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Guitar Inlay: Beautiful And Useful

Sep 15, 2008
There are lots of reasons that people opt to learn to play the guitar rather than another instrument. It may have to do with a preference for country music over that of orchestras. They may be drawn to the potential volume of the electric guitar or the portability of its acoustic cousin. Or maybe they just think guitars look cool. Yes, ever since they first became "sexy" via the genre of rock and roll (thank you Elvis Presley), guitars have had a certain element of "coolness" that is simply unattainable with many other instruments. Additionally, guitars have a fair amount of potential when it comes to visual elements, or inlay. Such decoration is set into the exterior wood of the instrument and can be located almost anywhere, including the fingerboard, headstock and around the sound hole.

In recent years, simple guitar inlay is often done in plastic. On some low-end guitars, inlay isn't really inlay at all; it is simply painted designs. However, vintage instruments and modern ones of high quality often have inlays of mother of pearl, abalone, ivory, colored wood or other exotic and beautiful materials. In an interesting adaptation, LEDs and optical fiber inlays have become popular with some rock musicians in recent years. The advantage with such inlays is that they allow the guitarist to see the fingerboard under dark conditions, such as dimly lit gigs.

Inlay found on the fingerboard of a guitar (also known as the "fretboard") actually serves a dual purpose, at least in many cases. Designs located here are used not only as decorations, but as indicators to the guitarists as to which fret is which. The inlay usually takes the form of pips, which can be in a variety of shapes. The dot is the most common and the easiest to produce, but diamonds, parallelograms, trapezoids, large squares and even creative designs like lightning bolts and "shark fins." Interestingly, distinctions have evolved among some major guitar manufacturers that dictate what shapes of pips shall be used. For example, while one producer uses dots, another uses isosceles trapezoids.

In addition to the inlay of the fingerboard, decorations on the headstock are also common. The headstock, sometimes called the "peghead," is the bulbous portion of the guitar at the end of the neck. One common pattern of inlay is the manufacturer's logo. This is often found on a guitar's headstock and is sometimes accompanied by an abstract shape or design. The logo is also often inlaid into the instrument's pickguard, if one is present.

Finally, inlay around an acoustic guitar's sound hole (electric guitars lack sound holes) is very common, although it can vary considerably in complexity. Often, more high-end guitars will boast more elaborate decorative inlay schemes. In such instances, the inlay can cover the sides and back of the instrument in addition to the area around the sound hole. On limited edition and custom-made guitars, the inlay can cover the entire guitar. Such guitars are often works of visual art in their own right in addition to being high-quality musical instruments.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio. You can find the best marketplace at these sites for guitars, inlay, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio.
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