Vintage Gretsch Guitars

HELP - STOP/Prevent Binding Issue?!?!

1

Hi, I have two really cool vintage Gretsch guitars... a '67 6120 and a '71 Roc Jet. I am worried that they are going to turn in to crap if I don't figure something out... they both have issues with the binding gassing, corroding nearby metal and cracking/crumbling in spots. I had another old Gretsch I got rid of because this was happening so much that the binding turned brown and looked like rotten, dried pumpkin pie which ruined the wood/finish around the binding. What can I do to stop this from happening to my two current vintage Gretsch guitars?

Below is not my guitar, but looks like what is happening to my guitars:

2

Most say don't leave them in a closed case, or in the case at all. The binding probs really started kicking in in the 1967-70 period. My own unsubstantiated theory is that when Baldwin took over they switched to a cheaper source for binding. Often the older ones don't have the binding problems that some later ones do -- just my observation.

3

It's the glue, the process of attaching the binding.

You're not going to stop it or slow the rot down but you will help to keep it from affecting other areas of the guitar if you hang it on a hook.

Nothing to fret over though, when it gets bad find someone to do the repair.

4

I think years ago Dan Erlwine said you can paint thin Super Glue over the binding and that will stop it from deteriorating more. I've not tried that, but it was an article in Guitar Player magazine. At the time, that was the only guitar mag on the market..

5

I think years ago Dan Erlwine said you can paint thin Super Glue over the binding and that will stop it from deteriorating more. I've not tried that, but it was an article in Guitar Player magazine. At the time, that was the only guitar mag on the market..

– Don Butler aka: Toneman

But if it's deteriorating from the inside out (because of the glue)... how would that hinder it from progressing?

6

Over the years different companies had issues with it. Even the sacred D'Angelicos had the issue briefly

I've posted this discussion by repair legend Frank Ford before but please read it again because there is a footnote from Ghrun

Binding Rot according to Frank Ford, Gryphon Stringed Instruments…

Far as I know, there's no way to stop the rot. Heat speeds it up, so coolness would slow it down, of course, just like film.

Our old pal, Mario Martello, has a theory that D'Angelico, Gretsch and Guild used some of the same celluloid that Hopf and Hofner used in the 40s and 50s, so maybe it was German. Anyway, those periods are clearly the worst. For example, D'Angelicos made in the 30s tend not to have rotten binding, while lots of later ones do.

The use of too much solvent in adhering or laminating is clearly a contributing factor, so I've seen some instruments were just a section shrank catastrophically in the first couple of years, just in one spot. I had a recent adventure with an instrument I built in the early 70s. It's an F-style mandolin, and the binding rotted just like those old Gretsch guitars, but ONLY the tiny corner pieces I laminated by welding up thinner pieces with acetone. It was the same material as the rest of the binding, but it rotted completely, where the other stuff is in perfect shape. Clear evidence that too much solvent leached out important ingredients, I'd say.

Old Gibson elevated pickguards tend to rot starting right where the support block is glued on - more evidence for that same conclusion.

I never see that kind of binding rot on Martin guitars, probably because they used Ivoroid during the time when those Gretsch and Guild instruments had the chalky white stuff that evaporated, and because Martin has always been very careful with the use of solvent glues around plastic. I do see considerable binding rot on old Martins that have been refinished with nitrocellulose lacquer, indicating that the application of that extra load of solvent eventually leached out plasticizers, or whatever. So, when refinishing a vintage Martin, I think I'd generally like to replace all the celluloid to avoid that problem. That procedure takes an expensive operation and really cranks up the $$$.

Replacement is the only cure I know, and it is NASTY business. It's extremely difficult to replace binding without refinishing, so most everybody I know who does this kind of work tries not to take it on very often. Frequently it is handled as a "time-and-materials" job with no predictability of cost.

The plastic binding that doesn't rot still shrinks with time and temperature, as do other plastic parts such as tuner buttons and pickguards. This situation gives rise to a logical question: If we expect these guitars to last a lifetime and then be handed down through the generations, why are we continuing to make them with volatile components?

As the old Arkansas Traveler said, "Well, that's YOUR question, YOU answer it."

Frank

George Gruhn shared his opinion in an article once that suggested the raw materials (celluloid binding and adhesive) used by guitar manufacturers located in the Northeast portion of the US were all sourced from the same manufacturer. This explains why Gretsch, Premier, Guild, etc. all share the same issues, while Gibson, located elsewhere had a different source for those materials, and suffer the the issue to a lesser extent. He also noted Martin as being exempt from this "regional" theory.

7

I have seven binding jobs in process and the cause of the rot has become obvious to me.

8

Out of all of my vintage guitars the only one i have issue with the my Valco built National Resoglass

The neck binding is rotted, (Seemed to affect alot of Valco necks) someone had smoothed it all over with acetone at some point. Its pretty much all rotting except the bit on the end of the fretboard. It hasn't affected any metal parts, as its never lived in a case and there's not a whole lot of metal.

I have two Roger guitars, built in Germany. Archtop could be as early 48 and as late as 53. No binding rot, in great condition. Smaller body electric has laminated binding, alsono issue. I don't know what they were using as glue but no issue from Roger at all. I also have two NOS lenghts of their white/tort/white laminated binding.

