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Wet Inlay

Wet Inlay

by John Calkin

Originally published in American Lutherie #66, 2001 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Six, 2013

In my infancy as a luthier I didn’t have a lot of skills, but I still wanted my instruments to be different from any others. And I wanted them to be fancy. That might have been a combination headed for disaster, but I discovered a few tricks that let me achieve my goals while I simultaneously learned to build instruments worth owning and playing. One of those tricks was wet inlay. I loved the look of guitars draped in abalone trim, but I was sure the work was beyond me. Shell was also way too expensive for a project that might be botched and tossed in the dumpster. Tonewood was nearly out of my reach; there was no way I could invest in cut shell, too.

The road to settling on turquoise trim was roundabout. I went to college in Colorado, where silver-and-turquoise Indian jewelry was everywhere. Most American turquoise is mined in Arizona, and the surrounding states have a strong turquoise culture. From a jewelry-making class, I learned that the blue stone is pretty hard, requiring lapidary equipment to cut and polish it. And not only is the good stuff fairly expensive, it’s pretty boring. Quality turquoise is a one-dimensional shade of blue with no grain or color intrusions. Eventually I realized that the jewelry I admired the most was the cheap stuff, chips of turquoise mixed in a clear matrix of some sort, ground flat, and polished. I was pretty sure I could do that to instruments. I could see into a future when turquoise-trimmed instruments would be my famous trademark.

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