Okay, we love guitars. Mostly it’s the sound and the feel and what they allow us to express and achieve. But sometimes it’s their beauty that first captures our imaginations and our hearts. Fine craftsmanship is only the beginning in this golden age of lutherie; most guitars being made now have a better fit and finish than ever before. But the tantalizing and mysterious arts of fine inlay and marquetry have in recent years entered a golden age of their own, making already gorgeous instruments beyond drool-worthy.

There are two ways to do inlay: hand-cutting and CNC; marquetry is done strictly by hand. The process begins very much the same either way: a customer calls with a commission or an idea, and there is a conversation about what they want, how much they want to spend and when they want to see it. A discussion is had about materials to be inlaid, whether it’s abalone, paua, laminate sheets, plastic, glitter, diamond chips, rare woods—it’s almost all fair game, and artists are increasingly willing to mix and match the commonplace with the lowly or the exotic in order to make a project work.

These artists are putting guitars in the same context as other visual arts to create gallery-worthy pieces that remain uncompromisingly playable and listenable. Meet
Harvey Leach,Larry RobinsonandJudy Threet, three hand-inlay artists;David Petillo, a marquetry artist, andTom Ellis, one of the pioneers of the CNC inlay process and the founder of Precision Pearl.