A guitar’s binding can absorb a lot of damage through the years, which is why it is important for us musicians and aspiring luthiers to know how to remove binding properly.
Although your instrument’s binding strips are mostly regarded for its decorative purpose, their role as a protective strip is often underappreciated by some guitar lovers. This ornamental part of your stringed instrument goes beyond the aesthetic beatification of your guitar by minimizing the impact that could break your beloved ax.
Guitar bindings are a proven reinforcement, as well as a first line of defense against blunt forces, such as when you accidentally bump your guitar body against the edge of a table. So the next time you hit a hard object with your guitar, thank the binding for keeping the damage limited.
Removing binding strips can get labor-intensive and will require a lot of patience. However, this is still way more acceptable than fracturing the guitar itself.
Reasons to remove guitar binding
While the procedure in stripping of guitar binding comes in different ways, it is not necessarily dependent on what type of guitar you are going to repair. What matters more is your purpose for removing the strip of binding.
Badly chipped and rotting guitar bindings that look bad on an instrument, while acting as an ineffective shield, are the ones that commonly require removal and replacement. On the other hand, there are also cases when the binding is good as new but the owner wants some color changes.
If the binding is still in very good condition, more care is needed in extracting them from your guitar, since they can still be used on other instruments that are of similar model or build.
Can you replace guitar binding?
Guitar bindings can be removed and replaced even by musicians. The procedure is not easy, but with the right tools and techniques, this venture is a feasible one especially for guitarists who want to learn how to maintain their instruments on their own.
Here are steps to remove and replace guitar binding:
Remove all guitar parts first
Before diving into this delicate undertaking, it would be best to remove all of your guitar’s parts first. This includes virtually everything including the strings, pickups, pre-amp, wires, bridge and even the entire neck.
Aside from the convenience that removing all parts can offer, we also want to observe safety and avoid any possible damage that can be inflicted on these parts. Even if you will be working only with the sides of the guitar, keep in mind that you will be utilizing some tools that can affect specific parts of the instruments.
Set all the parts aside in a safe place and make sure that your work space is clean as this will help you prevent any mishaps or simply get confused by your disorganized table when attempting to remove your guitar’s binding.
Use a heat gun or a blow dryer
The glue that is usually used for guitar building can weaken when exposed to high temperatures (this is why you should never leave your instrument under the blistering sun for extended periods).
Because of this effect of heat to adhesives, the heat gun is one of the weapons of choice for luthiers and guitar repair experts. They can significantly weaken the material, making it possible for you to strip off the binding with a razor and a chisel.
In some instances, a hair dryer can also yield surprising results, despite its limitations in generating heat. Unfortunately, if hair dryers can remove glue with ease, this may also mean that the gluing isn’t as efficient as it should be.
Begin with the part where the binding starts or where the biggest chip is located. Sometimes, if a large chip is already present, you might not even need a heat gun to start peeling off the binding, as you may immediately start working on that part.
Moreover, be aware that high heat settings on a heat gun is also used to strip off paint or lacquer, so be careful in using one as it could easily damage your instrument’s finish.
Removing the binding with a the right set of tools
Assuming that the glue on your guitar’s binding has weakened significantly, a box cutter knife or a utility knife is needed to detach the binding from the guitar. Be careful in pulling out the binding as there are instances that the paint could come off with.
For vintage guitars that have bindings that are totally beat up, a heat gun might not even be necessary since the glue is already weaker than when it was manufactured or replaced. You also won’t need to worry about crushing the remaining binding as they will be completely unusable after the procedure.
A single edge razor blade and a small dead blow hammer is what some guitar repair veterans use to separate the binding from the guitar. Lay down your instrument on the table and in a flat, parallel position, insert the razor blade into the tiny crevice between the body and the binding.
You can swipe the blade once it is inside that small fissure to soften the connection, but for more stubborn finishes, you may use the hammer to strike down the exposed side of the blade, to give the adhesive a crushing blow.
For the final removal of the guitar binding, a small chisel, close to the size of the binding itself, is effective in gradually pushing it away from the instrument’s body. This will take some time, and there will also be breakages, so expect to work per area and without haste at all.
These techniques work as well on neck binding, probably a little easier due to the smaller coverage area and absence of curves.
Putting on new guitar binding
After successfully removing the old binding, it’s now time to attach a fresh one.
To install the new binding, you will need a combination of mechanical and chemical methods to make sure that they will be fully intact. Sanding the binding once with grit will aid in the lamination process and the glue will take care of the rest.
Now for the installation, be prepared with a bunch of tape that you will use to hold down each section of the binding in place. Guitar binding glue will not stick immediately to give you ample time to correct mistakes, ensuring that everything will be fitted right.
Spread the glue with a small paintbrush over a few inches of space on where you will first attach the binding, then put on tape to make sure that they are perfectly secure. For sections that are more curvy such as the horn, you may use a heat gun or a blow dryer to make the binding temporarily more pliable and easier to bend.
After removing and installing the guitar binding, you will then proceed to scrape the binding’s surface off with a razor blade to leave it looking cleaner and sharper.