My Granada needs new frets. As many of you fellow banjo geeks know, the white neck binding actually covers the sides of the frets as well as the side of the neck on banjos of this Gibson era.
Preserving the binding on the side of the frets makes the job more complicated and expensive, and limits the number of luthiers who can do this job.
My question: is it worth keeping this white binding, paying more for the repair job, and searching further for a luthier? Or should I get the frets redone by a competent guitar guy for a lower cost, less hassle, but lose the white binding on the sides of the frets? Will this hurt the value of the banjo in the long run?
Thanks for your insights :)
Edited by - Stevester on 09/27/2023 00:13:47
Not doing the fret job to the correct level of originality will affect the value of the instrument in the long run.
Banjos should be handled by competent banjo techs or luthiers. Most guitar guys, no matter how good, know nothing about banjos.
Spend the extra money and get the job done right and correct by the right person for the job.
Most of the banjo refrets we have done in my shop do not involve removing the binding.
Gibson's binding technique, where the binding is leveled to the fretboard after the frets are installed, leaves little binding nibs at the ends of the frets. Removing frets and reinstalling frets while keeping the nibs is exceptionally difficult. We prefer to remove all the frets and level the fretboard before installing new frets. This eliminates minor (or major!) inaccuracies in the fretboard, but also removes the nibs. I personally prefer to have frets that extend over the binding. That gives me a little more playing space.
Edited by - Bob Smakula on 09/27/2023 04:54:52
It wasn't just Gibson— almost all older banjos had the nibs or the binding was pretty thin and rounded toward the point where it met the fingerboard, minimizing the binding space beyond the frets. The overlapping idea is a relatively modern thing requiring fret end nippers or other tools. Unfortunately, it has become common in higher-end instruments.
I personally don't like the overlapping fret ends very much, as they catch little fibers if you wipe the fingerboard, and I'll admit I don'tlike to do it, but I agree that the nibs are more difficult to do, and while it can be done on 5 or 6 frets, I wouldn't want to do a whole refret with nibs without removing the binding. I really prefer a frets-flush with the edge of the fingerboard with a binding rounded toward the edge arrangement.
Anyway, I don't think it's all that difficult to replace celluloid binding if the need arises—wood is another story.
Fret / binding resolution is a topic worth discussion.
First, find two people who will say, "I'm not going to buy that used Gibson Granada, which I like a lot and would otherwise buy, because there are no little nibs at the end of the frets."
"Will this hurt the value of the banjo in the long run?"
Doesn't appear to affect the value of used Gibson guitars. Since you asked, if it were me, I'd get the best fret job I could, and forget about the binding. And, in no case let anyone remove the binding.
The only potential drop in value would be from those prospective buyers who value the "originality" of the fret nubs and are willing to pay for it. Likely not a very large market that would be excluded.
I'm fully with Bob (and some others) here. Those binding tabs at the fret ends are there because Gibson was too cheap to do the frets right. OK, so that was a rather strongly expressed opinion, but to do a good re-fret the fingerboard must be checked for straightness and leveled if needed. We can't do that with binding nubs sticking up.
Furthermore, without the tabs, we can extend the frets over the binding so that the player has more real estate to work with.
Fitting frets between the binding tabs takes a stupid amount of time and effort, and if a lutheir is paid fairly for his/her time, that leads to a very expensive fret job that is of lesser quality than if the tabs are removed.
As far as originality and market value; is it an instrument to play or a possession to hang on the wall? If the former, it deserves a good fret job. If the later, the frets will not wear out anyway, so no need for a fret job.
Bob Smakula is spot on IMO!
I always tell customer that when doing a refret on their banjo that the little nubs will be sanded off and fingerboard leveled and fret such that you undercut fret tang and let ends reside over the binding on each end.
Makes for a good fret job.
The precision with which an experienced and skillful luthier can work is amazing. Two examples.
- When I had an older Collings guitar refretted, the luthier asked me where I wanted the frets. I said they have to extend beyond the edge of the fingerboard, yet we don't want to feel a fret end at the edge of the binding. He said, "I'll put the end in the middle of the binding." And he did. Better work than Collings original, and that's saying something.
- When I had my Prucha banjo refretted, and picked it up later. He said there was a little depression on the fingerboard in the 19-22 fret area on the treble side, which he was able to smooth out without damaging the inlays. I said, I always had trouble with the intonation in that area. Smoothed out, no longer any difficulty.
It's really a joy to play an instrument that has been built or fixed by a master.
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