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I knew... going-in... that this was going to be a highly labor-intensive project.  It's a '67 Gretsch model 6122 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman, belonging to a friend who'd been "turned-away" by a few other repair folks.  I suspect they just didn't want the months of grief this thing brings with it.

Anyway, it's an otherwise-fine guitar, but afflicted with one of the worst cases of celluloid binding rot that I've run-across. The job is, of course, to remove the old celluloid binding and replace it with modern materials. 

Sounds easy enough on paper, but the binding has rotted "only to a point" and what's left is hanging-on with the tenacity of moss on a rock.  A lot of the binding (particularly toward the outside) can be chipped-away with a fingernail but the inside layer (abutting the wood) clings-on for dear life.

One of the biggest head-scratchers seems to be how to loosen that inner layer from the wood without resorting to chemicals that are going to severely damage the finish edge.  Would a certain am't of heat be beneficial?

I realize there's no magic solution here ...just a lot of time and hard work... but if any of you folks have had experience with this sort of issue (good, bad or indifferent) I'd love to hear some tips, tricks or advice for going forward.  Thanks, as always.

Tags: 6122, Gretsch

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Looks like this will be a job of patience and attrition, you have your hands full. I don't have any tricks for removing binding adhered by melting it into the wood and am not so sure heat would do much more than just make the binding more pliable, worth trying though. I can suggest that you get one of these: https://www.micromark.com/Soldering-Iron-Hot-Knife

Use it to cut through the finish where the binding meets the wood, it will save a lot of finish chip out. The hot blade cuts readily through the old lacquer. I have used mine for this purpose and it works pretty well. No matter what, you will be faced with finish work but it won't be as bad if you can keep the finish chipping of binding removal to a minimum.

I would also suggest working in spurts. Go at it until the frustration level starts to rise but then, walk away from it. If you are anything like me and keep pushing when the temperature starts to rise under the collar, you will set the stage for mistakes, goofs and more frustration. You are going to need plenty of Feng Shui and Zen to get through this project.

Good luck Mike, please post progress pics.

Thanks, Paul... I like your areas of advice... both hardware and 'headware'! The hot knife idea is great and it's not terribly expensive.  Your best advice, however, was working in spurts.  I'm probably very much like you with the rising frustration levels setting the stage for some pretty wonky outcomes.

I've already told the owner (who's more than understanding) that this will likely take months and he's cool with that.  I'll probably set-up a separate work area and just leave everything in place and spend as much (or as little) time as can be comfortably done.... then take that deep breath and walk-away.   "Serenity now" as Frank Costanza would say!

I definitely appreciate your kind & encouraging words.

Spurts, yes.

I got the same advice from a luthier who had done a lot of binding replacement on D'Angelico, Epiphone and Gretsch guitars.  He was specific  - don't do more than 20 minutes at a time, keep thecproject where you can get at it easily, and keep plugging away. . .

So here we are again.. a few months later, and the Gretsch Country Gentleman binding project continues.  All the old rotted binding is off, I've rebound the neck (with a new fret job, yet!) and purchased sufficient plastic binding to re-bind the body. 

Redoing the fingerboard was easy ... straight lines, one color, .090" thick. One-stop shopping.  The body won't be quite as easy.  It's .250" tall, and the depth required is .140".  I'm using cream/black/cream for the colors, and .040", .060" and .040" to get there.  So far, so good.

Not having much experience with multi-layered binding, what's the best way to install it?  Each layer seems pliable enough to "hug curves" nicely on it's own, but the three layers together look way too rigid to make the bends... even with tons of binding tape. 

Is there any preferred method or tricks for this?  At first I was thinking of gluing each layer in place separately, but that seems like it'd be really difficult to do... mostly owing to not having the depth "built-up" at first, and leaving the binding tape with nothing to hang-onto until the last layer's in place. 

Or maybe the binding folks glue-up the layers together first in a binding jig, then use some sort of heat gun to get the curves in place?   It's all new to me so forgive the wide-eyed wonderment about all of this!  

Anyway, here's what I've done so far.  Thanks for any advice :)

I have rebound vintage Epiphone archtops, some with very thick (.120-.140")white or w/b/w laminates. My method is to first laminate celluloid binding(which is truly flat, unlike ABS or Bolteron) in the StewMac binding laminating jig(be sure to use sufficient acetone as glue).

