We are all different, having different ideas and different dreams, and that is what maker the world complete. In this case the task was to design a prepare a set of fingerboard inlay using motifs the customer wanted to include such as the Sun, a star, a cross, and the Moon, he also had the request to have styling of some decorative art some Amazonian tribes use on pottery, bracelets etc, he even sent over some bracelet with woven beads patterns I supposed to wear during I prepare this inlay as those were filled with positive energies… I could not enjoy such voodoo practice though as they were rather small, not as if I have enormous hands but they would hardly fit on a toddler’s hand…
He also wanted with all this some flowing river as well. Rather cloudy expectations and and first sight there is not much how you can combine all these requirements effectively.
I formed a bold design in my head though, having completely filled in between frets spaces incorporating the the required motifs into those tribal patterns. As the instrument went to Brazil I even tried to have the colour of their flag being used in one position. The whole idea was rather a mixture of psychedelic and native American and the customer absolutely loved the initial drawing. I admit it would not be everybody’s cup of tea, including myself, I still absolutely enjoyed a challenge to place myself into another person’s vision and succeed. So the design was approved.
The provided materials suggested vivid colours and I decided to use reconstituted stone for most of the inlay, the only exception is the moon as it is mother of pearl as the customer insisted to white colour for the moon. Red coral and some yellow stone was used for the sun and surprisingly this was the most straightforward piece to cut and build. As the rest is rather tricky. It is easier to do asymmetric random forms, then symmetric geometrically constructed patterns where all the inconsistencies are immediately apparent. Cutting the Sun motif started with central circle and gradually all the red and later yellow rays were glued around, this is the only inlay overlapping a couple of fret spaces, the whole design had to take it into consideration. The other more straightforward motif was the star as it was still possible to build it from inside out. But the cross and the moon gave me absolute headaches. In case of the cross I decided to prepare the inlay in two steps, having a frame and the cross itself separately made and finally joined, the dilemma with the moon was where to start. I was hesitating to start with the mother of pearl piece, the moon itself but finally I decided to start with very inner part of the surrounding pattern. It required utmost precision
not only to achieve symmetry but to fit precisely in the available space even taking into consideration the width of the fret.
The inlaying process itself was rather straightforward as with the exception of the sun it was only rectangle needed to be inlaid and this could be done very precisely. I left each block actually smaller than the fret space so there was a thin ebony (0.7mm) stripe left along the fret slots to avoid any smal chipping of the inlay when the frets are hammered in. As the inlays fit precisely is provided absolute support for those thin ebony strips, it worked perfectly, the frets went in smooth, no damage to the inlay. The I temporarily filled the fret slots where the sun had to be inlaid so the epoxy glue will not fill the whole slot, after inlaid those fillings were removed, and sun was cut across to complete the fret slots again. The final requirement of some kind of river – I tried to achieve such impression with 2mm mother of pearl dot imitating a river-flow, 86 of them to be precise.
Finally the fingerboard was cambered and fretted. The customer is absolutely delighted with the inlay and I enjoyed this challenge.