Guitar Making Tip No. 782

Guitar Making Tip No. 782 is about keeping your inlay work within reason. On the first couple instruments, focus on the build. You can still do some inlay work, but choose an inlay that will allow you to be successful. Here is why.

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Inlay and Woodworking are Different Skills

guitar making tip number 782Many guitar makers find out early on that inlay work and guitar making are two completely different crafts. At the basic end, you can do both, but at the high end, inlay artists are masters of a unique skill.

If you are planning on knocking out an elaborate vine inlay on your first fretboard, be prepared for that to take a long time.

It can also be a little frustrating since you are brand new to both skills.

As tempting as it may be to go for something like a signature or large inlay design, at first you need to focus on the build. The guitar itself should be your biggest challenge.

You are literally building a hollow wooden box that needs to hold up to 150 pounds of tension, look great, sound great, and play well. That’s a tall order. However, you can incorporate bigger inlays, you just need to know these couple tricks.  

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Inlay Alternatives and Easy Inlay Work

There are a few ways to accomplish inlays without a lot of training or experience. Each of them have their virtues, and they all produce a look that seems to be far more difficult than it actually is. This way, you can add something nice to the guitar, and not frustrate yourself. Here they are:

  • Using a router inlay kit and templates for your inlay.
  • Epoxy based inlay work, either pre-mixed or custom mixed.
  • Round inlays with a plug cutter and drills.

Router Inlay Kit

The router inlay kit is essentially a bushing for your router that has a removable adapter. It allows you to make a template, and follow it with the router. One pass makes the negative, and one makes the positive. Since they were made on the same template, they fit perfectly.

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My Router Inlay Kit post explains more, but this can be the answer for less complicated inlay work. There are limits, and you can’t make anything super small, but it will make your inlays look incredible.

Epoxy Based Inlay

The beauty of epoxy inlay is that you only need to get the cavity right. Since you are not fitting a solid inlay piece, but pouring a liquid, it will take any shape that you give it. This removes the majority of the difficulty.

Epoxy inlay comes in a couple forms. You can buy pre-mixed products like InLace, or you can make it yourself. Essentially, all you are doing is adding solids to epoxy and mixing it to create a certain look. I show How to Make Inlace Side Markers in this post.

Round Inlays

The beauty or round inlays is that if you can drill a hole, you can make gorgeous round inlays. All you need is the material, and that is easier to find than you think. Dowel rods, plastic rods, metal rods, wood plugs, and more can be used for round inlays.

My favorite round inlay trick is to use a plug cutter and make my own dots. I do this because it lets me use exotic hardwood and create amazing fret dots that are not seen on many other guitars. My How to Make Fret Dots post explains the process more.

Choosing the Right Inlays in the Beginning

Don’t worry too much about your inlays at first. All you really need to be consistent with what’s on the market is fret dots, side dots, a basic rosette, and a small headstock inlay for your brand. All of these are easily done with the techniques I just mentioned.

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Pick out easy designs at first, and execute them really well. Use alternative methods, and you can make something that looks amazing.

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