View Full Version : Headstock Inlay

Steven Wallace
05-22-2011, 2:34 AM
Thought I might share my latest and first attempt at doing an instrument inlay. A friend whose initials are RF asked if I could laser the recess in the ebony he was using on his headstock and then laser cut the inlay material. I was honored that he trusted me with this on his first instrument. I think that it has turned out quite well. He still has some work to go to fully complete the project but I am sure it will be a great family keepsake when finished.

don't know why I can't post the picture.

Steven Wallace
05-22-2011, 2:51 AM
Here is the headstock picture. As you can see some work like installing the tuners still needs to be done.

Steven Wallace
05-22-2011, 2:53 AM
195388Might be a little better picture

Mike Null
05-22-2011, 6:39 AM

Looks like you nailed it. Good work!

Chuck Stone
05-22-2011, 7:29 AM
that looks pretty sharp! I'd be worried that the inlay and the cutout wouldn't
match up right.. the laser kerf would vary because of the material, or the
piece wouldn't be perfectly level (or would move!) and I'd ruin someone's
work. Nice job.

Dane Fuller
05-22-2011, 10:08 AM
Very cool, very nice. What is the inlay material?

Dee Gallo
05-22-2011, 10:32 AM
Very nice job, Steven! I'm a worrier like Chuck, but isn't it a glorious feeling when everything goes as planned?

Steven Wallace
05-22-2011, 11:12 AM
Dane - The inlay material - Made from genuine abalone shell in thin epoxy-bonded layers. Each layer is a patchwork of smaller color-matched pieces. AbaLamģ can be cut, shaped and sanded like regular abalone shell. Because it's made of small pieces, sanding will reveal new layers so the color and pattern may change as you sand. Compared to natural shell blanks, AbaLam permits larger inlay patterns with much less waste. 0.050" x 2-3/4" x 4-3/4"
Chuck and Dee - Worry, what me worry. Sweating flipping bullets is more like it. Roughly $90 worth of inlay material and ebony veneer. First, I was given a headstock design to tweak. I made the design adjustments and created an acrylic template for that. Then I made my first ever attempt at an inlay with some scrap material. Thanks to some great tutorials on SMC, I nailed it the first time. Next came the real deal and let me tell you, ebony is a very hard wood and doesn't take to lasering well. It took several passes not to burn it up and get the depth right. My buddy wanted the inlay to be on the proud side vs. the shy side. In other words, for it to stick up a little so that he could sand it flush rather than sanding the material around it down to the inlay. I got it to a where it protruded about the thickness of a fingernail (a few thousands). Cutting the inlay was another experience, since this was a man-made (epoxy-bonded layers of natural material) product it got hot and started to turn to dust if you cut with too much power or cut too slow. You can guess how I know this little tidbit of fact. I got the inlay dialed in on the second try. $71 plus shipping for a 2-3/4" x 4-3/4" piece of this material. I am going to insist on natural material if I do this again. I think that the epoxy is what makes it much more difficult to cut. Not to say that straight natural material won't present it's own challenges.

All in all, I have a happy customer, who is still a friend. I will post a picture of the finished product when my customer finishes the process and sends me a new picture. Thanks for all the positive feedback, it is what keeps me trying new things.

Bob Savage
05-22-2011, 11:39 AM
Nice work, Steve.

Mike Null
05-22-2011, 12:49 PM

When I cut the abalone I did so using multiple passes from the back. It was .050" but solid--solid doesn't mean much with abalone except to distinguish it from laminated.

Dane Fuller
05-22-2011, 2:23 PM
Thanks Steven. I can't wait to see the finished product.

Mark Conde
05-23-2011, 4:24 PM

That does not look good....wait for it------It looks FANTASTIC!!!!!
The design, inlay and overall headstock is a home run.

Congrats -- Mark

Chuck Stone
05-23-2011, 5:10 PM
I am going to insist on natural material if I do this again. I think that the epoxy is what makes it much more difficult to cut. Not to say that straight natural material won't present it's own challenges.

I would try that on scrap, first. Check with any lumber yard.. they've probably got tons of ebony that
isn't salable. They'll probably give you all the scraps you car's suspension can hold.. for free.
In the winter, they probably burn it for fuel.
You'll probably go back to the man made stuff. As difficult as it is, its nothing compared to finishing
an ebony inlay only to get a phone call in a few weeks telling you that it has cracked. (or months!)

Steven Wallace
05-23-2011, 6:49 PM
Chuck it wasn't the ebony I had a problem with. it was the inlay material that gave me fits. Faster, low power and multiple passes is the way to go.

Mark Thanks for the comment.

Headstock update from the luthier: Started shellac & lacquer finish work. This appears to take 2-3 full sessions with some serious buffing/sanding to be done between sessions. Anyway, the guitar is in the spray room and difficult to get photos but Iíll snap some this weekend and forward them out. Itís looking more and more like a guitar.