Gibson introduces “undercut, fret over binding” for 2014 models

Finally, after all these years, Gibson introduces undercut, fret over binding. This will be available on all 2014 models – except the Les Paul Traditional. I have never been a fan of nibbed frets, which have been a key feature of Gibson’s bound-neck guitars for generations. They present a number of problems.

Over the years, the majority of electric guitars built by Gibson have incorporated neck binding. Not all, but most. I own a Les Paul Studio ’60s Tribute Gold Top, which I adore. One of the reasons I like it so much is because it’s a Les Paul with no neck binding and, therefore, no nibbed frets. It has always been part of Gibson’s manufacturing process to install neck binding that is dressed with fret nibs, raised sections of the binding which sit either side of the fret ends.

An alternative method to installing frets on a neck which incorporates binding, is to fit nibless binding and extend the frets the full width of the neck, so they pass over the binding. This means that the ends of the fret tang (the tang is the part of the fret that gets buried in the fretboard) must be nipped off – undercut – so that only the bead of the fret covers the binding.

Nibbed binding can be problematic. Sometimes, due to fret wear or poor manufacturing tolerances, strings get caught in the space between the fret and the nib. With frets that run over the binding, tapering only at the very edge of the neck, this is no longer a problem. Undercut, fret over binding requires more work and can be more costly, but guitarists enjoy a wider surface area to play on. Also, re-fretting is less of a pain in the arse. On a guitar fitted with nibs, the nibs tend to be ground down by most luthiers during a re-fretting process, requiring new frets to be fitted using the fret over binding technique. The sections of the binding where the nibs have been ground down will inevitably look scuffed and unsightly. Frets that are fitted to run over the binding as part of the original manufacturing process can be replaced without damaging the binding.

The devil’s in the detail.

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