Thursday, May 15, 2014

Getting Totally Bent!

On the Edge!
Binding My Guitar
Bruce Roper bends binding

If you can't take the heat, then just bend with it! 

Bruce Roper and I have become dedicated advocates of an important part of the guitar building process: The Meal! Wishbone is just around the corner and ALWAYS lands right where you want it to when it is time to eat. On this particular day, a young woman named Maya waits table for us. It is a terrible day full of clouds and drizzle and the kind of pressure that makes your ears close up (at least mine.) It feels like the atmosphere has come to sit on my head. But this young woman changes my mood completely because she is so bright and cheery. Go see for yourself.  It's what guitar building is all about! Pancakes, bacon, orange juice and coffee and we headed off to Bruce's shop just around the corner.

Once again, Bruce has taken to the heating iron to begin bending the hardwood pieces that will become the binding around the top and bottom of my guitar. We're looking at thin strips of wood that might well snap if we aren't careful, and it doesn't take much heat to just safely bend them, which is what Bruce is up to at this point. Then he will diligently push them into place on a base of wood glue and tape them up so they can dry.

Binding versus purfling! Which is which? And why? Undoubtedly you have been asking yourself this question for a long, long time, as I have. Binding seals an edge. Purfling is actually an embedded strip of something, usually wood, around the top of a violin that keeps its maple from splitting. Guitars can have purfling, too. But not this one. Today is all about binding.

The binding ready for glue

This is what he binding looks like once it has been bent. As you can see, it matches the form of the guitar and will fit into the grooves cut around the top and bottom. In my case, the binding is dark hardwood on top on a base of light green wood. That coordinates it with everything else that is going on with the guitar. These are the kinds of things most people don't notice, but that I notice all the time. Sucky binding wrecks the guitar's look and seems out of place. So it's an aesthetic choice. We have chosen well here, I would suggest.

We made another discovery last week that I can now show you. This guitar will have an eye on the front. We didn't plan it that way. Nature did. Because the instrument is flitch matched, both the back and front are book matched pieces so the patterns repeat on either side of the center line. In this case, on the front, it forms what I think is a pretty perfect eye image that you don't typically see in a guitar. So basically, it's looking at you.

Matched set presents an eye!

I love the look of it, and I suspect i will love it all the more once Bruce puts a coat of shellac and some finish on the guitar. It has all kinds of little nooks and coils in the wood and each of them will add another distinctive layer to this instrument. I'm actually thinking of naming it, but I have to wait to the end to make that decision. Just now its Bruce Roper's Guitar for Madigan, which is good enough for me.

Binding is an annoying practice because Bruce has to have a couple of things going at once and there's not much I can do to help. He has to spread glue in the groove around the top, start the binding at a center point, then move around the top of the instrument pushing it in and down and taping each half inch with masking tape.

It comes out looking like this:

The tape can come off at the end of the day and Bruce can move to the next step, which is sanding with a small orbital sander and some very fine grit sandpaper. You want to get all the bumps and grain points level before you put on the first coat of finish. Then you do it again, and maybe again, until you are happy with it.

Bruce is not a believer in the "shine like a mirror" school of guitar building. A midwesterner to the souls of his feet, he wants practical protection on the instrument and maybe some beeswax on top of that. But no 30 coat efforts come out of Bruce's shop. The question will be "Is the surface protected," and the answer will be "yep." But it won't be shining like an expensive piece of furniture. It will have some depth and some shine, but not so you would be looking at that instead of the genuine beauty of the wood.

Some dental cement stuff will be used to fill in a couple of places where perfection fled the effort. I am looking at this the way Arabs look at rugs. Only Allah is perfect. What man touches, he messes up in some way. But by the time Bruce is done, you won't notice it unless you are looking for it.


The first layer of finish.

Please come back.


  1. Hey Bruce...How about tung oil cut with orange oil. I did my hardwood floors with it and they are just shine, just beautiful wood that is well sealed...Thanks for making my brother look good with this wonderful piece of art !!!! Mary

  2. So what makes the wood binding green? maybe I missed something. I LOVE the EYE. Talk about a distinct look! It DOES LOOK!!! Don't see that a lot!!