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Custom inlay has always been a beautiful way of personalizing a custom musical instrument.  It is a skill and discipline entirely separate from the skill of making guitars, and not all makers are able or willing to do it.  I started inlaying guitars as soon as I started to make them, and have done hundreds of designs through the years.

All of my custom inlay work is done entirely by hand. I prefer to use only solid shells and woods for the designs. Laminate shells are available, but I use them only when necessary in unique situations. Inlay has traditionally been done with the luminescent interior of a variety of shells. Modern inlay artists use mother of pearl (white, gold, black, or bronze), abalone (red, green or paua), Okinawan green sea snail, pink muscle shell, and anything else that works. A new material that is popular is reconstituted stones. These are used for brilliant, solid colors in designs that need them. Wood, of course, can also be used. The focus of European inlay was traditionally a combination of mother of pearl, ebony, and ivory.  The color contrast of these materials has kept them popular through the years, though ivory has become less available for various reasons. Abalone Shells

 

Lute Nearly any design can be done, though some work better than others. I have always perceived inlay designs as small versions of stained glass. Designs with separate, solid areas of coloration work best for translation into shell. Line drawings and photos are the most difficult to work with, and not always applicable.  Most custom designs start with the client providing a photo or sketch for inspiration.

 

It is common to put the inlay on the fretboard. I frequently do this, of course, but like to promote inlay on other areas of the instrument. Doing a large inlay on the fretboard can offer disadvantages when placing the frets over the design; and can cause difficulties if the frets ever need to be replaced. A normal method of designing fretboard inlay is to have the shape stay between the fretlines, to avoid problems. On the body, the design is frequently based within a geometric shape of wood. This helps to highlight the design from the body wood, and reduces the problems that can result from attempting intricate inlays in burls or figured woods.

I do not typically do inlays on fretless bass fretboards. The ones that I do are made entirely of wood. This has a better chance of moving with the fretboard over time, and prevents the problem of the wood shrinking around the shell and causing string buzz.

Inlay

 

Inlay is priced separately from the guitar during the ordering process. I have included some various designs with prices attached. These are in no way “standard” designs (though most can be replicated). They are displayed to show examples of general pricing and potential design motifs.

 Spider Inlay
 Kanji Inlay  Celtic Inlay  Moon Inlay
Turtle inlay  Shark Inlay  Salmon inlay
 Moon Inlay  Saturn inlay Lump Inlay
 Inlay

 


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