Mother of Pearl Inlays

Depending on the amount of decoration you desire for your handmade guitar, you can choose very simple inlays the the guitar fretboard, that serve strictly as position marking, for the guitarist’s convenience, or you can go to the other end of the extreme and inlay elaborate vines, patterns and any other number of artist’s license items that you desire.

Certain luthiers make the inlay process part of their trademark or their stamp of expertise that they are highly qualified and wish to demonstrate this fact by the quality of the ornamentation they place on the guitar, and rightfully so. You certainly would not want to place this type of decoration on any but the best quality instruments – one where you carefully constructed the guitar out of the best quality of materials and workmanship.

Tools and Materials:

Magnifying Visor:
Mother of Pearl or Abalone Blanks:

MOP Inlay Is Time Intensive:

I want you to be aware that installing some of these MOP inlays in the guitar neck, guitar head piece and guitar body, can actually take much more time than the actual guitar construction itself.

Cutting Pearl or Abalone is a very slow and arduous process, and you have to have tons of patience to do this correctly. You cannot rush the process or you will wind up with broken inlays, mistakes and a poor installation.

Raw Materials:

If you will be cutting a vine inlay for instance, the pieces are extremely fragile and you need to have Mother of Pearl blanks that are flawless in quality, with no signs of weakness or inconsistencies. These weaknesses can be hard to discern as it is hard to detect flaws in the blanks.

Start by running your finger over both sides of the blank and if you feel a difference in thickness, investigate further my looking at the piece under a magnifying glass or better yet a Magnifying Visor. Check for any cracking that there may be between layers of the shell. This will show up as a faint line in the shell surface.

Fitting the Pattern to the Blank:

You will also find that when you purchase a quantity of shell blanks, you will receive an odd assortment of sizes, which thankfully are all sized to the same thickness. You should not randomly paste your patterns on these pieces, but use a thought process to get the biggest bang for your buck in your inlays. There are natural starting and stopping points in most patterns and you should use these visual cues to start and stop the cutting on a particular blank.

Also, color can play a big role in matching your blanks to the pattern. I often lay the cut pattern on the work surface and then take each piece of pearl or abalone and overlay the pattern, taking into consideration pattern of the shell and color differences. Be sure to have overlap on your banks too to prevent a gap in the inlay.

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