Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

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Michael McBroom
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Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Michael McBroom »

I'm not sure what this style of binding is called. It's the binding you see on almost all Gibsons where the binding is contoured so it matches up with the frets, has that little bulge that matches each fret, and sits above the rest of the binding.

The guitar is a 1977 Ibanez 2355M, one of Ibanez's "golden era" big box jazz guitars. I bought it just a few days ago. It has a fantastic sound, but it isn't terribly easy to play and I've traced the problem down to earlier fret job(s) done on the guitar. The last one (or only one?) even left the frets uncrowned, so it wasn't a very good job. At least the frets are level. But the big problem is there isn't much of them left. Using a depth micrometer, I'm typically getting 0.032" depth. This is way too shallow for my style of playing. Measuring a couple of other guitars that play the way I like, I'm getting fret depths closer to 0.055". I know I'm not gonna be happy with this guitar until I've changed out the frets on it. So here I go . . .

I'm not new to refretting guitars, but I've never tried refretting one that has this style of binding. I want to preserve the binding, if at all possible. Replacing it isn't an option to me, since it's under the finish. It seems to me that it will be entirely possible to preserve the binding, though. The way I see it, what I'll have to do is precisely measure the length of each fret, and then dress the ends, before installation to make sure there are no gaps or overlap. Perhaps taking dimensions directly from the frets I'll be replacing will be most useful?

I'm pretty sure the fingerboard has a 12" contour -- I'll be sure to measure it -- so I suppose it will be necessary to establish this same contour with the frets to insure their exact fit. I don't have any sort of device that will set this contour but I can probably cobble together a caul of sorts out of hardwood that I could use to tap the frets down onto to shape them to the proper contour.

So anyway, these are just some general thoughts I have on the matter. Anything you might care to add that I should be cognizant of would be much appreciated. I plan to have a definite game plan in place before I pull my first fret.
Best,
Michael

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Barry Daniels »

If you pull the frets and then sand down the fretboard surface you can remove the "nibs" and then fret the guitar normally. I see no useful purpose for the nibs.
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Chuck Tweedy
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Chuck Tweedy »

that's what i was going to say, but wanted to hear from a more seasoned repair guy would say. leaving plastic nibs at the end of the frets just seems so ridiculous - why?!? must be the manufacture process.
Likes to drink Rosewood Juice

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Steve Sawyer
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Steve Sawyer »

I watched a YouTube video awhile back by a guy that does extremely faithful reproductions of classic Gibsons. He fitted the frets, dressed the ends flush with the binding channel, installed the binding, then showed how easy it is to carve the nibs using the FB and fret ends as guides. I honestly can't see any way of preserving this on a refret; the nibs will never match the new frets.
==Steve==

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Peter Wilcox
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Peter Wilcox »

Maybe I can't fix it, but I can fix it so no one can fix it

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Michael McBroom
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Michael McBroom »

Hah! That blog article was a hoot! And I guess it helped put things in perspective. Yes, I wanted to keep originality, if at all possible. But since the consensus seems to be that even experienced repair techs aren't willing to take on this repair, I guess I should just let the nibs go then. I have a few other recent acquisitions that all have binding without nibs. Only my older Gibsons and this lone Ibanez retain them.

At least I know what they're called now.
Best,
Michael

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

When I first saw fretboard nibs I thought they looked cheesy, and still do. They are done as a work saving production hack to avoid the work of cutting the tangs and inserting the frets over the bindings, not for any aesthetic or playability improvement.
To a future collector they may become all important, but for a player having metal to the edge of the fingerboard would be better. Since it is your guitar, you can "waste" the time to fit frets between the nibs, if you so desire - something a pro might not be inclined to do. But also since it is your guitar you can do away with them if you find that too tedious.

Mark Wybierala
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Mark Wybierala »

Removing the nibs on a classic Gibson is a sin and the guitar gods will mess you up. A Gibson without nibs becomes more like the Epiphone copy and guitar buyers flock to such a thing with scornful comments and very low offers in the hope of picking up a valuable classic for cheap. I think the nibs on your Ibanez goes back to when Ibanez was trying to make a statement that they could make a guitar as good as Gibson an d ended up in some sort of lawsuit the specifics of which is a mixture of truth and myth.

