#1
So when I think fretboard binding, I tend to think plastic or abalone or whatever round the edges of the 'board, making everything nice and pretty looking, but I was reading a thread on some forum or other full of angry Gibson enthusiasts talking about the nibs and, in relation to binding, a couple of people said they wouldn't buy something they could feel the ends of the tangs (is that the right word with frets? Nevermind...) on. Both my Epiphone and my LTD have covered fret-ends, and if I look closely there seems to be a slightly different-coloured bit of wood around the edges; does that mean that they are, strictly speaking, bound? Or does binding specifically mean decorative? Or am I just full of crap and my question makes no sense?

And as bonus questions:
Is it possible to have covered fret tangs without binding?
Is wood binding easier/cheaper than plastic? If so, why?
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#2
yeah i've seen guitars which didn't have binding where the tangs were covered. tends to be done on higher-end guitars.

not sure about the wood versus plastic thing. if i had to guess i'd guess the wood is more expensive (especially if it's figured), but that's a total guess and is probably wrong.

EDIT: I'm not sure about your main question, i didn't just ignore it and jump straight to the end of your post
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#3
Binding's purpose is simultaneously decorative and to cover up the edges of the frets.

Jon Kammerer, a luthier out of Illinois, specifically makes all of his guitars with blind fret ends, meaning that his frets tangs are covered by the wood of the fretboard, not binding.
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#4
Binding is generally meant as a decorative strip of plastic or wood on the side of the fretboard, however Gibson have a tradition of covering the end of the frets with a piece of binding, commonly referred to as nibs. Since 2014 they no longer do that on all models, and in 2015 they stopped doing it completely on all production Gibson USA models (still left on Customshop).

All binding cover the channel where the fret has been installed though, effectively covering the tangs - but nibs means that the binding cover the end of the fret completely, like this:

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#6
Fret tangs can be snipped before they reach the end of the fret. And some fret slots are not cut with a saw, so they don't extend all the way to the edges of the fretboard.

It's just cheaper to have the fret slots cut with a saw.
It's cheaper to NOT glue the frets.
It's cheaper to NOT run the binding up into the fret ends.

OTOH, I've always considered those nibs to be a PIA -- shrinkage always seems to produce a space between the fret end and the binding, and high E strings are forever disappearing into that space. Moreover, it takes a given width of neck and narrows the string spacing; not a great thing. It's still a good idea to nip tang ends off before you get to the edge of the fretboard; I can't tell you how many bound fretboards (particularly Gibsons) I've seen with the binding breaking right at the end of the fret due to fretboard shrinkage from low humidity.

Gibson now seems to suggest that it's MORE expensive to have the fret ends over the binding. Go figure.
#7
I'm kind of disappointed they don't do nibs anymore. Just a personal preference thing.

Binding is actually meant to protect the end grain from wicking up moisture like a straw. On an acoustic guitar, this serves a function, particularly on the body. On an electric, the body binding is mainly decorative. Neck binding is done for appearance as well, although one can argue it does affect feel (I myself like it).

Personally, I would tend to think plastic binding would tend to be better for general use as it stays flexible through a wider range of temperature and humidity (making it easier to put on the guitar and less prone to cracking or permanent damage). Wood as a binding material would be stiffer, requiring heat to make it pliable and would more readily suffer from humidity related issues and physical damage.

Some formulations of plastic may not handle the years as well as wood in terms of appearance or durability. You would need to talk to a chemist about that not me, but cheaper plastics might get brittle or crumbly over time and discolor.
#8
Quote by Hydra26


Some formulations of plastic may not handle the years as well as wood in terms of appearance or durability. You would need to talk to a chemist about that not me, but cheaper plastics might get brittle or crumbly over time and discolor.


Pearloid and Ivoroid bindings are plastic, but it's a plastic made from nitrocellulose (which is, by the way, one of the first plastics). As such, it eventually outgases nitric and sulfuric acids, becomes brittle, discolors and crumbles over time and exposure to UV light, etc.

Some binding materials actually seem to rot or become fungus-ridden. I've seen some old Ibanez Artist guitars overcome with a black mildew-like stuff that turns the plastic brittle and causes it to shrink, crack, and chunk off.
#9
While from a distance binding on a neck and headstock look alright. I've never been a fan of it because it yellows so quickly. Seems to be just another way to save money on fretwire and fingerboard wood while giving the illusion of "premium" appearance.
#10
Quote by dthmtl3
While from a distance binding on a neck and headstock look alright. I've never been a fan of it because it yellows so quickly. Seems to be just another way to save money on fretwire and fingerboard wood while giving the illusion of "premium" appearance.

Quite the opposite. Any material saving (which is very marginal, and that's assuming such material is usable) made by binding a neck is far outweighed by the time and cost (which come hand-in hand) of binding it.

