Been asked by a customer to work on a 70s Martin D-35 by replacing the old binding with wider binding to effectively increase the width of the fingerboard. He's looking for a wider string spacing as he thinks it'll be easier to play as he has some arthritis now. I've agreed, in principal, but am I overlooking anything? The binding + frets need to be replaced, regardless.
Has your client tried a guitar with a wider neck to see if that helps? I'm suspect that there would be any benefit with the minimal additional string space the mod would provide. There would be a lot of work and time to do the job, money aside. I'm thinking that smashing 6 strings down offers the same discomfort through a range of nut widths, even without arthritis. I'm not sure I can understand how more space will offset that. I have had 3 major surgeries on my fretting wrist and have a prosthetic Scaphoid (bone that supports the thumb). My wrist hurts the same from prolonged playing my mandolin, my tenor banjo or any of my guitars which range from 1 3/4" up to 1 7/8" nut widths. My two cents on that....
If you end up up doing the mod, that hardest part is blending the binding back into the neck. I have done this before without going through the finish, using strong magnification but it may be a wash on time over just planning on some refinish work. 70's D-35's are notorious for plastic parts coming loose. If no one has re-glued the neck binding, it will likely peel off very easily. I like FCA adhesive from Luthier's Mercantile for attaching binding. http://www.lmii.com/products/finishing/adhesives/binding-adhesives
Having recently had a custom jazz archtop built, wider is not necessarily the answer. neither is narrower. It depends on the particular condition. I've found that there are several factors that can contribute to discomfort and ease of playing besides a wider fingerboard, although that may factor in. One has to be aware of common truisms about what is needed, too.
In my case, I thought I wanted a short scale guitar with narrower board for ease of reaching those long-stretch jazz chords. Having and playing another similar guitar killed that idea. Because of the size of my hands, longer fingers and the need for space, a long scale has worked out better. your mileage may differ based on physical characteristics. Now that I'm developing arthritis in the basal joint of my thumb, the need for space is more pronounced.
I had a similar experience 18 years ago with a mandolin. At the time, an arched fingerboard with big frets was all the rage. After trying everything I could get my hands on for over a year, I found the mando I wanted but it had a nearly flat board and tiny mando frets. It was good enough that I figured I'd have it arched and refretted if the original setup didn't work. It turned out to be much better than the prevailing trend at the time. That mando is 1 1/8" with a beefier neck than some. An acquaintance had a problem that brought it into perspective: he needed a flat board and a fatter neck because an arched board required the first finger to bend more radically on the first and second string, a move that was giving him functional problems with arthritis in the finger. I've also found that a bigger neck for mandolin is better for me; conversely, a more streamlined neck is better on guitar.
Technique needs analysis, too. fretting style and pressure really makes a difference. I've been doing exercises to improve my style as I tend to grab the frets harder when the right hand is digging in for more volume. I've learned that fretting close to the fret whenever possible and with the minimum down pressure needed really makes it easier to play, is easier and less painful on the hand and saves frets besides. I try to practice this specifically every time I play because it's easy for me to regress to the iron grip, even after years of playing. I've been somewhat successful--I have the original frets on my mandolin after 18 years and the same frets on my flattop after 20 years or so but it takes repetition to keep it up.
Before I made a decision about a modification like this I'd first try to play as many different setups as possible and take notes. There's always room for surprises.
PS: with wider binding, how does the match with the narrower neck underneath work?
Still talking through all this with the customer, although I think he wants to go ahead. I'm going to blend the binding into the neck so it'll kinda flare out fractionally at the fingerboard. I've told him this might feel a bit odd, but he's pretty adamant. Assuming it goes ahead, I'll do a post about how it goes.
It might be that the binding is basically straight: at the moment it kinda rolls over into the fingerboard and the frets don't come all the way to the edge of the binding.
>> am I overlooking anything?
I didn't see any mention of replacing the nut and/or saddle to widen the string spacing. Just widening the fingerboard wouldn't make it easier to play, would it? It just seems like any increase due to the binding is going to be too small to matter.