These are the preliminary plans for an ‘arch top’ acoustic I am about to start. I have the wood selected, and I am beginning to set down the order of procedure and roster of tasks for the build. BUT…………
there is a question that has been buzzing around my mind for the last four days,
“Do you really have to have bindings on a guitar?”
There isn’t exactly divided opinion on this, most crafts people, being instinctively conservative, seem to think you do need bindings, as far as I can tell . This is completely understandable as it takes time, often years, money and patience to get good at making instruments. You get good by following the techniques and advice of others, and having respect for your ‘betters’ opinions and experience. Therefore, most luthiers seem to think bindings are essential in the proper construction of a guitar body. The reasons given seem to revolve around four or five points that go something like this:
- Without bindings one of the ‘panels’ in the box that is the guitar body, (the sound board, or the side), will have their end grain exposed. This theoretically leaves the chance of damp getting into the wood or a more fragile edge, more prone to splitting.
- The joint is weaker, so more prone to failure.
- The sound board has more material glued down, allowing less movement and effecting tone and resonance.
- Bindings give a more dense mass that the soundboard is butted up against which gives a better/stronger tone.
- looks better……
Well, I wonder……I don’t feel completely convinced by any of these types of reasoning. People cling to concepts that they learn, which justify the way they do a thing, but not all Luthiers agree that bindings are absolutely necessary. In fact, there are many beautiful sounding and looking guitars out there with no bindings,(see pic at bottom), I don’t like bindings and perflings, so I am searching for ways to justify not using them. Mainly by not building instruments and instead making new tools I don’t need like another shooting board (right), it will come in handy! As a relative newcomer to the world of instrument building, I have the skill, I think, to construct the arch top acoustic that I am designing, I also have plans as to how I will deal with the joint, without bindings, I just don’t have the years of experience behind me in instrument building to justify my approach against the barrage of abuse and scoffing I am getting in online forums when I mention my plan and ask for friendly advise.
” thats a dumbass idea man, it’s gonna fall apart”
“Only cheap guitars have no bindings”
“I have seen guitars with no bindings, they were all shit like the ones you make, asshole”
Yeah, whatever. I want to address each of those common points above, that I mentioned are the usual reasons people give for why you “have to have bindings”,
- Without bindings end grain is exposed, leading to a weaker edge prone to moisture getting in or splitting…..
Firstly, you don’t necessarily have end grain exposed. You can bevel the leading edge or make the joint flush. As far as this moisture/ cracking risk goes. er…….I am going to put a finish on this guitar and seal the wood, right?
2. The joint is weaker….
Why? Without bindings both the panels have their flat edge glued to more material. When you route the edge of a guitar body to receive a binding you give the panels less material to be attached to. You also create two joint lines (see images below), on each aspect of the binding instead of one. Wood glued to wood is always stronger than wood glued to any other material. You have gone from one joint line to two and inserted plastic, how is this making the joint stronger?
3. The soundboard has freer movement and better tone with bindings.
Specifically in terms of the arch top I plan to build, this argument holds little weight, but I think in general it is an ill thought out ‘truism’. I have found no engineering explanations on line for this idea, just vague notions about more movement. But Why would there be more movement? Arch tops are thinned toward the edges to allow more movement in the sound board, but there is no movement, (in a sound production sense, I know the wood moves with humidity/temp changes etc), at the point the soundboard is glued to the side. If you did have any movement like that, every time you played the guitar, it really would fall apart. The movement in the sound board is forward and backward, in the bit that isn’t glued to anything.
4. Change the tone due to different density and mass of bindings
I can find NOTHING on line or in any book about guitar building, available to me, that explains or justifies this assertion, yet it is constantly repeated in Luthier forums on this subject. I think it comes back to the idea that people learn stuff early on that sounds technically savvy, and justifies why they do things the way they do, they like tradition and sounding like other builders who are more experienced than them, and it becomes a truism……is it actually true though?
5. Looks better
BINDINGS DO NOT LOOK BETTER!!! AHHHGGGGG! look, below are many guitars…WITH NO BINDINGS!
SO, the build will go ahead. First we have had to make some forms (see pics below) for the sides. I then need to invent a way to bend the wood for the sides. Current options are
- Steam them and use an appropriate metal pole.
- Build a jig and buy some heating elements
- Use a light bulb and an appropriately sized tin like in this video
- Just buy a commercially available tool for bending guitar sides
- Use some of the weird odds and ends I have collected over the years and design my own tool for bending. I have a couple of pieces of equipment in mind….
(Above). Yes, I have built the form before I have found any way to bend the wood…..But I am very pleased with my design. Should be some blogs soon showing it in use….if all goes well! Yes, for those eagle eyed readers that sound board and back are one piece of wood, with heartwood in it……stay tuned.