Monday, 21 September 2015


So... Nitrocellulose! The original plan was to use maple bindings (the bit that goes around the guitar body where it joins to the sides) but I had to rethink this. The guitar I'm building will be stained black so if the bindings were installed before staining they would also turn black. I did some experiments to see if I could fit them after the staining. Bindings are fitted so that they are slightly proud and then scraped/sanded back to flush. I found that even in my best efforts I could not get them flush without removing some of the black stain from the surrounding wood. Then of course I couldn't repair this without risking getting the black stain on the pale maple. The stain is a watery consistency and seeps into the grain so masking the maple wouldn't work, even if I could create a mask that followed the changing radius of the guitar shape. I must admit that this problem really had GBG scratching her head for a while.

Plastic bindings were one option, the stain wouldn't sink into them, but the thought of something that looks 'plasticky' (technical term) around the beautiful tone woods I'm using didn't appeal. I had a look around at the options available from luthier supply companies and decided to try 'Ivoiroid'. This is a type of plastic that has been made to look like ivory, grain lines and all.

After the Ivoiroid samples arrived I was trawling the internet for the best glue to use with them and found out a bit more about celluloid which is the plastic they are made from. Now I must confess I don't know much about plastic. I tend to think of it as 'hard', 'soft', 'clear' etc. Hubby is an engineer and is always frustrated when people come into the workshop and ask for a piece of 'ordinary metal' so I really should know better. Anyway, celluloid, or nitrocellulose, was the first thermo-plastic and I was somewhat concerned to find out that one of it's early uses was as a plastic explosive...

“WHAT!! That innocent looking band of fake ivory sitting in my workshop (which incidentally is in the garage under my BEDROOM) is a form of plastic explosive??!!??”

No wonder I wasn't allowed to import the stuff from the US!

I read the Wikipedia page on nitrocellulose with concerned interest. Most amusingly I found that the Terry Pratchett passage from Discworld novel 'Men At Arms' about exploding billiard balls was based on truth. Ivoiroid was created to make synthetic billiard balls and they did indeed explode!

I also found out that Ivoiroid can be very unstable when used with certain solvents including alcohol. As I have decided to change to a spirit based stain this was somewhat concerning.

So... having taken the precaution of sorting out the photos for my second album first (pics without eyebrows are never great) I turned the workshop into a lab and began experimenting.

Nothing caught fire or melted so I breathed a sigh of relief and discussed Ivoiroid bindings with M.

But nothing in this life is ever simple... Ivoiroid bindings are a deep yellowy-cream colour... ermm... ivory coloured in fact. The lines around the soundhole ring need to match but ivoiroid comes in a 1.5mm thickness and nothing thinner. Yes you're probably thinking that isn't very wide but the lines around a soundhole are usually 0.5 or narrower.

So, back to the drawing board. I have now settled on black pearloid bindings and M is happy with the effect. I will use a band of white either side so that there is a clear definition between the body of the guitar and the bindings.

Now the decision is made I can get on with the matching rosette. This is a time consuming but very satisfying part of the project. Here it is under construction.

Next post will be the staining and some more inlay work.


  1. Soooo (if I read you correctly) the first time your client sinks a few voddies and strums his new guitar, it blows up in his face?
    Way to go, Guitarexplodingirl!

    1. Most Vintage Martin guitars are bound with celluloid. The fact that many have survived gives me some hope of not needing to change my initials!

  2. Really quite lovely workmanship on that inlay. Cheers!
    I Love Epi's