Binding a Guitar

The following is how I install wooden bindings and purflings on a new guitar. As always there are many ways to accomplish these tasks - here’s how I do it.

Additionally, although we are installing wood bindings and purflings today the very same method will work well for plastic bindings as well so long as you use an appropriate glue.

Let's get started.

Below is an SJ (small jumbo...) sized guitar that has already had it's binding channels routed, a Fox style bending machine that I use to bend the bindings and sometimes purflings, and one half of a mold that is used to tape the bent bindings and purflings in until they can be installed.

Today we are installing purflings that have genuine mahogany framed with black fiber. This is a Mahogany guitar so I thought that these purflings would look great.

As you can see below the binding channels have already been cut using a Williams jig. After I cut the channels I clean them up with a razor blade. The top is then coated around the edges with Zinnser Seal Coat (shellac) which greatly reduces the possibility of tear out when removing the binding tape.

In addition once the top has a very light coat of Zinsser I go back with the razor blade and the remaining fuzzy fibers from cutting the binding channels are now much easier to nip off with the razor blade.

Here we see all 4 Rosewood bindings ( .090 thick) as they come out of the bender. I use the very same method for bending binding that I use for bending sides and it works great for me.

Once the bindings are untaped from each other I clean up the tape adhesive from the inside of the bindings with Naphtha.

Note: Although thicker binding look great the thicker the wooden bindings the more difficult it is to get them to conform to the curves of the guitar. These days I am doing a better job of truing up my sides and binding channels prior to installing the bindings so that I can use .080 thick bindings. These slightly thinner bindings are much easier to install.

Here is a shot of the bent Rosewood bindings and here is a shot showing how I use half a mold to store the bent bindings until I need them.

Something that will make binding much easier, at least it does for me, is a tape dispenser...... During the binding process using this method copious amounts of tape will be required and having easy access to your tape makes the job easier as well.

I have always used Stew-Mac's brown binding tape and it works very well for me. Others get great results with fiber strapping tape and other tapes. Again there are many ways to accomplish the same tasks in guitar building.

The first thing that I do when preparing to bind a guitar is to mark the exact center of the tail end of the guitar. This mark will be what this process uses for fitting the bindings once the waist is fit first.

What is the very best way to fill a gap on a bound guitar? Don't leave any gaps when binding it!

With this said I dry fit the waist area, the most problematic area for me, of the guitar first. I manipulate the bent bindings and purflings for the best fit in the waist and then temporarily tape them in place.

Once the waist is well fit and the bindings or purflings are taped lightly in place I use the mark that we made in the center of the lower bout to mark where I will cut the bindings or purflings.

For the neck block area of the top precision is not as important since this area will be cut out for the neck so I leave some over lap here that will be cut off later. If this was the back of the guitar precision is very important here.

Once the purflings are cut and trial fitted to be sure that they fit well I repeat this process with the back bindings and purflings if any are to be installed on the back. Tape the bindings lightly in place, mark where the cuts will be made, and cut the bindings.

To cut bindings and purflings I use a "Zona" razor saw and mini-miter box. I like the 42 tooth per inch Zona saw for this.

It takes me approximately 30 minutes to bind the top or back of a guitar. I always try to set myself up very well in advance since we are working against the clock here with glue that wants to jell.

For wood bindings I use good old Titebond original. Others use other glues and this is fine so long as you get good results with what you use and are comfortable working with it.

Titebond can be a bit messy so I keep a large supply of paper towels ready to be used. I also try to be sure that I am using a bottle of Titebond that is not more then a year old. Titebond does come with a date code on it.

Additionally I always transfer some Titebond into a Wood Craft glue bottle simply because the applicator tip on the Wood Craft bottle is smaller and easier for me to control.

Here we see my set up - the bindings and purfs have been cut to size, the center of the tail end of the guitar is marked, tape and paper towels are in easy reach, and all is well.

Not shown is a cheap artist's brush that I use to help get the glue where I want it.

I start with spreading some glue from the center of the tail end of the guitar about half way up the lower bout. This distance is a distance that I can cover with the tape and bindings in several minutes. The glue is spread into the channel(s) and excess glue is wiped off.

I also spread some glue on the side of the purflings that will contact the bindings.

It is very important to have your purflings and binding line up well with the mark that we made on the lower bout. This will ensure that the waist area of the bent bindings and purflings will fit well and it just looks better to have everything in alignment.

Once the bindings are aligned with the center mark I begin to tape them in place again starting at the center of the tail of the guitar. When using the brown tape I tape it to the side of the guitar first and then pull up and over as tightly as I can without breaking the tape or punching my hands through the top........ What we are looking to do here is pull the bindings and purflings as tightly as we can into the cut channels.

I always say that if my hands don't hurt when I am done binding a guitar then I didn't pull the tape tight enough.......

Our goal is to do a gapless binding job and to have invisible glue lines.

This process of buttering up the channels ahead of your progress is repeated as you work your way around the guitar. I make a point to go back to the starting point fairly quickly and then clean away the squeeze out from the channels where the bindings and purflings terminate. This makes getting a tight fit on the second half of the guitar much easier where the bindings and purflings will butt together.

Again the process is repeated and something that once started cannot be stopped. This is why all of a sudden you will see the completed guitar below.....

As soon as I have completed a side I closely check my work for any gaps and either adjust the tape or add more tape to close any gaps. Pay particular attention to the waist area in as much as this area is notorious for being gap prone. Also inspect the side of the guitar to be sure that the bindings were seated all the way in the channels.

The tape can be doubled and even tripled if need be to add more pressure to problem areas.

And of course the same process is repeated for the second half of the top of the guitar and then the back of the guitar.

I typically will wait at least 4 hours before removing the tape and at least 24 hours before scraping the bindings level. When working with plastic bindings and a solvent based glue it is important to wait at least 24 hours before scraping the bindings because the solvent based glue will shrink as the solvents dissipate into the air. Once the shrinkage is complete your results with scraping level will be better.

To remove the tape I gently warm the tape with a hair dryer and this helps to release the adhesive. In addition I am always sure to pull the tape in a direction that is in the neighborhood of 45 degrees to the grain and from the center of the guitar toward the edges. This will also help avoid any tear out or lifting of top fibers.

For me the key to a good binding job is fitting everything very well in advance and being set up so that once you start everything that you need is close at hand.

Here we see the completed binding job with mahogany purflings and as we had wished - no gaps!