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1974 Gibson J-50 Deluxe Binding Decay, Part 3

The ''74 Gibson J-50 Deluxe with tortoise binding rot is finished

We’ve come a long way in restoring the decayed binding on this ’74 Gibson J-50 Deluxe. In part 1 (May 2010), I discussed "binding rot," which is when tortoise binding begins to deteriorate as the plastic binders— the substances that cause the material’s components to cohere—start to age. We lightly scored the top and side edge of the decayed binding using the Sloane purfling cutter, then simultaneously softened the glue joint and binding using medium heat from a hair dryer, and finally removed the decayed binding with a channel spatula. Part 2 of this restoration (June 2010) was one of my favorites, as I used the new MacRostie binding trimmer to properly size the replacement tortoise binding down to .100" in height. The MacRostie, with its adjustable fence and large-dimensioning gauge, precisely duplicated the dimensions of the original binding.

Seating and Gluing the Purfling
We were ready to glue the .060" white/black/ white purfling in place after using a flat luthier’s file to finalize and remove any leftover slivers of old purfling and tortoise binding. Weld-On 16 is a fantastic and widely used glue for adhering wood and plastic laminates, but due to the specifications of the repair— the original finish on this Gibson body was to stay intact with no alterations, other than some lacquer overspray on the replacement binding—it would not be the glue of choice for this factory-finished body. Weld-On sets very quickly, can have a webbed taffy texture, and requires acetone as a clean-up solvent. So I chose Super Glue because it’s easier to control and offered me a much cleaner end result.

The Whip Tip attached to a bottle of medium Super Glue.

A scarf joint is used to hide the seam where

the two pieces of purfling meet end-to-end at

the tailblock, centered with the top’s center

seam. A scarf joint is the angled mating surface and can be angled across either the top

or the side of the binding strip. I attached

the Whip Tip to a bottle of medium-textured

Super Glue. The Whip Tip, a 1-3/4" precision

nozzle extension for glue bottles, makes my

job so much easier, helping me control the

glue and minimizing cleanup. I started at the

tailblock end of the guitar working my way

up towards the dovetail joint, gluing about

3" to 6" sections at a time, using binding

tape and whispering amounts of Accelerator.

Note: Always pre-check if the finish is too

delicate before using binding tape, as the

adhesion strength of this tape may cause a

major tear-out in the final removal.

Flexing Tortoise

After gluing in the purfling, I went around the

channel to make sure there was no excess

glue buildup anywhere, which helps to guarantee tight seam lines in the final stages. We

were almost ready to shape this single strip

of tortoise binding to the top, but first we

needed to scuff up the bottom and inside

surfaces of the binding with 320-grit sandpaper, which was double-stuck to a flat work-

table. This gives the glue something to bite

into for a secure fit.

Using a hair dryer to flex the new binding into place.

Using a hair dryer for heat—mounted on our

ShopStand and Guitar Repair Vise set for controlling the heat’s direction—I was able to flex

the binding into place. I placed 1-1/2" strips

of tape—alternating top to side, and side to

top—spaced ½" to ¾" apart to secure the

binding in place and create a new memory for

where the material needed to be positioned.

The next day, I removed the tortoise binding

and then glued it permanently into place,

using the same procedure as in the previous

gluing and taping process. Using the medium

Super Glue allowed extra time for fitting and

getting the plastic to gently melt and bite in

before permanently setting up. After all of

the binding was glued into place, I used Stew

Mac’s thin Super Glue for final touchups.

Performing the final level trimming with a razor blade.

A razor blade with masking tape on one end of

the cutting surface, used as a spacer, works very

well for protecting the top and sides when doing

the final level trimming before light sanding and

airbrushing on a thin nitrocellulose top coat.

I used the following supplies for this restoration (all are available at

  • Luthier’s file set (0842)
  • Binding tape (0677)
  • Thin Super Glue (0010)
  • Medium Super Glue (0020)
  • Whip Tip (1161)
  • Accelerator (5984)
  • Drop-fill toothpicks (3110)
  • ShopStand and Guitar Repair Vise set (5391)

You can buy the hair dryer, razor blades, and

masking tape at your local hardware or convenience store.

I hope this series has given you some valuable

insights on rebinding a vintage instrument.

This is truly a major job and requires many,

many hours if you’re looking to rebind while

keeping a treasured original finish intact. Until

next time, keep those chisels sharp!

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.