Binding and Other Trim

Binding serves a dual purpose: functional and decorative. It's function is to protect the instrument's edges from the inevitable bumps and collisions they will encounter. Along with its pretty sister purfling, binding also provides visual flair.

Binding can be a single ply of material, multiple plies, multiple plies on both top or back and sides, or simply a lot of layers. There's no "proper" number of plies, so it's wide open to your artistic interpretation. Binding can be made of celluloid (my preference), wood, or plastic. The decision to apply binding to headstocks and fretboards also adds an additional decorative choice.

Another binding option involves expanding the binding to accommodate a beveled edge that provides greatly increased playing comfort, along with definite visual flair. The beveled edge requires an underlying structure, and can become quite complex, depenging on the intricacy of the top and side purfling.

Purfling is purely decorative, and is applied not on the edges, but inside the binding -- sometimes a long way inside. Again, the combinations are limitless, and are limited only by your imagination. Some of the most common purfling schemes contain abalone, multi-colored wood marquetry, and herringbone.


The complexity of purfling schemes can quickly multiply, as lines are mitered to follow the backstrip or neck. Purfling can also be as simple as beveling an edge to reveal the underlying contrasting ply, as in this banjo neck and head.


Like binding and purfling, rosettes can be simple or complex, or anywhere between. Rosettes often match the motif of the perimeter purfling and binding, and like those other elements are limited only by imagination. Occasionally a rosette consists of ready-to-use components, like the herringbone on the left, but most are constructed "from scratch" from raw materials.

Other Decorative Trim

The backstrip is another area with many possibilities ranging from elaborate marquetry mouldings to simple lines to allowing the natural grain of the wood to define the area. Even such seldom-thought-of areas such as the end graft offer opportunities to enhance your instrument's beauty.

Even the pickguard, often taken for granted as a utilitarian device to protect the instrument, is decorative. Pickguards can be plastic, celluloid, special manmade materials, or wood. Elevated pickguards, like those on a mandolin, can be bound or sculpted, and all pickguards can be created in any shape desired.

An instrument's decorative trim can take a plain, great-sounding instrument and transform it into a world-class item that will catch not only ears, but eyes wherever it goes. While elaborate decoration does add to the initial cost, it also enhances future value to an even greater extent. Contact me with your ideas or my take on the situation. My Links page also will direct you to sites with ready-made decorative components.

All content and graphics © Skipper Custom Instruments