Inlay is a decorative process in which small pieces of material with differing colors are laid into carved channels in the surface of an object to create a pattern or image.
Inlays are often applied to decorative boxes or other small objects using wood veneer. It is also a common practice to use other materials, notably shells, particularly when inlay is applied to wooden musical instruments.
Inlays are often applied in to small areas of the fingerboards of guitars, giving them that extra appeal of decoration and craftsmanship.
William Laskin is a Canadian luthier (maker of stringed instruments), specializing in guitars, who goes well beyond the typical small decorative patterns normally applied to guitars several ways.
One is in the composition of his materials, which range into 9 different species of shell, 15 varieties of stone, 4 kinds of ivory and bone, and 3 types of metal.
Another is the location and extent of his inlays. While it is not uncommon for inlays to appear on the rosette surrounding the sound hole, or on the headstock, the shaped block at the top of a guitar’s neck which holds the tuning nuts, those applications are normally small, with headstock decoration usually consisting of the maker’s logo.
Laskin, on the other hand frequently takes the entire headstock or large portions of the fingerboard as his canvas, and the fact that he treats it as a canvas is the most unusual and interesting aspect of his inlay work.
Using a process called engraved inlay, Laskin hand cuts shaped channels into the ebony fingerboard or ebony headstock veneer that he uses on his guitars, and applies his carefully chosen inlay materials to create what he terms “narrative” inlay, essentially realistic pictures.
The result is a series of striking images, created with the different colors and surface characteristics of the inlay materials as his palette.
Laskin often sketches his subjects from live models, and does extensive research and preliminary drawings before beginning the intense, extremely time consuming process of engraving the design and forming and setting the inlay pieces.
There is a gallery of inlays on his site (click on the thumbnails for larger images), with a description of the process. There is a video on his site called The Guitar is My Canvas, but I was unable to see it as it requires RealPlayer.
Laskin resists the temptation to repeat a successful design, and each inlay image is unique. His range of subjects includes musicians, animals, film noir scenes and artists, like the portrait of Dalí above, as well as references to art styles like the design inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, also shown above.
Makes me wish I played seriously enough to afford one.