Binding is a more 'premium' feature of a guitar. There is no disputing that.
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#11
Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
Quite the opposite. Any material saving (which is very marginal, and that's assuming such material is usable) made by binding a neck is far outweighed by the time and cost (which come hand-in hand) of binding it.

Binding is a more 'premium' feature of a guitar. There is no disputing that.


On this forum everything is up for dispute. Premium is a matter of perception. I'd take a guitar without binding but with a full-size fretboard and good fretwork any day over "fancy" yellowing binding and shorter poorly finished frets any day.
#12
Quote by dthmtl3
While from a distance binding on a neck and headstock look alright. I've never been a fan of it because it yellows so quickly. Seems to be just another way to save money on fretwire and fingerboard wood while giving the illusion of "premium" appearance.


Often it isn't the binding itself that's yellowing, but the clear coat. On Gibsons, the clear coat is nitrocellulose lacquer, for example. That's really a crap paint, but it's there because it's traditional.

Nitrocellulose is made by nitrating cellulose (paper, wood pulp, or cotton fibers) with nitric acid in the presence of sulfuric acid as a catalyst. The resultant glob of plastic is then thinned (usually with acetone and some other solvents) to make a lacquer. Nitrocellulose lacquer was heavily used on industrial machinery and automobiles early in the last century, and Gibson switched to it from the various instrument varnishes, etc. it had used because it dried faster and was cheaper. It was largely dumped by the automotive industry in the early '50's because it discolored, chalked, embrittled, checked and cracked off.

When it's not the binding, but the clear coat that's yellowing, it's the nitrocellulose lacquer that's decaying (breaking down into its original components) and it's the nitric and sulfuric acids that are yellowing the stuff. Sometimes those acids are outgassing and corroding what's around them, including the binding beneath, the strings, the pickup covers and the coil wires of the pickups themselves.

Often the binding itself is made of nitrocellulose, and then it's guilty of degrading as well. Worth noting that Gibson used "tortoiseshell" pickguards made of nitrocellulose on the Byrdland guitars, and these routinely disintegrate, sometimes causing damage to the rest of the guitar when they do.
#13
Quote by dthmtl3
On this forum everything is up for dispute. Premium is a matter of perception. I'd take a guitar without binding but with a full-size fretboard and good fretwork any day over "fancy" yellowing binding and shorter poorly finished frets any day.

You're missing the point.

Take two identical necks and quantify the amount of time and money it requires to bind a neck vs. not binding a neck. Binding a neck will always take more time and money and is therefore commonly considered a more 'premium' feature of a guitar. If you think that is disputable then I guess you're entitled to be wrong.

'Premium' is a matter of perception, but the perception in this case correlates to what is objectively more expensive to produce.
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#14
Quote by T00DEEPBLUE

'Premium' is a matter of perception, but the perception in this case correlates to what is objectively more expensive to produce.


Or what functional value it adds, which in the case of binding is zero.
#15
Quote by dthmtl3
Or what functional value it adds, which in the case of binding is zero.

As noted above, binding is an effective way of covering the fret ends so that they don't slice your hands open, I'd say that's practical. It is also cheaper to do it that way, which is also practical.

That it has become something that companies charge more for because many people think it looks cool is...well...indicative of the power of marketing.
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Log off and play yer guitar!

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#16
Quote by dthmtl3
Or what functional value it adds, which in the case of binding is zero.


"Functional value" is only one criterion by which a "premium" quality guitar is considered.

In fact, "functional," which means much the same as "nominal," would be the opposite of "premium".

A functional guitar would be one in which the (one) pickup changes electrical current, the frets change the note, the tuners tune the guitar and the nut and the bridge simply maintain the scale. Nothing else is required for a functional guitar.

Neither volume nor EQ choices would be available, and there would not necessarily be a finish, or a strap button, or any specific wood (nor, for that matter, any wood at all; any material that would support the bridge, frets and other hardware would be sufficient). A strictly functional guitar would have no output jack; just a wire running from the pickup to an amplification device. Flamenco guitars have a cylinder (slightly conical) of wood coming through the back of the headstock around which the strings are wrapped, and the friction of wood on wood keeps the guitar's strings from going out of tune.

Starting from there, everything else is some level of "premium" and we've become spoiled to a certain degree of premium fitment.

"Quality" refers to a wide and long list of refinements and premium add-ins that include functional items as well as those things that enhance our sense experience. Colors, materials, style, shape, convenience, ornamentation, and many other factors make our selection of one piece over another a personal choice. Two (or three) pickups instead of one. More volume controls, more tone controls, a wider range of available sounds, smoother turning or more precise tuners, smoother frets, better shaped fretboards, strap button placement and quality (short screw? long screw?), ease of bridge intonation, heavier/lighter bridge materials, use of a tailpiece or not, etc.

