A Tip For Fixing Binding Chips

Occasionally when about to do a refret on an older Gibson, the binding nubs that cover the fret ends (a Gibson tradition for many decades) have chipped or broken right off. This obviously looks unsightly and can make it difficult to shape the new fret ends that would normally be laying on top of the binding, should it be decided to install the frets in this way. Many prefer to refret Gibsons in this more ‘normal’ way, which has the added benefit of adding slightly more width to the actual playing surface of the frets. Alternatively, those wishing to retain the original integrity could also use this method to rebuild the missing nubs completely and refret in the traditional Gibson method, but this involves much more work with careful measurement and precutting of the frets to exacting lengths prior to installation. For this unusual model – a 1982 Gibson Victory – the customer chose the former method.

Here’s a section showing a few of the chipped-off, missing nubs. There were numerous spots where this needed to be fixed before the new frets could be installed.

First is removal of the old, worn frets. Lots of old glue in the slots on this one, and will need lots of cleaning and prep work. From it’s appearance, this was just after Gibson switched from using hard, crystalline hide glue to hold frets.

First is to level and radius the fingerboard, paying close attention to evening the binding edges before we start with the patches. Here, we’re about half-way finished. The darker areas show lower areas of wear or dips. These must be fully sanded out for a truly level fingerboard, and an absolute necessity for a proper refret.

The chips are carefully cleaned and slightly cleared at the edges of old lacquer for good adhesion of our filler.

The binding on Gibsons is celluloid, and using bits of old or scrap binding is usually preferred. But one way to ‘MacGyver’ this is using pieces from certain old celluloid pickguards and in this case, an old Les Paul truss rod cover. It’s actually made from two layers, white on the bottom with black on top. Obviously, we want some donor pieces from the white underside in this case.

Now this is where things get both interesting and more serious. Acetone is the catalyst used in breaking down our cellulose and turning it into a liquid paste form. Use a pipette as only small amounts are necessary. Forethought must also given to the mixing container used, which must made from a material that is nonreactive to the volatile Acetone.  CAUTION! : Acetone is very dangerous stuff to use around any guitar that is finished with Nitrocellulose Laquer (like Gibson’s), and will start to dissolve and eat away at the finish of your guitar within seconds if you should happen to spill or drip any on it!  Consider yourselves forewarned 😉

Add only a couple of drops at a time, too much will make it too thin and watery.

Keep mixing until you reach a consistency that is much like mayonnaise. Then you’re ready to start filling.

At this stage you must work fairly quickly in applying the fill, as the goop will start to thicken as the acetone catalyst begins to evaporate. It also has the added benefit of helping to melt itself into the edges / crater of the chip and surrounding area of the binding. You’ll notice that I use good quality electrical tape to mask off the outer boundaries of our target area, as it doesn’t absorb or allow run-in like masking tape can do. I also use this tape for masking when dying or staining fingerboards for the same reasons.

Same with the top edge of our freshly sanded fingerboard. Now let stand to fully harden for at least 24 hours.

Tape removed the next day. Now we’re ready to carefully file away the excess, and then to shape and form it using both a fingerboard leveling file on the top, and a small, flat Mill file for the edges. Follow up with some fine sandpapers until you get a good blend with the surroundings.

Super close-up of the desired end result. The binding’s ‘ledge’ is restored, and can now support a fret crown.

And the final, end result with a fresh total refret.