9

But if it's deteriorating from the inside out (because of the glue)... how would that hinder it from progressing?

– kc_eddie_b

It doesn't, all it does is melt / bond the loose pieces.

10

News to me, I always thought celluloid just had a limited lifetime, didn't know it was the adhesive or the solvents in the lacquer on top that caused the rot and/or shrinking. So why does old film detoriate?

About the New York/New Jersey thing : D'Angelicos, Premier and other Code/United guitars and Gretsches seem to have the "rot", the stuff crumbling and turning brown, while the Guilds I've seen with problems had shrinking binding, from mild to so bad it just falls off completely - still intact, but shrunken.

Haven't seen a Guild with the crumbling rot yet - doesn't mean they're not out there though.

11

Celluloid does have a life and climate can shorten it. Add it's highly flammable and unstable. Keep in mind this is the same stuff that you use to put in your camera before saftey film.

The guitars that have real extensive rot have hide glue residue that's visable on the wood. Celluloid doesn't like acidic conditions and the crumbling binding is acidic which makes me think there is a chemical reaction between the two.

12

I just rebound the back, bass side of the 1960 Hofner President. the rest of the guitar is fine. I just thought it was strange that one part, out of 4 sections of binding had a issue..

13

Most say don't leave them in a closed case, or in the case at all. The binding probs really started kicking in in the 1967-70 period. My own unsubstantiated theory is that when Baldwin took over they switched to a cheaper source for binding. Often the older ones don't have the binding problems that some later ones do -- just my observation.

– DCBirdMan

Hello. I have a lot of experience with cellulose nitrate. There are a number of reasons this material might have started to go. Certainly if it was not properly prepared you would see issues developing later. Also, if you leave the guitars in the cases for long period of time you will have issues with off-gassing. The cellulose nitrate will constantly off-gas. If you leave it in the case there is nowhere for to go and it simply destroys the guitar. Also, often the felt in the cases is laid down using a cellulose nitrate glue. This also off-gasses. I have actually developed pads that can be put inside your case that absorb and neutralize the gases. Keeping the guitar in a dry, cool environment with no UV will also help keep the celluloid nitrate finish from deteriorating.

14

Celluloid does have a life and climate can shorten it. Add it's highly flammable and unstable. Keep in mind this is the same stuff that you use to put in your camera before saftey film.

The guitars that have real extensive rot have hide glue residue that's visable on the wood. Celluloid doesn't like acidic conditions and the crumbling binding is acidic which makes me think there is a chemical reaction between the two.

– Curt Wilson

Hello. What happens is that the celluloid off-gasses nitric acid. If you leave it in a case then the off-gassing has nowhere to go and attacks the guitar. There are ways to slow this down but off-gassing can not be stopped entirely.

15

But if it's deteriorating from the inside out (because of the glue)... how would that hinder it from progressing?

– kc_eddie_b

Super Glue is the worst thing you could use. The cellulose nitrate will always off-gas. By putting super glue on it your are simply not allowing the off-gassing. Since it has nowhere the the acid reverts back on the material itself. Not a good idea at all.

16

News to me, I always thought celluloid just had a limited lifetime, didn't know it was the adhesive or the solvents in the lacquer on top that caused the rot and/or shrinking. So why does old film detoriate?

About the New York/New Jersey thing : D'Angelicos, Premier and other Code/United guitars and Gretsches seem to have the "rot", the stuff crumbling and turning brown, while the Guilds I've seen with problems had shrinking binding, from mild to so bad it just falls off completely - still intact, but shrunken.

Haven't seen a Guild with the crumbling rot yet - doesn't mean they're not out there though.

– WB

There are a number of factors that could be causing the material to start crystalizing. It is very possible some of the problems are caused by other adhesives or solvents. You are correct though, it does have limited lifetime.

17

An elderly gentlrman who used to work in an American plastics factory that produced celluloid explained to a good friend of mine what caused the rotting, crumbling binding, pickguards, etc...

He said that some celluloid manufacturers cut corners in the process. Distilled water that was supposed to be used in the process was replaced with tap water. Celluloid is produced as a "block" which is quite thick and approximately 22" x 54". It starts out in a liquifed state and colors are added in. As this takes place anhydrous (pure) alcohol is sprinkled over the block. Some companies would use cheaper denatured alcohol. Ater the block had cured, sheets of celluloid were sliced off of the block. Due to the nature of celluloid it gasses off (solvents evaporate) for years. Add to this the fact that most of the glues used to attach the binding or pickguards also contain solvents which initially cause the celluloid to swell.

I have personally handled and worked on thousands of vintage instruments that had their celluloid parts in great shape. I believe that the celluloid that has gone bad was inherently defective. The best glue for celluloid today is medium UFO cyanoacrylate. It does not contain acetone which does induce swelling, sets up well within an hour saving a lot of time.

18

Acetone is a very fast flashing product, it's nail polish remover. Most of the adhesives used to attach binding have the very dangerous solvent methylene chloride that's a carcinogen and can cause other reactions in high doses. Methylene chloride is the main ingredient in paint stripper and attacks celluloid more aggressively than acetone does.

I will continue to ask why have I never seen binding rot on F holes if it's product related? The answer is in the process and the adhesive used in the different stages of building.


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