Tag: 101

Fret MarkersProject Guitar

First let me say thanks to Bri­an John­son from Project Gui­tar for the inspi­ra­tion for this post — this is not an orig­i­nal Gui­tar Inlays Head­quar­ters idea. In fact as I was snoop­ing around the Inter­net look­ing for some new ideas and inter­est­ing things to write about, I found a bunch of great resources on cus­tom gui­tar inlays at Project Gui­tar, and Bri­an’s post was just one of sev­er­al fan­tas­tic arti­cles over there. Here’s a link his orig­i­nal post on Project Gui­tar.


The Problem

So basi­cal­ly Bri­an’s prob­lem was that he was try­ing to come up with some sim­ple and wal­let-friend­ly way to do fret mark­ers that would pose lit­tle risk to the inlay work he had already done on the rest of the fret­board.

In his own words:

I want­ed to come up with a sim­ple and eco­nom­i­cal way to make posi­tion mark­ers with lit­tle chance of destroy­ing the work I had done up to that point.

The Answer

So what did Bri­an come up with?

Gui­tar picks + Hole Punch + Drill = Fret Posi­tion Mark­ers. 1..2..3..Bam! You’ve got uber cheap and easy cus­tom gui­tar inlays. It’s a pret­ty sweet lit­tle trick because it’s very cheap, very easy, and you can use gui­tar picks of any col­or to match the style of what­ev­er project you’re work­ing on. It’s not quite as cool as these high-tech cus­tom gui­tar inlays that we wrote about which light up in sync with music, but hey — we’re on a bud­get here!

Custom Fret Position Markers

Installing Fret Markers

You’ll need to pre­pare the fol­low­ing:

  • 1/4″ flat­head screw dri­ver
  • 1/4″ drill bit and drill
  • 1/4″ hole punch
  • A bevy of medi­um gauge gui­tar picks

Accord­ing to Bri­an, the best way to start is by using a 1/4″ drill bit to drill very slow­ly into to fret­board. He empha­sizes that these holes do not need to be deep. Once you’ve drilled in a bit (no pun intend­ed, although I admit I did chuck­le after I wrote it..), take a 1/4″ flat­head screw dri­ver and clean out the hole. The best way to do this is by insert­ing the head of the screw­driv­er into the cav­i­ty as straight as pos­si­ble, and just spin­ning the screw­driv­er around in cir­cles, as though you were screw­ing or unscrew­ing some­thing. If the screw­driv­er and drill bit are both exact­ly 1/4″ size (which they should be) then the screw­driv­er should be a nice tight fit inside the cav­i­ty. Spin­ning the screw­driv­er around in cir­cles with­in the cav­i­ty will then smooth out the side edges and the bot­tom, as well as loosen up any dust in the cav­i­ty.

Once we get all the extra­ne­ous rem­nants out of the hole and we have a nice clean cav­i­ty, we’ll need to ready our gui­tar pick discs. Basi­cal­ly, you use a reg­u­lar 1/4″ hole punch (the same kind we used back in grade school) to punch a hole in a gui­tar pick, and we’ll use that lit­tle gui­tar pick donut-hole as the inlay. Bri­an men­tions in his post that he’s had luck with medi­um gauge gui­tar picks, but believes that heav­ier gauge picks would also work well.

Once we have our gui­tar pick discs all punched out and ready to go, I rec­om­mend using a touch of super glue as an adhe­sive. Just a drop or two on the back of the disc should do it, and then we can put it into the cav­i­ty (adhe­sive side down, of course). Bri­an warns that it should be tight enough that you’ll need to use the head of your screw dri­ver to push it in all the way, but you can also use a bit of super glue over the top to full in gaps. And of course in the end don’t for­get to sand things down (try start­ing with 120 grit, then 220, then 400, and so on).

And that’s pret­ty much it. Just a hand­ful of steps and you’ve got a set of ghet­to-fab­u­lous DIY fret mark­er cus­tom gui­tar inlays.

Think this is a good tip? Or is it shite? Let me know in the com­ments!

Here are some tips for begin­ners on mak­ing cus­tom gui­tar inlays using the Lar­ry Robin­son method. This video includes tips on design­ing the inlay, trac­ing pat­terns, how to route pat­terns on both dark and light col­ored woods, where to find and how to use tem­plates, tips on out­sourc­ing CNC, and much more.. This is a great lit­tle 10 minute video packed with infor­ma­tion.



