“When evil men destroy, good men must build and bind”.
―Anas Aremeyaw Anas
I am not wishing to trivialise this quotation from Anas Aremeyaw Anas, an award winning Ghanaian journalist who has written extensively about human rights abuses and other serious issues, but his quotation caught my eye in the context of this project. In applying it here I get to transform myself from the evil destroyer to the good man building and, quite literally, binding. So having deliberately stopped short of turning a guitar rebuilding project into a metaphor for world peace please indulge me whilst I gently dim the lights and tiptoe away from this paragraph.
As we documented last time the hollow body of the guitar is now complete. That it resembles a guitar at this stage is beyond dispute but no satisfactory argument can be made to defend the premise that it actually is one. Not yet. The photograph below generates some notable talking points.
The completed hollow body
Firstly, there is a visible and troublesome gouge all the way around the top edge of the guitar and if the reader feels a sufficient bond of trust you will accept my word that an identical excavation also exists on the back edge. These are the binding channels.
Secondly, the guitar sides are still sporting the hideous black paint and primer of the previous finish. This could not be removed until the body was completed since the sides alone lacked rigidity but when secured to the top and back the application of pressure, mandatory in the sanding process, was no longer a source of concern.
Thirdly, there is no neck. This one is unlikely to have escaped your notice with even the most cursory of glances. The neck had its own issues that we will come to in more detail later. It is sufficient to say that the issues ranged from the trivial lack of binding along the fretboard edges to the potentially devastating cracks in the “wings” of the dovetail joint.
You may remember a confession from an earlier post that during my first attempt to “improve” this guitar I filled the binding channels with “plastic wood” and painted them by hand with white enamel. To assist your visualisation of this offensive spectacle, imagine if you will, a splintered and woodworm riddled length of Victorian picture rail, protruding through the heart-rending rubble of an east end home during the Blitz. Even now, in your minds eye, you will be observing a more acceptable finish.
I did a lot of reading on the subject of guitar binding before attempting it and once again I am indebted to the many videos and blog posts that describe the process in great detail. Since the purpose of this blog is merely to document the journey of an old guitar I will not be attempting to compete with those resources, however, I hope the photographic evidence below will testify that even a rank amateur with sufficient enthusiasm can have some modicum of success.
Amateur hour at the binding workshop
The process required the purchase of some white binding for the sides and some white/black/white purfling for the top and back which I duly did from Tone Tech Luthier Supplies. To that I added some inexpensive superglue, low tack masking tape and a small bottle of acetone thus my binding armoury was fully stocked. Battle could now commence.
The process involved cleaning out the channels with a binding router bit and precision router base from Stewart MacDonald, both are Dremel accessories. I think they prefer to be called StewMac nowadays.
After applying generous amounts of glue directly to the binding channel the binding strip and purfling where pressed into place and held with the low tack tape as I progressed around the body. When the glue dried and the tape was removed we had a bound body which even in its raw state looked very good I hope you’ll agree.
Bound for glory
Some of you may be have been niggled by the passing mention of a new actor in the form of “acetone” who has not since reappeared. Allow me to clear that up for you. The purfling in particular, and the binding to a lesser extent, is very brittle. I discovered somewhere along the line that when it snaps it is easily welded by the application of some acetone on a cotton bud which creates an invisible joint.
One final step when the binding was complete was to drill through the veneer to expose the holes in the body to receive the volume pots, tone pots and pickup selector switch in due course.
Veneer neatly trimmed and holes drilled for the electrics
Sticking my neck out
The guitar neck had of course suffered the same ignominious treatment as the rest of the body under the previous attack and as a consequence required cleaning up. A 320 grit sandpaper was used to remove the redundant paintwork and the binding channel along the rosewood fretboard was cleaned.
The neck and headstock during cleanup
The binding was fixed as before utilising superglue and acetone as required. One of the finer details on any guitar of course is the fret markers along the neck edge.
These normally take the form of small dots along the top binding. To my surprise the dots are purchased in the form of a 2mm x 200mm rod which can be inserted into a pre-drilled hole and trimmed off as seen here to the left.
Neck bound and fret markers installed
In the photograph above showing the completely bound neck proudly displaying its black fret markers it is just possible to discern at the base of the heel a short wooden stub. This was the most painful part of the whole process to date. The wings had broken off the dovetail placing the most important and fragile part of the guitar close to the point of being useless. Had my skills matched my ambition at this point I would probably have manufactured a new neck however in the absence of those skills and the desire to use as much of the original guitar as possible I opted for repair.
The first action was to create a new dovetail piece out of softwood so that I could get precise measurements matching it exactly to the socket in the neck block.
softwood mockup of the dovetail piece at the base of the neck
I then manufactured an exact replica of the softwood prototype from some mahogany left over from the neck block. A channel was carved out of the back of this dovetail allowing it to be fitted tightly over the remaining nub at the base of the neck which was glued and clamped as demonstrated below. As an extra precaution I drilled right through the dovetail and the nub in two places before tapping in some maple dowels that had been dipped in PVA glue.
Clamping the dovetail “repair”
Northern Ireland can boast a disproportionate number of world class luthiers trained at factories such as Avalon Guitars, Lowden Guitars, and McIlroy Guitars. Should any of those wonderful craftsmen have happened upon this blog and suffered through this last section in particular, regarding the dovetail joint, I can only say I’m sorry…
For the rest of us I trust we can shrug our shoulders accept my limitations and move on to the assembly stage!