Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Over the past few years I’ve been put-off of doing fancy inlay work on my instruments. Why? A while ago, I was lucky enough to visit a number of guitar factories in the States and they were all using CNC (computer numerical controlled) machines to produce absolutely perfect inlays. I had always felt that individual luthiers had the edge in producing this type of work but that is clearly no longer the case. Although I hate to admit it, a machine can produce far better quality inlays than you can by hand! Therefore it’s not for me! I’d rather spend the time and effort in other ways to enhance my guitars and give them the edge. The only inlay that I regularly do is my Nava “N” and this is a free optional extra for my clients!

I used to try to ensure that all my Ns were the same; however, I now draw them freehand straight onto the pearl and if they are all slightly different it adds to the uniqueness of the instrument. I start of by gluing the pearl to thin plywood; it’s so brittle that it needs to be supported when being sawn. The N is drawn on and I cut the shape out using a fine piercing saw. I’ve tried powered jig-saws but I feel that I can cut more accurately by hand.

Once the shape is cut-out there is some filing to do.

The head overlay for this guitar (Ian’s baritone) is made up from ebony, red and black veneer. I’ve been lucky to get some beautiful ebony veneer that is so, so black all over. With the N cut out I lay it in place on the head overlay and cut right the way through the veneers. The pearl N is then glued into the N shape hole.

Once the glue is set, the head overlay has to be carefully glued onto the head so that the N will eventually be in the correct position. This involves some careful marking out and some 2.0mm wooden pins to stop the overlay sliding around whilst being glued.

And hey presto! One inlaid guitar head.