What Everybody Must Know About Guitar InlaysWhat are guitar inlays?

Gui­tar inlays are dec­o­ra­tive ele­ments which are set in the exte­ri­or wood of both acoustic gui­tars and elec­tric gui­tars. A beau­ti­ful inlay gives each gui­tar its own unique look, mak­ing it more per­son­al and visu­al­ly appeal­ing. Gui­tar inlays can also serve to sup­port the phys­i­cal struc­ture of the gui­tar (although this kind of inlay is not what most peo­ple think of when you say “gui­tar inlays”). While inlay can be done on any part of the instru­ment, gui­tar inlays are usu­al­ly found in the neck (aka fret­board or fin­ger­board) and head­stock, and also around the sound­hole on acoustic gui­tars.


What designs are popular on a fretboard?

Fret­board inlays are a type of gui­tar inlay that serve a def­i­nite pur­pose. These inlays are installed both for orna­men­ta­tion as well as for posi­tion­ing, to help inex­pe­ri­enced gui­tar play­ers nav­i­gate the fret­board. They are com­mon­ly installed between every oth­er fret in the shape of small dots, large blocks, par­al­lel­o­grams, or dia­monds; although shapes and sizes tend to vary by man­u­fac­tur­er. Fret­board inlays usu­al­ly mark odd-num­bered frets and skip the 11th fret in favor of the 12th (the octave). There are two main com­mon pat­terns, out­lined below.

  1. The most pop­u­lar fret­board inlay pat­tern involves sin­gle inlays on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th, 17th, 19th, and 21st frets with a dou­ble inlay on the 12th and 24th fret (if there is a 24th fret). This pat­tern is quite sym­met­ri­cal with dou­ble inlays on the 12th and 24th frets.
  2. The less pop­u­lar pat­tern includes inlays on 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 15th, 17th, 19th, and 22nd frets, and again with the 12th and 24th fret inlays dou­bled. Play­ing these inlayed frets gives you a per­fect minor pen­ta­ton­ic scale. This pat­tern is also quite sim­i­lar to the lay­out of a piano’s key­board, beg­ging the ques­tion, why is this inlay pat­tern less pop­u­lar for gui­tar fret­boards?

What designs are popular on the headstock and soundhole?

Man­u­fac­tur­ers often inlay their name and/or logo on the head­stock. Rosette designs are often found around the sound­hole of acoustics and can vary from sim­ple con­cen­tric cir­cles to the intri­cate fret­work that mim­ics his­toric lutes. These are aes­thet­ic inlays.

What about structural inlays?

The neck of many gui­tars, as well as the body of hol­low-body gui­tars, will often have a stringer installed (more com­mon­ly known as a “skunk stripe”). A stringer is a term used in surf­board design which is basi­cal­ly a long, nar­row, struc­tur­al inlay. For the gui­tar, a neck stringer serves to fill in the hole where the truss rod is installed. Many acoustic and hol­low-body gui­tars have stringers (skunk stripes) installed along the length of the body of the gui­tar as well.

Bind­ing and pur­fling are oth­er types of struc­tur­al inlays. Bind­ing and per­fling are the nar­row bind­ings along the out­side edges of hol­low-body and semi-hol­low-body gui­tars. This bind­ing serves to keep the body pieces glued togeth­er, rein­force each sec­tion, and pre­vent crack­ing and warp­ing along the edges. Bind­ing or pur­fling found on sol­id body gui­tars is a pure­ly cos­met­ic inlay.

What are guitar inlays made from?

Cheap­er mate­ri­als include plas­tic or some­times even just paint for fret mark­ers. There are also stick­er and decal kits that can be pur­chased and installed for aes­thet­ics. High­er end and old­er gui­tars will most often have inlays made from moth­er of pearl, abalone, ivory, exot­ic woods, and oth­er mate­ri­als. Some very high end gui­tars don’t have fret­board inlays at all, assum­ing that a well trained play­er does­n’t need fret mark­ers.

In Summary

Gui­tar inlays serve sev­er­al pur­pos­es, includ­ing aes­thet­ics, fret­board mark­ing, and archi­tec­tur­al sup­port. More elab­o­rate inlays are an aes­thet­ic com­po­nent of many lim­it­ed edi­tion, high-end, and cus­tom-made gui­tars. A good rule of thumb to fol­low is the more elab­o­rate and intri­cate the inlay work is, the high­er the price will be!

Do you have any ques­tions? Ask in the com­ments below!