A customer brought in an early 70's Gibson that needs "tortoise shell" binding work - is it possible to re amalgamate the stuff with MEK or acetone, or encapsulate it with epoxy or other adhesive,  or is that out of the question?

Tags: binding, celluloid

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I could be wrong but I think the quick answer is no. Nothing I've found through personal experimentation or on the Internet indicates that there is any way to stop the deterioration once it starts. 

I've found that it's possible to sort of glue it back together with epoxy or CA but, once it starts doing so, the celluloid material will continue to crumble.

My experience is that even the material that still appears to be OK will continue to crumbling even if the "cancered" section is removed. The out gassing that is part of the process is corrosive to metal too. I've seen instruments with green, pitted frets next to the deteriorating pickguard. 

while on the topic of binding (although not directly related to this, specifically).... I have a Guild Starfire hallow body in the shop for some TLC and fretwork. I want to point-out to the owner that the binding is pulling-away at the waist.

The question I know he's gonna' ask is: "why is it pulling substantially on the waist on the back of the guitar, but not a bit on the top?"  

And I sure don't have an answer for that!  ...anyone?

The top binding was probably glued better than the back binding. Or the back binding was from a different lot. Or maybe, as they said in "Shakespeare in Love": "It's a mystery".

It rubbed against his clothing more on the back than on the front? Ya... that's the ticket. A button on his shirt lightly caught on the binding ever so slightly over & over until......

Or you could tack it back in place w/ CA and avoid the situation completely ;)

Mike.. if it's a 60's or 70's, also check for lifting of the overlay on the headstock. I've seen it on dozens of vintage Guild's over the years.  An easy fix.

BTW: if you're not real familiar with the Starfires (especially the SF IV ), they're my favorite thinline semi-hollow's on the planet. The vintage Guild HB pickups are the finest I've heard. 

>I've found that it's possible to sort of glue it back together with epoxy or CA but, once it starts doing so, the celluloid material will continue to crumble.

Can confirm. See attached photos.
This is a 1970'so Ibanez pick guard that I decided to experiment on, since I knew I'd be replacing it anyways. Wicking thin super glue into the cracks did absolutely nothing. In fact, I think it may have made things worse.

Yeah, now try to find something that you can put the crumbs into to turn it back into plastic and you will be following a path that I went down trying to save a '20 Gibson pickguard.

I found that I could melt the cellulose but only into a plastic soup. The problem seems to be that something needs to be absorb by the plastic to turn it back into plastic. Nothing I found would rejuvenate the plastic without melting it completely.

Now, I suspect that it would not be possible even if you were to try the original camphor plasticizer (which I have no idea how to do) and that the only way to fix this is to make a new piece of nitrocellulose.

BTW, the pickguard started with a dime size light spot. I ultimately taped it to a cigar box lid with some masking tape. It's been there for years now. I pulled it out to check on it when this thread started and I found that I had ivory colored binding in the shape of a pickguard taped to the lid with about 3/8th of an inch of plastic left at the tip of the pickguard that is still intact. The rest is dust. Once it starts there is no stopping it. 

Maybe it lost a few pounds?

Hi Carl.

I'm here to support Ned's assessment.  Once binding begins to decompose, replacement is the only repair to be considered*.

Check out the archives and Frank's info site for "decomposing pickguards" to see the kind of collateral damage out-gassing can cause.  Once you view that, you won't be able to rip-off & replace the decomposing stuff quickly enough.

Best of luck.

* the exception to that statement would involve a valuable AND historically significant instrument. Fortunately, an early 70's Gibson falls into neither category.

Here's a similar story I found when I had to deal with a 1974 J55 Deluxe with these huge celluloid bindings totally crumbled.

(There're parts 2&3 down the page)

Removing (what's left of) the bindings is one task, finding an exact replacement is more difficult since the material is almost no longer available, expensive and shipped as 'hazardous' so you pay extra 40 bucks.

My client didn't care about the original look and wanted the guitar as soon as possible, so we decided to use black ABS bindings. What a relief! Easy to find and to work with. In my case there were also a dozen top cracks, refretting and sides/back touch ups, etc etc.


Ned, Paul, Demetry - thanks!

I was afraid there was no easy way out, although replacing it all eliminates the matching problem :)

I made a new pickguard for a 70's L5 CES years ago. I used tortoise shell looking acrylic. The offgassing from the old pick guard ate away the plating on a pickup and left a greasy film on the lacquer under the guard and a lovely outline on the plush lining. I've probably read Frank's article and blocked out the traumatic effects of it in a past life.

As far as this flattop, I'll bite the bullet and order celluloid binding. Repairing it sounds like it's right up there with repairing rotting house trim with epoxy, only to find years later that all that remains is the epoxy

Well, I'm finally on to the dreaded crumbling binding Gibson and I've spent about 15 minutes on removing crumbling binding off the guitar - Started in the back on the bottom (hehe) I'm dipping an exacto knife in acetone and working it into the joint between the binding and guitar. I was hoping the acetone would help melt the lacquer onto the wood, since I'm getting chipping off of lacquer - it seems bonded better to the binding than the wood.

Does anyone first apply a small amount of butyl acetate or cellosolve to the joints to get the lacquer to grab the wood again. then proceed once the lacquer's hardened up again?

Do I dare run a laminate trimmer on this or will my house explode??

Read the Premier Guitar article above, a gramil and a hair dryer worked best for me while removing this crumbling binding and preserving the lacuier and wood from chipping.


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