How to Do Inlays on Guitars

Written by floyd drake iii
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How to Do Inlays on Guitars
Inlays can really spice up a guitar neck. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Inlays on a guitar neck can radically alter the overall look of the guitar, making it seem extravagant, rather than plain and ordinary. Mother of Pearl and Abalone-shell inlays stylishly mark the guitar neck's frets at the proper location. A variety of different inlay designs can be purchased either online or at a music/guitar shop, and include: star, diamond and bird inlays. You can also find the simple block inlays, which are commonly found on Gibson guitars.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Small Dremel-type router
  • 1/16-inch (1.5 millimetre) router bit
  • Fine measurement ruler
  • Etching tool
  • Small chisel
  • Chalk
  • Guitar neck inlays
  • Sandpaper (various grits)
  • Epoxy, or super glue
  • Nine small clamps (optional)

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Determine which inlay to install. A total of nine frets need to be inlaid, marking them at the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, twelfth, fifteenth, seventeenth, nineteenth and twenty-first frets.

  2. 2

    Make the proper measurements to centre the inlays. Place the inlay on the fret and centre it using a ruler that makes fine measurements. Make sure the inlay is equidistant on both sides, as well as the top and bottom, between the frets.

  3. 3

    Outline the inlay while holding it to the centre of the fret. Using a metal etching tool, outline the edges of the inlay onto the fretboard. When finished, remove the inlay and rub the surface with chalk to mark the outline. Wipe off the excess chalk.

  4. 4

    Place the router bit on the centre of the inlay outline. According to Melvyn Hisock's book, "Make Your Own Electric Guitar," the router should have a 1/16-inch (1.5 millimetre) bit. Carefully begin in the centre of the outline and work your way to the outer edges. This is done in two passes, as the router is not strong enough to remove the necessary wood in a single pass.

  5. 5

    Clean the recessed area using a small chisel to remove any rough patches that may prevent the inlay from lying flush.

  6. 6

    Install the inlay. When the desired recess is achieved, install the inlay, securing it to the wood with epoxy or superglue. Small clamps can be used to keep the inlay secure while the glue dries. Superglue dries quickly, but epoxy should be allowed to dry for at least an hour. Tighten the clamps hand-tight, it is not necessary to over tighten them.

  7. 7

    Sand the inlaid frets inlays to achieve a smooth surface. Begin with 600-grit sandpaper, then 1000-grit. Use 1500-grit, if necessary, to finish the smoothing process.

Tips and warnings

  • Be very careful when routing the inlay recess. If you go outside the lines, the fingerboard will be damaged and may require replacement.

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