The Old State Of The Art
China cnc machining. Objects decorated with inlaid mother-of-pearl appear as early as 1600 BC in China’s Shang Dynasty.
Inlays appeared on musical instruments around the 17th century. A cittern from that period is decorated with ebony, ivory, wood, and other materials.
For about 400 years the basic materials and techniques changed little. Designs were decoration. Patterns, symbols, and nature motifs such as designs based on floral or animal themes made up the vocabulary of inlay design.
Guitar Inlays Advance The Art
By the end of the 20th Century inlays are commonly associated with the guitar. Inlaid mother-of-pearl brand names and trademarks adorn the better ones. Custom instruments are decked out with full-length fretboard inlays such as a traditional Vine of Life or a modern Dragon.
With inlay more in demand, industrious individuals sought technological solutions to some of the economical challenges of producing it. At the same time innovative inlay designers were revolutionizing the art.
New Inlay Materials
Two important products, both manufactured from natural materials, give the 21st Century inlay artist a broader palette to work with.
Ablam, sheets of abalone laminate, is made of layers peeled from the shells. The sheets are much larger than natural shell blanks. Although it is named for abalone, Ablam is also made from other shell types.
Reconstituted Stone is the other new important ingredient in modern inlay. Various gems and semiprecious stones have been used within inlay designs. But the processing of this product allows cutting and working with the same tools as other inlay materials.
Some inspired inlay artists are taking advantage of the expanded palette. They are producing more elaborate pattern designs as well as designs that are less symbolic and more representative of their subjects.
Harvey Leach and Grit Laskin approach a surprising level of realism. Larry Robinson takes decorative pattern to new heights on projects such as his Celtic guitar and the Millionth Martin guitar. And there are more individual inlay artists than ever.