quest to find at least one strip of this rare material. Clearly, I just hadn’t contacted the right people. The next company I contacted was Stewart-MacDonald. I knew from going through their catalog that they didn’t stock tortoise binding in the size I needed—nor did anyone else that I knew to contact—but I had high hopes that they’d know who would. They responded quickly: “Axiom Inc.” It was ironic, too, because there I was, searching everywhere, preparing to search overseas, and then I found Axiom Inc.—almost literally in my backyard here in Minnesota. Axiom’s website ( lists an assortment of tortoise sheets and binding, along with pictures that make it very easy to order. Booya! The binding (item CT100-375) even arrived the next day. The height still needed to be trimmed .100" for a perfect fit, but that wasn’t an issue because I had the new MacRostie Binding Trimmer.

I should note here that celluloid nitrate is considered a hazardous material because of its flammability, which means companies like UPS require additional surcharges to ship it. That’s why it’s often a good idea to order a little extra to have in store for next time. In this case, it was really good-looking tortoise and something that I wanted to have on hand in my shop at all times, so I ordered extra and we store it in a cool, well-ventilated area of the building.

Trimming the Binding
The MacRostie Binding Trimmer (item number 2401) was an absolute must-have for restoring the binding on the J-50 Deluxe. It’s very cleverly designed by Don MacRostie at Red Diamond Mandolin, and it’s the easiest way to custom-size wood or plastic bindings for a perfect fit, because it precisely duplicates the dimensions of older bindings for repair and restoration work. Its precision dimensioning gauge and custom adjustable fence give you accurate, repeatable results. It makes your bindings fit better, and it virtually eliminates tedious scraping and sanding after they’re glued in place.

After making various adjustments and taking a reading from the large dial gauge on the indicator plate, I started by trimming down the binding in .010" increments. Luckily, the MacRostie makes it incredibly easy to make controlled, precision cuts—it’s like shaving butter. (Congrats, Don—You really raised the bar in tool design!)

To finish up the job, I lined the inside edge of the route with .060" white/black/white purfling (item number 1028), then wrapped the faux-tortoiseshell binding around the outside. This purfling worked perfectly, because the dimensions turned out to be exactly what the ’74 Gibson J-50 Deluxe called for.

I hope your summer is off to a wonderful start! See you next time.

John Brown
John Brown, of Brown's Guitar Factory, is the inventor of the Fretted/Less bass. He owns and operates a full guitar manufacturing 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.

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