Nothing is truly simple when it comes to making guitars...even a topic as seemingly straightforward as how the frets meet the neck and binding. In a continuing quest to make fingerboards ever more playable, Gibson now introduces undercut, fret over binding on all 2014 model guitars except the Les Paul Traditional.
To understand the implications, Fig. 1 shows traditional fret binding. The frets extend to the edge of the binding, so they start tapering down before they actually reach the binding. The small “nibs” that are part of the binding meet the fret at the same height, then complete the taper down to the height of the fingerboard.
Fig. 1: Traditional frets and binding.
Now consider undercut, fret over binding (Fig. 2). Here, the frets extend the full width of the neck, and pass over the binding.
Fig. 2: Undercut, fret over binding
With this design the frets don’t begin to taper until they’re on top of the binding, which allows for a wider playing area on the frets themselves. Also with traditional binding, sometimes strings would get caught in the space between the fret and the nib due to fret wear. This is no longer possible.
Not only is there more fret area—because the frets are cryogenically treated, fret wear is simply not a factor. So, the additional fret width will remain useful because the height of the ends won’t change.
While it’s true that undercut, fret over binding is more work and somewhat more costly, most players find the additional useable fret surface area a welcome addition that makes a fingerboard just that much more playable.