august 2010

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!

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Randy Parsons builds guitars for Jack White, Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, and more, using out-of-the-box materials like bone, flowers, copper, and solid ebony. We talk to the luthier about his craft, and see his extraordinary creations.

Randy Parsons abandoned the guitar after years of playing in high school and college. He quit, assuming he had no future in music, and ended up working for the city of Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. But then, one day, he received a vision of sorts that sent him on a journey toward custom-made guitars made of exotic and unusual materials—in addition to interactions with some of his childhood heroes.

Page playing the Strolling with Bones flattop Parsons made for him. It features Kasha-inspired bracing and a secret button to light up the interior, and its neck, fretboard, back, and sides are all of ebony.

That journey came after a period of serious introspection mixed with sweat and hard work, a blend of the esoteric and do-it-yourself know-how. Despite starting with zero training as a luthier, he has built a business with five different shops and celebrity clientele that includes Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Jack White, and Sammy Hagar. He works out of his main Seattle shop, which is run by five women—three of whom are luthiers—and he also has Parsons Guitars repair shops in four Washington-area Guitar Centers.

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Dunlop''s Jerry Cantrell signature wah is a darker, moodier wah fitting for Alice in Chains riffs

Of the grunge era’s most popular bands, Alice in Chains is arguably the one guitarists most appreciate. Vocal harmonies, guitar solos, and classic song structures set the band apart from their faster, noisier peers. Jerry Cantrell—AIC’s lead guitarist and main compositional force—has cited his major influences as Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, and country music. Rather than reject the theatrical elements of their rock ’n’ roll predecessors, AIC absorbed those influences, and they can be heard in many aspects of the band’s sound—including Cantrell’s emotive guitar work. His slower metal style was often accompanied by odd time signatures and innovative use of the wah pedal. Recently, Cantrell got together with the folks at Dunlop to develop the JC95 Signature Wah, which is designed to his unique specifications and comes in an attractive, copper-colored casing full of rugged components. It features hardwired-bypass switching and a 9-volt battery you can access without having to remove the bottom plate. You can also run it off an optional AC adaptor or Dunlop’s DCB10 Brick power supply.

Download Example 1
Bridge Pickup
Download Example 2
Neck Pickup
Download Example 3
Neck Pickup
All samples recorded with a Gibson SG through a Mesa/Boogie TransAtlantic tube amp with matching 1x12" cabinet.


The wah pedal came about by accident in the mid 1960s when engineers at Warwick Electronics Inc./Thomas Organ Company were redesigning a Vox Super Beatle. The task of downgrading the expensive tube midrange boost section of the amp to a cheaper solid-state design was given to a junior engineer named Brad Plunkett. Part of the circuit was wired to a Vox organ volume pedal and the wah-wah was born. In less than two years, the pedal was under Jimi Hendrix’s foot and music has never been the same since. Around that time, funk and soul players were also implementing the wah-wah into their sound. By 1970, a mere four years after the wah pedal’s creation, its capabilities were well defined. However, rather than sinking in popularity over the years like some effects, the wah pedal has remained a staple for guitarists of nearly every genre. Dunlop began releasing signature wah pedals in the ’80s, beginning with the Jimi Hendrix signature model. Each of these models has been tailored to the musician’s specification and, in most cases, the players have implemented these new designs into their personal rig. The short and elite list of signature wah recipients includes Dimebag Darrell, Slash, Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Eddie Van Halen, and Kirk Hammett.

Man in the Box
What makes the wah effect so dynamic is that it emulates the frequency filtering that occurs in the human voice. The name of the effect itself is taken from the filter sweep that happens in your throat when you say the word “wah.” The most basic definition of a wah pedal is a foot-controlled band-pass filter. The two things that determine the pedal’s sonic print are the width of that filter and its range. Wah pedals with a narrow band only produce frequencies that are very close to the center of the frequency you specify by the position of the pedal. A narrow band will produce a very sharp, focused, and drastic wah effect. Wah pedals with a wider, more relaxed band deliver a calmer, more subtle wah effect. The JC95’s filter is decidedly narrow, producing a pronounced wah. This really lets you make your guitar talk.

The other factor in a wah pedal’s sound is the range of frequencies that it can sweep across. The JC95 has a very wide frequency range, allowing it to dive way down to 350 Hz to give your solos punch and full body. The pedal also has a knob to set the frequency ceiling. At its maximum, this is roughly 2000 Hz, and at its minimum it’s around 1000 Hz. The JC95’s range is slightly darker and drastically wider than other wah pedals. This affords you a wealth of creative expression. I’ve been using a standard Cry Baby for years, and I was really inspired by the JC95’s voicing. It made me realize that my current wah pedal is far too timid for my sound.

The Final Mojo
With Cantrell’s moody riffs in mind, Dunlop has crafted a fine wah pedal that pays perfect tribute to his unique style. But even if you’re not attempting to sound like Alice in Chains, you’ll likely find this pedal’s wide sonic range and beautiful voicing inspire creative playing.
Buy if...
you love Cantrell’s wah sound and would like to incorporate a dynamic wah pedal into your rig.
Skip if...
you won’t budge on your current wah pedal.

Street $159 - Dunlop Manufacturing -