Trade Secrets!

How to match color on vintage binding repairs


Issue 116 June 24, 2010

If you sand yellowed binding, you’ll create a patch of glaring white. Here’s how to age your work to make it blend in.

Guitars don’t all age alike. What was once white becomes who-knows-what color.


Two Les Pauls of roughly the same age.

The black guitar’s seen a lot of sunlight and a lot of smoky bars. The other, a rare Harvest Gold sunburst, has been tucked away in its case. Both had white binding once, but only one does now!

Two Les Pauls
Les Pauls

The black one had been refretted, and whoever did the job sanded down the fingerboard, binding and all. The nice yellow of age was sanded off the edges, turning them to glaring bone white. Who knows why this was done, but it wouldn’t have been hard to hide the evidence. I agreed to do the needed touchups, coloring the exposed binding to match the old.

I’ve been getting good results with ColorTone tinted aerosols. Last February, I wrote a Trade Secret about an inlay repair that was "aged" with ColorTone Vintage Amber. I decided to use that color in this case, too, but here I wanted to apply it with an airbrush. It’s easy to mix colors in an airbrush, and the small spray pattern is just right for spraying such tiny areas.

I filled the airbrush jar by spraying the vintage amber into it.

Step One

Here’s the airbrush, and a piece of white binding I sprayed.

Step Two

The color is close, but it’s too yellow.

Step Three

I darkened it slightly by adding a tiny bit of tobacco brown stain.

Step Four

I really do mean "tiny bit," too! I simply dipped a toothpick into the tobacco brown, then dipped it onto the amber. That’s all it took.

Step Five

Now that's a better match. This is the mix I’ll spray.

Step Six

I masked off everything but the binding that needed color.

Steps Seven

With a few passes of the airbrush, I had the desired tint.

Steps Eight

When the tape came off, the color looked a little strong. But it mellowed out in the next steps, as I worked it over with mildly abrasive polishing papers.

Step Nine

After the finish cured, I scraped off any overspray that got onto the fretboard or parts of the binding that didn’t need the color.

Removing overspray

3M polishing papers on a small rubber pad tamed down the intensity of the tint.

polishing paper

I paid attention to the way the original lacquer looked on the body binding, and did my best to add similar wear by polishing more in some places than others. In some spots, the original binding had been worn so the yellowing was scraped away, so I buffed right through the color in a few places, too.

Finished binding

This black Lester’s done and looking good. It’s ready to go home to its owner with a new fret job—and you can’t even see it’s been colorized!

Erick Coleman

Trade Secrets archive:

Click to read past issues!

Don't miss an issue!

Get Trade Secrets delivered to your inbox. Only from StewMac.