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Getting a Martin Out of a Bind

The Venerable Martin D-28 (above) has been in production since 1931. Among this guitar's appointments (below) are a series of black and white laminated plastic bindings and purflings.

Martin is known for building guitars that burst at the seams with tone and this D-28 is no exception. After 20 years of service, a sizeable section of binding is coming loose. The binding actually helps keep the body of the guitar together so it’s important that this problem is addressed.

martin out of a bindAt the factory, the plastic binding was glued with an adhesive that actually melted the laminated plastic purfling and binding into the pores of the rosewood. This effectively sealed the end-grain of the top and back. That helps reduce wood expansion and contraction. Over time, the plastic has shrunk and let go at the waist where it encountered the least amount of resistance.

martin out of a bind close-up

Loose Binding (Above) typically occurs at the waist of the guitar where the plastic encounters the least amount of resistance to shrinking. Scoring the finish (Below) prevents the lacquer from chipping when the binding is removed.

I could replace the binding, but that’s an invasive process requiring extensive finish work. Regluing the existing binding is a better option because it retains the originality of the guitar, is less costly, and won’t require a lengthy stay at the repair shop.

martin out of bind loose binding

I relieve the stress from the shrinkage by removing the binding from the waist all the way up to the heel of the neck where the binding is jointed to itself. This technique will free up the slack that I need to get the binding reattached to the waist of the guitar.

martin in a bind removing the binding

Removing the Binding from the neck joint (Above) will allow me to reglue the binding securely to the waist (Below).

To avoid chipping the finish, I score the lacquer at the binding and rosewood glue lines with a razor blade. Carefully separating the binding from the body is easier with the help of a thin probe such as an artist spatula. I gently pull the binding free from the neck joint.

The back of this guitar has a single layer of binding that’s attached to a small black and white laminated decorative purfling. 1-6 martin d28 binding repair binding removed from waist to neck jointI reglue both of them with aliphatic resin glue (Franklin’s Original Titebond). If I used adhesive-cement as the factory did, the glue squeeze-out would damage the finish. I reduce the adhesive strength of a section of binding tape by linting it with a towel. Short sections of tape are the perfect clamp for binding.


Gluing the Binding with yellow glue such as Franklin's Original Titebond won't damage the finish. The tape must be linted (above) before it may be used to hold the binding in place (below) while the glue cures.

I glue and tape 6” long sections of binding. This gives me plenty of time to securely tape the binding in place.

1-9 martin d28 binding repair tape bindingRegluing the binding has left a gap in both the purfling and the binding by the neck joint.

2-3 martin d28 binding repair glue in perfling patch

Mind the Gap at the neck joint. There are now 2 gaps that must be filled. One in the purfling (Above) and one in the binding.

The joint in the purfling is offset from the joint in the binding. I make two patches from scrap D-28 binding to fill the gaps. I glue the patches in proud with Titebond.

I let the glue cure for 24 hours before removing the tape. To prevent the tape from damaging the finish, I heat the tape with a heat gun to reduce the adhesive strength of the tape. A quick water cleanup of the glue squeeze out and this guitar is “bound” for glory.

2-8 martin d28 binding repair remove tape

Removing the Tape (Above) after the glue has cured should be done slowly with the help of a heat gun. The glue joint (Below) is seamless and requires no finish touchup.

3-0 martin d28 binding repair

A Subtle Repair like this one (Above) is just about invisible. The plugs at the binding joint (Below) are visible but difficult to see if you're not looking for them.

3-2 martin d28 binding repair

3-1 martin d28 binding repair