How to Repair Body Binding on an Electric Guitar.
What is binding on the body of an electric guitar?
Many solid body electric guitars have binding around the edges where the top and back meet. Among the most notable solid body electric guitars with binding are Les Paul guitars. Most Les Paul guitars have a "true" binding around the edges of the top of the body similar to an acoustic guitar; however, binding is not limited to the guitar body. Many guitars have binding around the fretboard and peghead. The binding can be made out of many different kinds of material including: various woods, plastic, or celluloid. Decretory purfling strips usually accompany binding along the side. Purfling strips are thin laminate pieces of wood dyed different colors. A "true" binding around the body of the guitar is inlayed or glued in a channel cut from the body. A router is used to cut a small channel or shelf for the binding to sit on. The binding is then shaped to fit the body and glued in place.
You might ask, what is the purpose of binding a solid body electric guitar? In reality, there is no practical purpose. Acoustic guitars have the edges bound to create stronger joints between the top, sides, and back of the guitar. The binding acts almost as a brace around the outside of the guitar. It protects the fragile, grain edges of the top and back while helping hold them to the sides. As you know, a solid body electric guitar, like a Les Paul, is not made up of thin pieces of wood glued at near 90-degree angles. The Les Paul guitar is made up of one solid piece of wood or two solid pieces of wood glued together. The binding around the top edge of the guitar is merely decretory; it serves no structural purpose. For more information about how to install binding on an electric guitar, see the install binding on an electric guitar page.
Natural or Scrape Binding.
The traditional look of binding around the top edges of an electric guitar has been around almost as long as the solid body electric guitar itself. Many people love the look of a classic Black Beauty Les Paul with cream binding. Manufacturers do not, however, like the cost of making and installing binding on electric guitars. That is one of the reasons why Leo Fender did not choose to put binding on his first guitars. Modern manufacturers have developed techniques of finishing guitars to give them the appearance of having a traditional binding. This saves the manufacturer production costs and gives the guitarist the look he wants. This finishing technique is often called scrape binding or natural binding. It gets its name from the way it is manufactured. Before the stain is sprayed or rubbed on the guitar, the edges are tapped off. Once the stain is on the guitar, the tape is pealed back revealing natural/ unstained wood. Any spots where the stain leaked through the tape will need to be scraped with a razor to remove the stain. The guitar can then be sprayed with lacquer and finished, thus giving the illusion of binding. For more information about how to make or refinish a guitar with natural or scrape binding, see the how to finish your guitar with natural scrape binding page.
Common Problems with Electric Guitar Binding.
The most common problem with electric guitar binding is it coming loose or cracking. Binding can come loose or crack for a variety of reasons—the most common two being weather conditions and abuse. When your guitar is in an environment with very little humidity, the wood will shrink as the wood dries. Since most binding on electric guitars is made out of celluloid or plastic, the binding shrinks at a different rate than the body. Celluloid binding, in particular, can shrink and come loose from the body. It is important to have this repaired immediately. The loose binding can snag on something and rip it even farther cracking the finish in the process.
How to fix Loose Electric Guitar Binding.
I cannot stress this point enough. Guitar binding is a tricky and technical repair. Do not try to read this article and perform this repair on your nice guitar for the first time. My advice to a beginner is to buy a cheap guitar and practice on that. Once you have some experience, you can try it on your nice guitar. Otherwise, take the guitar to a professional. You don't want to have a botched binding repair on your guitar.
Now that I have warned you, let's start the repair. There are several ways to fix loose binding depending on how bad the problem is.
If the binding is loose toward the bout of the guitar, you may be able to clean the binding slots, reshape the binding, and re-glue the binding.
Clean the Binding Channel.
To clean the binding channel, simply take a small file or razor blade and file or scrape away the glue that is left in the channel until only clean wood remains. This might be kind of difficult because the glue is hardened in the slot. Just be careful and do your best not to damage the finish with your scraper or chisel.
Heat and Bend the Binding Back in Place.
