Earlier last month this Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentlement guitar from the 60s was brought in for re-fretting. This real vintage model was all original, right down to the frets or what was left of them since 1966. It also suffered from a very common condition among guitars of this age: binding decay.
Celluloid bindings used on vintage guitars shrink and crumble over time. Celluloid bindings can be changed to plastic ones when necessary.
However, the customer wanted the guitar to be kept as much as possible in its original condition and the bindings to be left as they were. He also wished to preserve the classic look of the frets being cut short and the binding extending the profile of the fret to the edge of the board. This fingerboard feature is typical on Gibson, Gretsch and other Rickenbacker guitars (plus a few others). During the production process, the fingerboard would have been fretted before being bound. Hence the need to trim the binding to the frets’ profile and the bit of binding that makes the frets’ end.
The more common approach with this repair would have been to remove the binding, then re-fret the guitar and glue a new binding on, which then would be shaped to follow the frets. But in this particular case, I had to do the re-fret without removing the binding. The old frets were removed from the slots and the fingerboard was sanded to be true and smooth. I took the opportunity to re-glue the parts of binding that were coming loose of the fingerboard. The new frets were trimmed to the exact width of the wood of the board and fitted using my usual clamping technique.
I then mixed some Araldite resin with some pigment to match the old binding colour. The colour was a parchment white with a subtle hint of green. The colored resin was then dropped at both ends of each fret and left to dry hard overnight. I used the same resin to patch the bits of missing binding along the fingerboard.
The next day, the blobs of resin at the end of each fret were cut to shape to reproduce the part of the binding prolonging the frets.
I have used this technique a few times on old vintage guitars. It works very well, making a re-fret virtually unnoticeable to the unaware. Once the frets were polished and the fret-board oiled, the guitar was strung-up and set-up, and that’s it! Ready to play again.