Acoustic Guitar Anatomy

What is Guitar Binding (And Why We Use It)

Guitar Binding

Binding is the (plastic, wood, or nitrocellulose) material ranging in width from 0.060″ to 0.090″ that is added to the bodies of some guitars, usually where the top and sides meet and sometimes the back of the guitar, neck, and headstock. Its primary purpose is to protect the edges of the guitar from dents and provide aesthetic appeal.

For a more detailed explanation continue reading.

The binding around a guitar body, or neck, can greatly enhance the look of a guitar. And, while looks are certainly important, did you know that binding provides a host of other benefits including aiding structural rigidity, protecting the guitar body, and assisting in making the guitar more comfortable to play?

With this in mind, today we’re taking a detailed look at guitar binding, and the benefits it offers, along with the materials guitar makers use to make it.

How is binding Used?

For electric guitars, binding on the body is mostly used to protect the edges of the body and for aesthetic purposes. Particularly on a guitar like a Les Paul, binding can help hide that ‘seam’ between the maple cap and mahogany body. 

Unlike acoustic guitars that have seams where the top and sides are glued together, on electric guitar, it is applied by routing a channel around the edge to which the binding is glued.

For acoustic guitars, binding is more important and impactful, so we’ll be primarily focussing on that for this article.

Why binding is Used on acoustic guitars

1: Aesthetics

We promise this isn’t the only reason, but it really is a large part of why binding is so popular. It’s simply that it looks good! 

While it’s true some bindings (particularly that brilliant white plastic binding) tend to be associated with cheap guitars around the $200 mark, binding can really add a premium and luxurious feel to your instrument and is something we have commonly come to associate with quality.

Some high-end acoustics with a wood binding that’s in a complementary color to the body can truly look prestigious.

2: Structural rigidity/Moisture Protection

During acoustic guitar construction, the top and back parts need to be glued to the sides. And while that joint is absolutely robust by itself, the binding can act as a great sealer and offer some protection again things like moisture penetration and humidity.

While a guitar won’t exactly fall apart at the seams if it doesn’t have binding, it does provide that nice border or protection and help to seal the sides of the neck and body that oily hands or legs might be resting on.

3: Comfort

This applies more specifically to guitar necks. We all know the importance of rounding over your fret ends. There’s nothing worse than sliding around the guitar only to experience the sharp, protruding fret ends (fret sprout) slicing up your fingers because a guitar tech was too lazy to round off the frets with a file.

Well, a similar concept can be applied to the fretboard itself.

Because the materials used in guitar binding are quite malleable and easy to round over, they can add these wonderfully comfortable rounded edges to your guitar neck. Further adding to that ‘premium’ feel and comfort.

Obviously, this is not a night and day difference and a neck isn’t suddenly going to feel uncomfortable because it doesn’t have binding. But it’s one of those small details a nicely rounded and bound neck can add that make an instrument that extra bit special.

4: Dent Protection

One of the biggest risks to a guitar is not outside factors such as moisture and temperature, it’s dents, caused by you.

The edges of a guitar are a very common spot to get banged on a desk as you’re standing up. Or smack into a doorframe as you’re carrying your guitar through it. You are your guitar’s worst enemy and that binding, while not impervious to dings and bumps, is at least far easier to repair and replace than an entire top.

So it’s really good at offering that nice little ‘bumper’ around the edge of the instrument that you don’t need to be quite so afraid to damage.

This is particularly important on the neck, as a small, splintering ding across the bottom of a guitar neck can make sliding around just general play monstrously uncomfortable.

This is also one of the reasons you may not always see binding on all-mahogany body guitars. Mahogany (being a hardwood, unlike Spruce) is a denser wood, less prone to dents, although they certainly may still occur.

Guitar Binding Does Not Impact TONE

While I’m sure if you took two guitars that were otherwise completely identical, but one had binding and the other didn’t, and then checked their outputs using a spectrum analyzer, I’m sure there would be some kind of minuscule difference between the two. That’s just the nature of sound and physics.

But in reality, any difference in tone that binding adds to your instrument is completely negligible and is essentially a non-factor when considering the tone of a guitar.

If you have a choice of a bound guitar or not, choose purely on aesthetics and comfort. Trying to quantify what the binding does to guitar tone is like trying to grab smoke.

What materials are used to bind a guitar?

Starting with wood bindings, which are generally reserved for high-end instruments as they are quite challenging to cut out and install on a guitar when compared to some of the newer (cheaper) materials we use.

These can be made from anything such as rosewood, ebony, or koa just to name a few.

Black Cellulose-based Binding on Classical Guitar Body
Cellulose-based Binding

Sometimes a cellulose-based binding is used which can come in a good range of colors such as black, ivory, and even a faux tortoiseshell.

As time has gone on, manufacturing methods and textiles have progressed to where these days we will commonly use some cheaper (but equally robust) materials such as ABS or Boltaron.

Brilliant White Binding on Guitar Body

They can have that ultra brilliant-white that was popular during the 70s or even that off-white cream color we associate with those 50s Les Pauls.

In some cases, as is the case with some PRS style guitars the binding is referred to as faux binding. This is a finishing technique where the edge of the guitar body is unfinished or has a different finish applied to the top and sides, giving the impression of wooden binding.

Faux Binding on Electric Guitar Body
Faux Binding on Electric Guitar Body

How is Binding applied to the guitar?

Back in the day, the primary skill required to both cut and apply binding to a guitar was simply patience. It took time, care, and craftsmanship to chisel the channel cut the binding strips, and apply them to the guitar.

Nowadays we have technology on our side and many bodies are produced using CNC machines and then hand-finished. This makes it much easier to both cut binding and apply it to the guitar.

What is Purfling?

Luthier Scraping Purfling on Acoustic Guitar

Purfling is often confused or mischaracterized as binding. When in fact it’s a purely aesthetic decoration in which a small strip of wood is inlaid around the body, but a little further in the from the very edge.

This is more common on classical instruments such as the violin, but plenty of people enjoy it on the guitar because the skill and care needed to apply it properly has an intrinsic association with quality.

Final thoughts

We hope this article has given you some insight into guitar binding. Allowing you to understand both what it is, and isn’t, used for.

While binding can provide many benefits to your instrument, we believe you don’t really need to sweat the details about it too much, ultimately it’s more of an aesthetic choice than one than one that needs to be considered too deeply.

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