After scouring the internet for answers on how to clean yellowed guitar binding, a budding luthier or a vintage aficionado will find little information being dedicated to a very important part of the stringed instrument. Compared to the fretboard and the guitar top, binding seems less talked about in most guitar circles.
Binding in electric guitars today is mostly decorative in purpose, usually, to highlight the beautiful curves of your guitar. In acoustic guitar, binding is not only an ornament, it is also essential to the instrument’s sound projection.
Guitar binding may come in wood, plastic and nitrocellulose. They are placed where the edges of the back and the top of the guitar meet. Fingerboard and headstock binding is not an uncommon option in some guitar designs.
Even though vintage is a look that a lot of guitar players are aiming for, there are instances when a yellowed guitar binding needs some whitening. Especially when the binding has aged seemingly faster than the guitar wood due to too much exposure to UV rays and cigarette smoke from various bars and clubs.
Vintage lovers will often frown at the idea of cleaning up a guitar’s binding, advicing newbies to leave the guitar as is. However, there are times when the guitar model is still far from becoming an iconic instrument model, but the binding already looks weathered beyond its real age.
Whatever a guitarist or budding luthier may be aiming for, it is important to take note that the key is for the binding to match the whole guitar, so that it does not look out of place. After all, it is called “binding” because its role is to bring together and harmonize various elements of the guitar.
How to whiten guitar binding
Accidental spills can create unwanted stains on a pristine guitar’s binding and that can be a major hassle even if it doesn’t affect the instrument’s playability.
Unfortunately, most methods to remove stains are just temporary remedies. Sanding and painting over stains is the easiest way if your binding is still sparkling white, as color matching is still less complicated.
Certain chemicals that could wash off the yellow layering, are not commonly suggested by professionals as there are chances that it will affect the binding glue, or even the wood or finish of the guitar.
Be reminded that removing the binding is a sensitive task that should be entrusted to professionals. Binding repair or replacement is only needed when it has chipped due to blunt force.
A complete refinish
Sanding with grit is the first step to get rid of yellowed lacquer. A lot of times the binding itself has also turned yellow and the next remedy would be to do a total refinish, which will involve some scraping to shed off some aged layers and re-applying some lacquer finish if necessary.
Scraping is the most effective technique to remove the discoloration on a guitar binding. Some of the best luthiers believe that there is virtually no way to properly mask stains or yellowing binding and that scraping is the only solution to keep it white. When done properly, scraping will ensure that your binding is looking crisp and clean by peeling off the dirty layer.
Even though scraping is similar in concept to sanding, using a razor-like object can cut deeper and cleaner than sandpaper. It’s alright to include the binding in a guitar’s sanding process, but in scraping, the other parts of the guitar must be avoided.
For this procedure, you may use any of the following:
- standard razor blade
- hobby scalpel reload blades
- utility knife
Take safety precautions when working on this as you will be handling some sharp tools that could damage the guitar wood and the binding, or even get your fingers cut.
Evenly scrape the binding in a downward motion with the blade flatly touching the surface. Removing the guitar binding’s top coating will expose its original sparkling white look, so make sure you didn’t miss a spot.
How to yellow guitar binding
Guitar binding is prone to chipping especially when your instrument has been passed around too many times in front of the campfire or has toured too many continents. There will be times when a replacement is the only solution, but a gleaming white guitar binding just doesn’t blend well with your beloved ax.
Imitating the sped up aging of your guitar’s binding can help you match it with your instrument’s overall look and perceived age. There are many methods to yellow guitar binding and online forums are replete with suggestions such as using shoe polish and other household materials. These things may be effective, but it would still be much better to do your own research and take every info with a grain of salt.
Guitar experts such as the legendary Dan Erlewine prefer using behkol alcohol mixed with colortone liquid stain, which can be applied in minimal amounts with a q-tip. This is also best for matching replaced chipped sections with the rest of the binding.
Another way is to use shellac, which is a resin from a female lac bug found in Thai and Indian forests. It is a great choice because it can be sprayed thinly and is easy to add color to. A solution containing a drop of color tone (such as vintage amber or tobacco brown), and paper towel-filtered shellac, can produce a natural aging tint on your white binding.
Cover up the parts of the guitar with waterproof tape to avoid contaminating the body of the instrument. Leave the binding exposed and spray the solution evenly to all required areas to get a clean yellowed guitar binding.