Guitar inlays come in so many different styles nowadays! No longer are we forced to live with the plain old dots that so many guitarists grew up with.
Modern manufacturing techniques have allowed all sorts of crazy designs to be used on fretboards. However, did you know that you can design and create your own custom fretboard inlays?
No longer do you have to be constrained by the inlays your guitar came with – if you can design it, or find a good enough image online, you can have it on your guitar!
This is a great and affordable way to customize a guitar that you’re a little bored with. And the best part? It’s completely reversible – you’re not carving any wood at all, so you can change the inlays at will!
Equipment You’ll Need
To get started on this project is pretty simple, but there are a few tools that you’ll need. Don’t worry – most of them are either very common household tools.
First of all, you’ll need a computer, a color printer, and some vinyl decal paper. It doesn’t need to be a very powerful computer at all – just as long as it can edit pictures and send files to a printer!
If you don’t have your own printer or computer, maybe try a local internet cafe, or a library – and a print shop might be able to help you with printing the images!
For applying the inlays to your fretboard, you’ll need some fretboard cleaner, or some naphtha. You’ll also need a sharp knife or razor blade, and a soft cloth.
You’ll need a computer program to edit the images you’re using too, but don’t worry, there are a few free options available! Windows PCs come with Paint installed, but Paint.net and GIMP are both excellent free image editors, for those looking for something a bit more powerful.
Choosing The Right Image
If this is your first time making a guitar inlay, it’s best to start off with something relatively simple. Trying to print and accurately cut out something like Schecter’s famous “vine of life” design is going to result in a lot of sweat and headaches – it’s just not a realistic proposition!
Luckily, most guitar inlays aren’t that complex anyway – after all, how many of us have owned a guitar that just uses simple dots? That means you shouldn’t have too much of a hard time picking a design that you love!
Just remember – less is more. A simple design is the best way to go here – there’s not very much room between the frets of a guitar, especially as you go higher up the neck.
Images with lots of fine detail just won’t have that detail visible – not only is it a waste, but the process of shrinking a detailed image down could well end up with it looking messy, and that’s not something we want on our beloved guitar!
Consider colors too. Having a detailed inlay with lots of color work might sound like a great idea in theory – but in practice, it’s going to be hard to make out all of that colour.
At anything more than a few feet away, detail will be lost – so simple, iconic designs are best! Therefore, consider using your image manipulation software to convert an image to one with fewer colors – or even to monochrome!
Once you’ve got the image you want for your inlay, it’s time to print it off!
Remember that the image needs to be shrunk to fit right on the higher frets – this might take a little bit of trial and error, but shrinking them by around 5% each time you go up the fretboard. is a good place to start. This is another reason why a simpler image can often be a better idea!
You’ll be applying the inlay to the 12th fret at a minimum – it’s usually the most common place, and even guitars without other fret markers will often include one on the 12th fret. It’s a common reference point for guitarists, as you know you’re halfway (or thereabouts) up the neck at that point!
Other frets can have inlays too, though – typically, you’ll find them on frets 3,5,7,9,12,15,17,19 and 24 – but those higher up the neck might be difficult to print, cut, and apply cleanly.
Luckily, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of trial and error here – the worst that can happen is you’ll need to remove them and clean the sticky stuff off your fretboard!
Applying The Image
Now that you’ve got your image printed off, it’s time to apply it to your guitar!
You’ll need to start off by making sure your fretboard is nice and clean. You’re going to be putting a sticker on it – so if your fretboard is covered in dust, all that it will stick to is dust! Any dust, dirt, or grime has to come off before you can stick an inlay down.
Get the soft cloth and the naphtha and give your fretboard a good cleaning. Guitarists don’t do this enough, so this is a good enough excuse!
Note – avoid getting the naphtha anywhere near your guitar’s finish. Some finishes really hate having certain chemicals anywhere near them. Fretboard cleaner is a safer idea, but used wisely, naphtha will work just as well – and, handily, flashes off quickly, so you don’t have to worry about pools of it building up on your fretboard.
Now, very carefully cut the image out – you’ll want the sharpest knife or razor blade that you can get hold of. Be very careful! Sharp tools are safer than blunt, as you need to use less force to cut – but good tools alone won’t stop you from making mistakes, so watch out!
Once you’ve cut the inlays out, it’s just a case of laying them out on the fretboard in the correct position! Remember to consider orientation too – it’s up to you which way is “up” on your guitar, but remember to be consistent in applying the inlays the same way!
Custom inlays are a cool way to customize your guitar – why not give them a try?