The Mystery of the Too White Binding

Look how white that neck binding compared to the body binding. That's typical of a 355. You can see how much whiter it is as you look toward the 12th fret where it gets more wear. This is a '65.

I recently sold a vintage ’60’s ES-355 and got an unusual inquiry from the buyer a few days after he bought it. “Hey, you didn’t disclose that the neck binding had been changed…” My response was “I didn’t mention it because it wasn’t changed.” He replied, “It’s too white…shouldn’t it be more cream color or yellowed?”  I’d never really paid that much attention to the neck bindings on 355’s. They always seemed a bit whiter than the bindings on 335s and 345s but I kind of chalked that up to the greater color contrast of the binding next to the black ebony board. But, the truth is, they ARE whiter. Pure white, in fact whereas the 335 and 345 bindings are off white. Now, all bindings yellow because they are lacquered over when the guitar is finished. The lacquer turns yellow and the bindings don’t look very white any more. But the lacquer wears off the neck binding after a while and the true color of the binding becomes obvious. In the case of a 355, it becomes really obvious-like the after photo in a tooth whitening ad. The body bindings seem to yellow (and stay that way) on a 355 the same as they do on a 335 or a 345 but you don’t generally get the same level of wear on the body bindings as you do on the neck. I have had at least one 355 that had all the lacquer worn off the binding where the right arm rests on the body and, sure enough, it was pure white. Again, no so on a 335 or 345. So, what’s the conclusion? It appears to me that the bindings on a 355 are a few shades whiter than those on a 335 or 345 but unless the lacquer is worn off, you won’t be able to see much difference because the yellowed lacquer makes them look pretty much the same. It’s simply because the neck binding get so much player contact that the lacquer usually wear off revealing that glaring white that seems a little jarring on an instrument that otherwise shows that subtle yellowing we all love in a vintage guitar. So don’t jump to the conclusion that the binding has been replaced on your very costly 355 just because it looks brand new.

This late 60 also shows a very white neck binding but look at the body binding below the bass side f-hole at the very edge of the photo where the arm wear occurs. That's pretty white too.

Here's a 335 neck (treble side-no dots) with a fair amount of player wear. Not so white, is it. Hmmm.

10 Responses to “The Mystery of the Too White Binding”

  1. RAB says:

    Hmmm…I will have to check the bindings on my ’63 355!

  2. Jonne says:

    Can’t blame the buyer (or was it me? 🙂 – on my ’60 355 it’s so pure white that it is suspicious: like chalk.

    ´60 has probably original frets too so there wouldn’t have been any need to change the neck binding. And I think in refrets luthiers usually try to save the original binding if possible.

  3. Ollie says:

    When I had my 355’s frets levelled the tech, who is a first rate guy and knows varitones back to front, thought it had been rebound on the neck. I said I thought it was just wear. Thanks for this entry as it’s confirmed what I hoped and put my mind at rest. Everytime I worry about something on my guitar I just look it up on here!

  4. OK Guitars says:

    I keep a folder of photos of every guitar I sell and I went back to every 59-65 ES-355 I’ve sold inthe past 3 years (about a dozen of them) and each and every one has that pure white binding. End of story.

  5. chuckNC says:

    End of story indeed. A couple of years ago I got the 355 bug and started trolling the bay for one. It didn’t take me much looking around to realize that the extra white neck binding was part of the 355 package. Bothered me the first time I noticed it, now I don’t find it unusual at all. Funny how the mind works.

  6. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Definitely different. And not just on the ES-355 — also on the Les Paul Custom vs. Standard. Maybe it’s like that on all the ebony board Gibson electrics? Notice that the binding on the 355 and the LP custom is also thicker, and they also seem not to get the same ‘fit and finish’ process. The 335s and all the “standards” and “specials” have a thinner off white binding that often shows a seam where the piece at the bottom of the fingerboard meets the sides. The “custom” models, like the 355, tend not to show a join — not a side seam or a mitre — looking as if it is wrapped around the fingerboard and then sanded or planed to form the corner. I’m guessing that they need another material, which happens to be bright white, to make the thicker binding work and achieve the clean corner effect.

  7. OK Guitars says:

    That sounds completely logical. How un-Gibsonlike.

  8. OldWoody says:

    Having owned many 50’s bound Gibsons over the years I EXPECT to see white on the neck binding, going to yellowed where it is over the body, unless it’s been under the bed for 40 years.
    If it doesn’t look like that, I worry.

  9. Mark says:

    Hello Mr. Gelber. Great site!
    I own an ES-335 and I have a question about the neck binding that you may be kind enough to clarify for me. Is it made of wood? (maple?) or is it plastic? Does this vary between models or year of production?
    My appreciation for your time.

  10. OK Guitars says:

    It’s a plastic called Royalite. There was no variation that I’m aware of during the 50’s and 60’s. Not certain about the 70’s. By the 80’s the bindings had become somewhat thicker and they may have changed the plastic as well. The modern Gibsons use a cream colored binding that tries to mimic a binding that has yellowed due to the yellowing of the lacquer. It looks wrong to me although I hear they’ve improved it.

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