Its not really a big deal to refret with the nibs. Its just tedious. I've done it three times and I've also made a few necks this way in a tongue and cheek , "hey look what I can do" manner just for fun. During a refret, I use a sharpie and an exacto knife to mark the length of the fret and cut the fret with a dremel and cut-offwheel to achieve a clean cut. I also round out the end of the tang so I don't get a problem if there is debris in the deep corner where the bottom of the fret slot meets the binding and it is difficult to be sure that you've totally cleaned the slot. Even though fret wire is cheap, I start installing frets at the end of the fretboard so if I cut the fret too short, I can just use it in a lower fret position. I don't have any secret tricks for doing this job. Pay attention to the original tang length as I've seen fretwire on some of these guitars be shorter than typical. The visual cosmetic aspect of matching the fret to the nib is fairly forgiving.

Nib repair is simply a matter of of making a thick paste from matching binding material and acetone - dropping a blob in place and coming back three days later to shape it.

.032 is not terribly low for guitars like this. I don't believe the original wire was much more than .036. Its a feel that is appreciated by some including myself but not by others.

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Steve Sawyer
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Steve Sawyer »

Mark Wybierala wrote:Nib repair is simply a matter of of making a thick paste from matching binding material and acetone - dropping a blob in place and coming back three days later to shapely.
Seems like that may be the way to go on a refret. Cut The nibs off flush, trim the fret end square, then place a drop of softened binding at the end of each & shape. Assumes you can match the binding color though.
==Steve==

Mark Wybierala
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Mark Wybierala »

No no no. My hair's on fire. You don't cut the nibs off.

Refrets on Gibsons is a money maker as they tend to scare guitar techs. This is a good opportunity to get your feet wet with your own guitar being the experimental victim. Honestly, it ain't a big deal. Its weird but just as straight forward as it seems. You do need a dremel and cut-off wheels --- and you need to be careful about not burning your fingers.

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

Mark Wybierala wrote:No no no. My hair's on fire. You don't cut the nibs off.
.......
You do need a dremel and cut-off wheels --- and you need to be careful about not burning your fingers.
When you're trying to put out your hair !?! :lol:

I would try what Mark suggested first before going to more drastic measures. Keeping things original is almost always preferable, even when it's not totally practical.

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Michael McBroom
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Michael McBroom »

Mark Wybierala wrote:.032 is not terribly low for guitars like this. I don't believe the original wire was much more than .036. Its a feel that is appreciated by some including myself but not by others.
I'm one of the "others." I prefer tall frets, especially if I'm playing with heavier strings that I intend to bend.

Unfortunately, I don't have any other old Ibanezes similar to mine to go by, but the 2455NT I used to own, I remember it as being a great player. This one just feels kinda like mush. So I measured the fret heights on a couple guitars that play the way I like -- one has 0.065" tall frets, and the other has 0.055" tall frets. This 2355's neck is dead straight -- I can get the action really low, but that just makes things worse, since I depend on pushing up on the sides of strings when I bend them. So I've raised the action a fair amount -- it helps . . . some.

Thanks for your refretting tips. I have a dremel and I have cut-off wheels. Dunno whether I'll use it, though. Seems to me I can achieve the same thing with a set of dial calipers and a file. Might take longer, but should be doable. As for making your own nibs, what about white epoxy? I have a pair of tubes of the stuff. Nice thing about epoxy is you can mix tint into it if necessary to match yellowed or vintage-look binding. Epoxy should stick to binding plastic, shouldn't it? Especially if the spot where it'll be applied is roughed up slightly?
Best,
Michael

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Barry Daniels »

Mark, I understand saving the nibs on a "collectible" Gibson but would you do the same for an Ibanez?
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Michael McBroom
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Michael McBroom »

Barry, this Ibanez 2355M might not be worth as much as the equivalent Gibson, but to Ibanez aficionados, it is most definitely collectible. I'll bet that if you were to ask these collectors whether the nibs should be preserved, they'll say absolutely.
ibanez_2355m_0a.jpg
ibanez_2355m_2a.jpg
Best,
Michael

