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1974 Gibson J-50 Deluxe Binding Decay, Part 2

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.