I make a plywood jig(in the shape of one-half the guitar), with a routed ledge, to pre-bend the binding, using some heat from a heat gun, and then taping the binding in place to cool, and take the bends.

I then glue the binding on(in short sections) using accelerator, medium superglue, and plenty of small squares of paper towel(use for one wipe, then toss) to immediately wipe off squeeze out. Paint a short section of ledge with accelerator, squeeze in a bead of superglue, press the binding in tight with finger pressure, and wipe off(immediately!) any squeeze-out. This avoids the use of tape on vintage lacquer finishes. The glue bond is almost immediate, and holds securely.

I make small foam-faced cauls to clamp the binding in tight, in the waist curves.

That leaves color matching and finish touch-up.

It's tricky, but works well for me.

There are some pictures of my process on my Facebook page, David Richard Luthier.

Great Facebook page, Dave!  Tons and tons of pics (and I'll eventually stumble-across the mentioned ones) but I get the gist of your prep and applications.  I love the idea of the half-guitar plywood jig, and that'll definitely come-into play.

Since posting, I've assembled the binding layers in the SM jig, using plenty of acetone (enough so that the assembled binding needed to be scraped-down clean on all 4 sides when done)... and I've started to experiment with a low-setting heat gun to see how some of the tighter bends go.

After some careful experiments with heat-gun distance, etc, the binding became supple-enough to make the one bend I was working on... which was gratifying, BUT then I noticed that the layers of binding themselves were separating.  Not for great distances, maybe 2-3" here & there (particularly just after where the bends were the tightest) and that has me stumped, so I put everything away, swept the shop floor, turned-out the lights for the night and here we are!

My next move, thanks to you, is to make a plywood jig in the half-shape of the guitar... and use that time to ponder what the heck's going on with the layer separations. 

You sound as though you've got some "time in the trenches" with this stuff, so I really do appreciate the advice.  To be continued :)

I checked the replaced binding on my '36 Epiphone Triumph: it's a whopping .235" thick. I was able to bend  and attach the laminated binding with the method above.

I do sometimes have some separation, but usually only visible when I must laminate up thick white binding(as found on old Epis). Hence my point about plenty of acetone. But even then, I can get small visible lines. Sounds like you did use sufficient acetone, though. Hmmm.

Perhaps you can re-adhere the separations, by adding acetone, then pressing them in the ply jig(with the rabbeted edge), after bending. 

Also, I have found that ABS binding is not truly flat on the wide dimension, and , IMO, this can cause poor adhesion or gaps in laminations. I have in the past trued up ABS in the StewMac binding trimmer jig before laminating(I know, buying all these jigs gets expensive, but it works!). The binding trimmer has been very useful for custom sizing binding for vintage replacement.

If I end-up tossing this project in sheer disgust, if won't be for lack of trying :)  

Got a decent "half board" made, minus a routed ledge, however, at least for now... as the board's thin enough that the tape seems to pull nicely. 

The board's outline is pretty true to the guitar.  Not perfect, but I'm counting on snug tape and tight wrapping to keep the binding tight to the guitar's routed ledge when it's time to glue-up.  Or at least that's the plan which... as we know... is subject to many detours along the way.

Anyway, one side is done (or as done as I can get it) and now three to go.  Not sure if I'll glue up what's done while making the rest of them but we'll see how the winds blow on that.

I'll give updates, good, bad or indifferent.  Thanks, Dave, for the positive help and the good tips,

Done! I'll give the finished product a grade of a straight "C"... no better. It's been an adventure and a lot more work than I'd imagined from the outset but that's been mostly the result of trying to rebind an already-finished instrument.

It's something I'd think long & hard about ever wanting to tackle again, so let's put this job in the "one & done" category!

Thanks again for the input, especially to Paul Breen for the hot-knife idea, and to Dave Richard for much of the "final push" advice. Kudos.

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Applause... clap, clap, clap! You may not be totally satisfied with your work but you have added a new skill set and elevated your level of ability and craftsmanship. If there is a next one, I'd wager that you would be more direct with your approach and achieve an even better outcome. Got to feel good to finally get to the top of that long tall hill. I would advise a two week vacation to recover from post binding syndrome trauma.

I think your humility clouded your observations. That’s a B+++ job for a first time Gretsch re-bind.
They’re quirky guitars but their playability and tone make up for it.
Great job, Mike!!

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