Once the channel is clean, you can take a heat gun and slowly heat the binding. Be careful. Celluloid binding is flammable; it may catch on fire if you are not careful. I always try to keep the heat gun on low and away from the binding a few inches. Too much heat can also cause the binding to start to bubble. That won't look right. The best way to avoid the bubbling is to keep the gun moving. Then carefully bend the binding back in place. If you are bending wood binding, you will need to wet the wood down before trying to bend it. The water will be heated and turn into steam. The steam will make the wood more malleable and less brittle. It's also a good idea to make a template or jig shaped like your guitar body. That way you can press the warm binding to the template rather than your actual guitar body when you are shaping it.
Glue and tape the Binding.
Now that the binding is bent back in the correct shape, you can glue it in place. If you are gluing plastic binding, I would use Satellite Super glue. DO NOT use acetone based glues, as they can cause problems with clean up and the finish on the binding. If you are gluing wood binding, I would use Tite-bond. You can read more about different glue types on the glue page. Drop a line of glue in the channel. Do not get carried away. It does not take a ton of glue and you don't want a huge mess on your hands after the binding is glued on. Once you have the glue in the channel, carefully bend the binding to the guitar and tape it in place with painter's tape. Make sure to research what tape you are using and what kind of finish your guitar has. The adhesive on the tape can ruin your guitar's finish. Now that everything is taped up, let's let the glue dry.
Scrape the Binding.
Now that the glue is dried, you can peel the tape off. Be careful peeling the tape because you do not want the finish to come off with the tape. After all the tape is off the body, you can take a razor blade and scrape the excess glue off of the binding. I like to tape off the razor blade. What I mean by that is, I put tape across the entire blade except one end of the blade the same width as the binding. That way I can grip the razor between my index finger and thumb where the tape is. This helps me feel how far in to hold the razor and how far in to scrape. It's a great guide. I also use my middle finger as a stabilizer on the body, as I go around the curves.
If you replaced the broken binding with a new piece of binding, you might have to scrape or file down the binding itself until it sits flush in the channel since most binding comes oversized. Make sure you are careful when you scrape the binding. You do not want to scrape any of the finish off of the body of the guitar. If there is a gap left at the joint on the bout, you may need to fill it with a small piece of binding.
Spray the Finish.
Now that the binding is glued in place, cleaned, and scraped flush with the body, you might need to spray a tint of yellow or some color on the binding to make it match the original binding. After the color is added, you can spray the clear finish, wet sand, and polish. It should look awesome!
Loose Binding in the Guitar Waist.
Although it is not a common problem, binding can shrink and come loose in the waist of the guitar. If the binding is not too far away from the body, you may be able to clean the excess glue in the binding slots with a file or razor blade, heat the binding up with a heat gun, and carefully bend it back to the body just like we did with the binding replacement.
However, the binding will only be able to bend and stretch so far. You may have to remove the binding up to the joint. To understand what the joint is and how binding is installed, see the installing binding page.
How to Remove Loose Binding.
In order to re-glue the binding at the waist, you may have to remove the binding all the way up to the joint. This way you can stretch and reshape the binding as much as possible and fill the remaining area at the joint. This way you won't have to cut the binding and make a new joint in the waist.
First, score the edges of the binding with a razor blade or X-acto knife. You'll want cut into the finish of the guitar on the edges of the binding. Be really careful when you do this. You don't want to slip and put a big mark in your body. I like to use my middle finger as a guide and stabilizer on the body, as I go around. If you don't score the edges first, you could crack the finish as you pull the binding off. Scoring the finish will help prevent it from breaking.
Second, VERY carefully take a putty knife and wedge it in between the binding and the guitar. Wiggle it back and forth and work your way around the guitar. Watch for tears in the finish and go slowly. This is a time consuming repair if you want to do it properly.
Once you have the binding peeled off the guitar down to the joint, you can follow the steps in the Loose Binding Toward the Bout section to complete this repair.
Again, I have to warn you. This is a technical repair that requires experience and patience. If you have neither of these virtues, I suggest you practice on cheap guitars or take your guitar somewhere to have it repaired.
That being said, good luck with your binding repair. I hope this article helped and your guitar turns out great!