Mark Wybierala
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Mark Wybierala »

There is a following for these Ibanez guitars but they're not my crowd. I appreciate these guitars when I get them on my bench but I don't want one -- I don't want the Gibson version either. I've taken a shower so my hair is okay now. From the point of view of a luthier I'd want to employ my skills and make the guitar play as it was designed to do. But the point of view of the original post is that of a player who enjoys big tall frets. I don't have that perspective. Technically, and how I'd imagine one would want to play on tall frets, it is probably better to remove the nibs and refret in the conventional method with the ends of the frets going on top of the binding. All things aside, the guitar should serve the needs of the player and enable their art. If one wanted big frets, the nibs should probably go.

On a side note...
I've done exactly this process on a Gibson LP Black Beauty. This has to be at least 15 years ago. The client wanted monster frets on his pristine like-new Gibson and wanted the nibs gone. He selected the biggest frets available from stewmac at the time and they were huge. I did the refret and the client had me set it up with 12-52. I did not at all appreciate the end result but the client was over the moon. For me, everything that I respect about a Gibson LP was gone and everything that I dislike about a LP was worse. The take away here is that I clearly am not an expert about what makes for a great guitar for everyone.

Its like when I setup a left handed guitar. I don't get the pleasure and security of knowing the certainty that the instrument has mojo and I don't get that buzz of accomplishment. Its a personal problem.

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Michael McBroom
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Michael McBroom »

Oh well, Mark, as long as you do a good job, and deliver to the player a guitar he wants, that's all one can expect.

I have a newer Ibanez also -- an AG85, which is also a jazz guitar, but has a smaller box, something like the George Benson models. It's a 2004 model and I've owned it for about six years now. I've always really liked the way it plays. Well, a couple days ago, I used a depth micrometer to measure its fret depth and I was getting 0.055" across the fingerboard. The fret height is definitely one of the things I really like about this guitar, so I'm gonna go ahead and do the same with this 2355M. Good point about the nibs maybe not measuring up because of the height difference. Hadn't thought of that. I could build the nibs up with white epoxy, I suppose, and then hope it sticks. Or try making some goo from binding material and acetone. But this is really treading into the area of too much work now. So I might just be done with the nibs because of the new taller frets.

I ordered some 0.090" x 0.055" fretwire for the guitar this morning.
Best,
Michael

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

Has anyone used Kampel SeamFil to make new nibs? The material is a liquid plastic that sets up pretty quickly and can be color matched by mixing the various colors to match all the colors in the rainbow. It is used to match formica colors and patterns.

http://www.amazon.com/Std-Kit-Colors-So ... way&sr=8-1

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Michael McBroom
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Michael McBroom »

Mark, I've had some more time to think about your comments. And now, I'm not as convinced as I was before. Reason? Well, it occurs to me that whenever a refret is done, the new frets are pretty much always gonna be taller than the old ones. So it isn't just a matter of deciding on noticeably taller frets over stock. Even stock frets are gonna be taller than frets that have been subjected to a rather severe dressing, as my guitar has. I think the key to a successful refret, where nibs are retained, is coming up with a suitable nib material replacement that is quick and easy to use. Like perhaps this stuff Clay mentioned, or my suggestion to use white epoxy.
Best,
Michael

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Barry Daniels »

The putty made with binding and acetone has the advantage of burning into the old nibs which ensures adhesion. Epoxy might not stick to the old plastic as well, and it also may not be the right color shade.

The trick with the binding putty is finding the right shade of plastic to make it with. Usually, old white binding turns yellow with age.
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Michael McBroom
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Re: Refretting a Guitar with "Contoured" Binding

Post by Michael McBroom »

Yes, I'm aware of this. Just about everything on an old instrument turns yellow with age. But I'd describe the color of my guitar's binding as slightly off-white. It hasn't yellowed much at all.

Well, I have a can of acetone. So I guess I should order an off-white stick of binding and give this binding goo a try. I see a possible advantage of using this method is that measurements might not have to be as critical as they would otherwise.
Best,
Michael

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