Thank you, dear readers, for all your write-in curios and questions over the past months. If I haven’t let you know, I really appreciate it. Sharing your question or concern, even about something small, can help clear things up for other readers—including things they didn’t know they needed cleared up. Below are a couple of questions that led me into some areas I thought you all might get something out of.
I have a nice Washburn acoustic-electric guitar I use for playing vintage songs at elder centers and I love it. Great feel and neck, decent string action, but one annoying problem: The high-E string is so close to the edge of the fret that whenever I play a Dsus type of chord the string rolls right down off the edge of the fret. If I’m using a capo up the neck I actually have to pull the E string in a little before I clamp it down to prevent this. Is there any affordable solution? I’m new to commissioning repairs.
I don’t know when, but at some point in your guitar’s life, someone fitted it with a nut that had too wide a string spacing. Maybe it came that way, or more likely someone “fixed” it, perhaps with a nut that was pre-slotted for a certain—wider—nut dimension than your guitar has. That sounds totally frustrating! I bet it’s on your mind while you’re making musical decisions as you play. Really, there’s no reason to suffer through this, just go to your local luthier or repairperson and have a new nut fitted. It will be worth it! Tell them what’s going on, and as they cut the new bone nut for you, they’ll be sure to choose a closer span from high-E to low-E.
Have you noticed that the six slots in your nut are not equally spaced? From the high-E down, the spaces between strings get incrementally bigger. This helps accommodate how each string is a bit fatter than the one just above it.
I just bought a vintage (1972) Martin D-35 and I love it. I noticed a clicking while I was playing certain chords. I found the white binding along the fretboard is loose where the neck meets the nut. I have read that this binding needs to be removed if the guitar ever needs to have the frets replaced. How should I secure the binding to allow future removal?
Congrats on your new old guitar! I’m glad to hear you’re having fun with it, and that the worst of your worries is a little loose binding. Honestly, that’s not uncommon with Martins from the ’70s. Good news: It’s simple to have your repairperson glue the loose bit back down with a special type of glue that binds wood and plastic. Here’s some more good news: The binding (thankfully) does not have to come off to replace your frets.
When it does come to be time to get a re-fret, the old frets will be pulled out, and the existing fret slots cleaned, without removing the binding at all. Repair techs use either a tiny bit on a Dremel or a little saw to reach in and clean out each slot. Then the replacement frets are each manicured so that the tang (if a fret from the side is shaped like a “T” the tang is the long vertical line) is clipped back and just the crown hangs over the bound side of the board. As repair technicians, we are all glad that we don’t have to replace the binding for every refret!
I hope these readers’ questions have been helpful in thinking about different parts of your own guitar. As always, write me with your questions, thoughts, and concerns!
Mamie Minch is the co-owner of Brooklyn Lutherie and an active blues player.
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.