The aesthetic attraction that people have to an artisanal instrument is as strong for non-players as it is for musicians. When folks look at my guitars for the first time, they often ask “Where do you get that done?”, or “Do you have a machine that does that?” More often than not, my answer is “I do that myself – by hand!”
Perhaps the feature that draws the most questions is my name, which is inlaid on the headstock of every guitar. It’s my artist’s signature and an important design element of every guitar I make, but people are absolutely dumfounded by how it’s done!
This example is an inlay of Mother-of-Pearl into Indian Rosewood -- a classic combination and looks stunning under a lacquer finish. How's it done? Not really a secret, so I'll show you a photo series of the setps.
Here's my set-up for cutting out the letters from a 0.050 - 0.060" thick slab of shell:
Basically, I use nothing more than a fine "jeweller's saw", a "V-block" (or "bench pin") secured in a vice to hold the slab of shell, and a vacuum cleaner to suck away the shell dust (you really don't want that stuff in your lungs!).
The design starts as artwork on my computer that I can print out in whatever scale I need. A copy is glued on top of the shell slab with thin cyanoacrylate glue (otherwise known as "superglue"). Then it's just a matter of cutting out the letters carefully with the jeweller's saw:
So, that's the letters cut, now what about the cavity for the inlay? Again, I glue a copy of the artwork right on the headstock, and use a model-maker's Dremel tool in a router base to carefully rout out the cavity with a 1/32" bit. The paper fuzzes up a bit, so after I've finished a first pass, I sand off the paper and clean up any edges so that the letters fit perfectly:
Now it's a matter of flooding the installed letters with thin cyanocrylate glue:
After the glue has set overnight, the surface can be levelled with a few swipes of sandpaper:
And that's all there is to it. Not exactly rocket science, but it does require a bit of patience and a lot of care! The MOP takes on an amazing depth under lacquer and the inlay becomes something of an eye-catcher on the finished instrument: