The No BS Inlay Thread

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by pinefd, Sep 25, 2009.

  1. pinefd

    pinefd V.I.P. Member Premium Member V.I.P. Member

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    Ok, I just wanted to wipe the slate clean, and get back to discussing inlays…without all the other baggage that goes along with such a discussion (if possible).

    For those in search of the ultimate fingerboard inlay for your guitar, there are several options available. For those not particularly concerned about vintage specs, then Mother of Pearl (MOP) is a great option…as is abalone, etc. There are any number of suppliers of MOP inlays, pre-cut to fit your Les Paul, including Stew-Mac: Inlay Sets for Les Paul at Stewart-MacDonald and Luthier Supply (a favorite of many of the luthiers on this forum): Block Frame Inlays

    If you’re looking for inlays with a vintage look, your choices are more limited. The inlays on vintage Les Pauls were made of Cellulose Nitrate, which is a highly flammable substance. Only a few suppliers carry this type of inlay now, but there do appear to be differences in each of their products. I will show…and tell what I know about each. Anyone else wishing to throw in their 2 cents’ worth in a rational and respectful manner is welcome.

    First, a photo showing inlays from the three better known suppliers, namely HM/Dave Johnson (left), Buzz (middle) and Zamm (right):

    [​IMG]


    Description of the Big Three:

    Dave Johnson gets his inlay material from the original OEM Italian (I believe) manufacturer who produced the material for Gibson back in the ‘50s. Dave contracted with this manufacturer to do a sizeable run for him. He went through a couple of iterations of the material before arriving at the current specs (material, overall look and pattern).

    Buzz has been selling inlays for several years now, and his inlays are highly regarded by many. I believe he gets his material from old, recycled items such as accordians, pickguards, etc., which is one of the reasons why his inlays are more aged looking than most. And it’s also probably why Buzz is often out of stock.

    Zamm is a relative newcomer, and I don’t know much about them or their inlays…even though I bought several sets from them for my smaller scale builds. I’m not even 100% sure theirs are Cellulose Nitrate, but they look pretty darn close to the others, so for purposes of this comparison, we’ll treat them as such.



    Comparison of the Cellulose Nitrate Inlay Products (note: I’m no inlay expert…most of the info below is based on opinions I’ve heard and read over the past few years):

    For years, Buzz’s inlays (along with Uncle Lou’s) were the ones to get if you wanted a vintage look for your Historic, or if you wanted/needed to replace inlays on a vintage guitar. When Dave Johnson began offering his inlays, it was then (I believe) that people began scrutinizing the available products a bit more closely. Mostly because of the “inlay pattern”, Buzz inlays became more known for their closeness in look to the early to mid ‘50s LP inlays; whereas DJ’s inlays were regarded as being closer to that of the late ‘50s/’60 specs.

    The inlay pattern is somewhat different from the standpoint that the vein pattern in the DJ inlays tend to run a bit more parallel to the overall fingerboard (and perpendicular to the frets). Whereas, both the Buzz inlays and the Zamm inlays are a bit more mottled (going every which way). I believe this is what makes many people say that the HM/DJ inlays are more accurate to ’58, ’59 and ’60 specs.

    Another thing to look at when comparing these inlays is the color. The Buzz inlays usually have more of a richer, amber/aged look to them, because of the fact that these are made out of old material. They lighten up a bit when sanded, but then quickly darken again afterward. The HM/DJ inlays are much whiter, although I’ve notice that my sets are beginning to amber a bit on the edges, even though they have been in a box since I received them. You may notice this ambering of the edges in the photo. The white of the HM/DJ inlays is a somewhat soft white. The Zamm inlays are an even brighter/harsher white, and some say they even have a slight bluish hue to them. They have a white plastic backing to them, which can be sanded off easily. Both the HM/DH and Zamm inlays will accept a dye which can help cut the white appearance right out of the box.

    Another characteristic of the inlay material is the transparency. From my observations, the transparency of both the Buzz and Zamm inlays are pretty similar, but hard to tell because of the stark difference in color. Plus, once the Buzz inlays are installed, they tend to look much more transparent; whereas, I didn’t notice as much change in appearance with the installed Zamm inlays. I have yet to install any HM/DJ inlays myself, but the installed inlays I have seen (including 3 of my guitars), look a lot more 3D and transparent than the non-installed ones.

    The last thing to note when comparing these inlays is the shape/cut and fit. Here I can’t really comment much. Both the HM/DJ and Buzz Historic spec inlays I compared are very close in shape, with negligible difference. The Zamm inlays, on the other hand, I found to be quite a bit different in shape from the other two. I’m not sure why this difference, but for me it doesn’t matter much because I cut down these inlays anyway for my small scale builds. I can’t really comment on how the shape of the HM/DJ and Buzz vintage cut inlays compare since I haven’t purchased any of these, and am unfamiliar with how vintage inlays differ from Historic cut inlays.



    My bottom line assessment is, that to me, both the HM/DJ inlays and the Buzz inlays are very high quality products that would look great in any Historic guitar or replica build. The HM/DJ inlays may be a little more historically accurate appearance-wise for your ’59 replica. Each carries a somewhat high price tag, but worth it for those looking for a true vintage look. The HM/DJ inlays are much more readily available than are the Buzz inlays. The Zamm inlays are also nice, much lower priced than the other two, and are a definite upgrade from the stock Gibson inlays. But I wouldn’t put them into that ’59 replica I hope to build some day.

    I hope this info helps. Your further input is welcome; but please, let’s keep it clean, fair and objective.

    Happy building!


    Frank
     
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  2. iplaythisgame

    iplaythisgame Member

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  3. The Stumble

    The Stumble Senior Member

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    wow the buzz ones look great :wow:
     
  4. GooCart

    GooCart V.I.P. Member

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    Now when we have a civilized discussion regarding this matter going on I maybe can ask you guys this question.
    I have this really cool looking Italian vintage celluloid sheet that I would like to use on my replica build. The only problem is that it is just 0,75 mm thick. My plan was to CNC cut the inlay routing 0,7 mm deep with the same radius as the fretboard and press the flat inlay in position.
    What do you think? Any chance it will work?
     
  5. Ole'Lefty

    Ole'Lefty Premium Member

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    Magnus-you could do that-I would use fresh top quality epoxy and clamp with a very accurate radius block.
    Another Thanks, Frank. I have DePaule, StewMac and Zamms coming. I will be selling something extraneous to fund the $180+ shipped from Dave. And depending upon price, when Buzz's become available , I will try them too. I know you guys are tired of hearing it, but like many fab shops, I am long on at the ready equipment but low on capital/cash-flow. Also, will I be legit with HM's in a coco custom stained fretboard? )r, must I have Brazilian. I tend to be a "green guy" on such woods(though a "nugent" on wild game). Therefore I will likely be doing a replica that must have had an African Gabon special order fretboard from the factory. One in progress is a Custom, the venerable Black Beauty with blocks-of course the ebony is replica appropriate there.

    I am hoping to have a long-lived trap template in the next couple of months or so and will have to commit to one trap style. Contrary to the experience in the thread before, I successfully reshape MOP using a DMT diamond cone hone-usually reserved for burnishing the inner cannel of a gouge[lathe and hand] and have had no problems using my rifflers-they are the premium ones, about $300 USD for rasp and file configurations in each shape- They bite nicely on anything I have tried so far(never on metals)-too much invested to abuse them.

    This thread has educated me well, already.OldLefty
     
  6. Jessenoah

    Jessenoah Senior Member

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    what causes the ripple pattern in the old style inlays?
     
  7. shtdaprdtr

    shtdaprdtr Senior Member

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    just wanted to add that my ZAMM set figure runs perpendicular to my frets...theyre all different, just gotta look at the pics and buy the right one....plus I have seen real bursts with "mottled lines"

    But one question...if you sand the white backing off the ZAMM's....how do they look installed?

    another question...I have an old cross in my house, which has a thin celluloid veneer on it, can I use this (If Jesus doesnt mind of course)? How would I do it, do I put it in the route and fill clear epoxy on top?
    would it look like shit?
     
  8. bfcg

    bfcg Senior Member

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    You would make Jesus proud...I'm sure...
     
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  9. bfcg

    bfcg Senior Member

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    Thanks for the post Frank. There seems to be a lot of discussion lately about the inlays both in the forum and via PM.
    I took some pictures today of the different ones I have (Zamms and HM's) and I was going to post them tonight. Looks like you have it covered.
    Just one thing, the Zamms are a little larger than the vintage cut HM's, and the radius on the Zamms seems to be full where the HM's have a shorter length of arch. At least in the 3rd and 5th fret positions.(3&5 are the same)


    Frank, is that Koa under those traps?
    It would be funny, a moment before I read this post I was cleaning the dust off of the sealer coats on my 000-28H flamed Koa. :hmm:
     
  10. LG2

    LG2 Senior Member

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    Yes, if not add some 2 part resin to the top of the fingerboard inlay "clean first with MEK" after installing to levelout the low spots and sand smooth before installing the frets.

    Here is a photo of some my boy gave me off ebay. .07 thick bumpy and warped with no backing.
    Ilays installed and sanded flush fine using a square mortise of about .1"
    I can see why the backing is a good thing as the BRW fingerboards can dye the inlays a tan color if using CA.

    [​IMG]



    Three inlays from a different vendor and some wood and Paula i made. Just fretted recently so stills needs some cleaning and oil after its glued to the neck.




    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  11. SG Lou

    SG Lou Senior Member

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    If I remember correctly I read somewhere on here that for us "cheap skates" a set on Zamm's can be used with good results but it would have to be sized down a bit as they are slightly wider then the Dave's inlays.

    Anyone remember seeing that post?
     
  12. Fletch

    Fletch V.I.P. Member

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    I would still love to see Buzzy's vintage dimensions but he might be scared off by now... hope not!

    fletch
     
  13. decoy205

    decoy205 Senior Member

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    Thank you for that useful post! :thumb:
     
  14. rick13

    rick13 Senior Member

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    I am having Roman dye my set of inlays from DJ to warm them up. This was a very informative post.
    Rick
     
  15. Greco

    Greco Senior Member

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    Old material Inlay goldmine:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  16. Greco

    Greco Senior Member

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    Isn't it fish scales or something like that?
     
  17. rick13

    rick13 Senior Member

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    Man...... those gold dots would make some funky fretmarkers.
    Rick
     
  18. maicolp

    maicolp Senior Member

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    i would never salvage a vintage accordion just to have real lookin inlays made out...
     
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  19. pinefd

    pinefd V.I.P. Member Premium Member V.I.P. Member

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    Sorry, I've been out of touch since first posting this thread, so this is the first chance I've had to respond to questions. And thanks to all for helping get this topic back on track.


    Thanks for posting the link to Dave's inlays. I meant to do that in my original post, but forgot. As to where to buy Buzzy's inlays, he doesn't have any to sell too often, but when he does, he usually puts them up on Ebay. Here's a link to him on Ebay: eBay My World - b_u_z_z_y, but you can also PM or email him here: http://www.mylespaul.com/forums/sendmessage.php?do=mailmember&u=591


    Magnus, I would imagine that should work, but I'd just caution that you test bend some material first. That old inlay material can get brittle over time. In fact, I had a Buzzy inlay crack in half on me once when I tried to press it in place into a slightly radiused inlay cavity. If your material is too brittle to bend, perhaps a little heat might make it a bit more pliable (but not too much heat, since that stuff is highly flammable!).


    I'm not sure what ripple pattern you're referring to. If it's the "design" in the inlay, that is formed during the manufacturing process.


    I installed one set of the Zamm inlays into my travel guitar, after sanding the backing off of the inlays, and they look quite good. I didn't find that sanding the backing material off made much of a difference in appearance, but I'm guessing that over time, when and if the inlays take on a more aged appearance (if applicable), that I'll be glad that I sanded off the white backing.

    Here's a pic of some of the Zamm inlays, cut down a bit, and installed on my travel guitar (sorry for the not-so-great photo):

    [​IMG]

    And with regard to your celluloid-in-the-cross question, are you looking to install this into a new build, or into a pre-routed fingerboard? That would make a difference as to how you would go about it. If it's a new build, I would do as Magnus (GooCart) is planning on doing, and just doing a shallow inlay route that follows the radius of the board. If it's an existing fingerboard, and you're replacing old inlays, I'm not sure of the best way to go about it. Perhaps remove the old inlays, and either fill or shim underneath so that your inlays will rise to the surface? Let's see if we can get some other ideas for you...but it would help to know what your starting point is.


    Actually, Bill, it's not Koa (although it looks like it); it's curly walnut, which I'm hoping to use someday for a cool LP style guitar.


    As to the couple of questions/comments that were raised with regard to the Zamm inlay dimensions, I'll see if I can get a better feel for that, and perhaps take some closeup pics of the differences later on.


    Thanks for tuning in!


    Frank
     
  20. Ole'Lefty

    Ole'Lefty Premium Member

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    This thread is the perfect example of how this forum and sub-forum is supposed to work. Thanks again, now to all who have responded with questions and answers. OldLefty
     

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