It's become its own fashion statement these days to prefer dot inlays rather than blocks, matte finish rather than gloss, nickel or chrome rather than gold or brass, bound edges rather than unbound, a specific headstock shape rather than another. But it's still cosmetics and it's still fashion.

Those same fashionistas sniff at binding but wear guyliner. They pooh-pooh pearl inlay but must have greasy black hair or buzz cuts or whatever identifies their genre.

And then there's a reverse snobbery that insists that a minimalist fashion is better than a fancier one because...well...because they say so. And it's their fashion and that of their immediate tribe and therefore it must be better.

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#17
Quote by dspellman
A functional guitar would be one in which the (one) pickup changes electrical current, the frets change the note, the tuners tune the guitar and the nut and the bridge simply maintain the scale. Nothing else is required for a functional guitar.

Neither volume nor EQ choices would be available, and there would not necessarily be a finish, or a strap button, or any specific wood (nor, for that matter, any wood at all; any material that would support the bridge, frets and other hardware would be sufficient). A strictly functional guitar would have no output jack; just a wire running from the pickup to an amplification device. Flamenco guitars have a cylinder (slightly conical) of wood coming through the back of the headstock around which the strings are wrapped, and the friction of wood on wood keeps the guitar's strings from going out of tune.



I guess being more serious, the question of to what extent ergonomics equate to functionality is relevant. Can a guitar that can't comfortably be played be called functional?

Nevermind, I just wanted to know about the fret ends on my cheap guitars
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#18
"Premium" choices are not the preferences for everyone. Some people don't like additional ornamentation, bling, knobs, switches, whatever. It's cool. It's just a personal preference. But like T00DEEPBLUE says, putting binding on a neck is going to add to materials cost and production time. It may not as much as they upcharge for it, but it adds. A nobound neck is going to involve cutting the board to accept the frets, hammering or pressing the frets in, snipping the ends off, and then grinding the ends down. For a bound neck, instead of grinding the ends down, your're going to need to rout the board to accept the binding, cut, glue and clamp the binding in place, wait for the glue to dry. That adds significant handling time, storage requirements, etc in addition to the meager materials cost. If the binding has nibs, now you gotta deal with someone carving the binding down the board and have a reserve to deal with workmans comp issues (sharp tools, hand step).

Personally, I like the extra features, although I typically will weigh if I need them on that guitar vs the going price of the guitar. For example, when I ordered my first Carvin, they don't offer them with binding. Fine, I still wanted the guitar, but I was willing to pay extra to have an additional volume knob installed, even though it isn't a normal option on that model. I have explorers both with and without binding. Can I feel the difference? Yup. Does that mean I won't play the unbound explorer? Nope. Which one do I usually reach for? One with a bound neck. I could care less how it looks at this point, it's about how it feels to my hand.
#19
I just did a complete neck restore on my 1976 Ibanez Les Paul copy. I removed all the frets and binding, scraped and sanded the fretboard, re-fretted the entire neck, and replaced the binding. The luthier I am apprenticeing with asked if I wanted to do the nibs on the fret ends and I said yes. It was an eye opening experience that I probably will never do again. First off you replace the original binding with oversized binding that comes up higher than the frets, then you cut down and remove the excess binding between each fret then gently file and shape each fret end to form the nib. That procedure alone took two to three hours and was a pain in the ass. If you cut into one nib too much there is no remedy to replace a single nib except starting again with new binding so I can understand why the picture above shows nibs that are not perfectly uniform. After you get the binding done like dspellman said you clear coat the neck and binding.
It gave me a taste of why these are not done on more guitars and why luthiers charge so much for a fret job on a Gibson Les Paul with nibs on the frets.
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Last edited by Rickholly74 at Feb 25, 2015,
#20
I thought I'd read somewhere there's a way to fake the nibs on a repair by melting a new nib into the bindng with some solvent or other, but I don't remember the specific materials or process and none of my bound guitars are near needing a fret job so I haven't had a need to look into it in more detail.
#21
Some original Bursts have lost their nibs from fret jobs performed later in their lives. No big deal IMO and I'd have no issue with the frets going over the binding instead of having nibs.
The cheapest method of construction though is no binding with fret tangs showing on the side of the fingerboard. Blind fretting would be different but I'm not altogether sure it would be that much more expensive. The fret slots would need to be cut differently so they didn't carry on through the sides of the fingerboard and the fret tangs back cut
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#22
Hydra that's an interesting idea and I can see it working. It would be such a pain to screw up one nib and have to start over. I'll ask my luthier about that idea. I assumed that you were just screwed if you messed up one nib but your idea sounds like it would be worth a try.
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#23
Quote by K33nbl4d3


I guess being more serious, the question of to what extent ergonomics equate to functionality is relevant. Can a guitar that can't comfortably be played be called functional?


Good point. Fact is, however, that I overstated; not even frets are really required (fretless guitars, Hawaiian steels, etc.). This guitar's very functional: