THE GOLDEN THREAD: ADD SOME PERSONALITY WITH INLAY

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When you want everyone to know that Martin is yours, you can do so by adding some personality of your own to it. Just like a favorite tattoo or the quirky clothes you wear, you can do the same for your guitar.

You may not know this but you can add almost anything you want to personalize your instrument in the Martin Custom Shop. From something as simple as having your name inlaid into the fingerboard, quoting a favorite verse, to full blown artists’ renderings inlaid with gems and gold. If you dream it, we can make it.

How is this all possible? We have to ask the inlay specialists. There are two employees working in the Martin Custom Shop, Sean Brandle and Brent Williams, who specialize in producing the inlay work. Whether creating their own artwork from scratch or recreating works given to them, these guys can do some amazing things when it comes to inlaying guitars.

Sean and Brent have both been working at Martin Guitar for six years. Sean was formerly a graphic designer before he started working with the Martin team. While at Martin, Sean first learned rim assembly operations and then moved into the Custom Shop where he was able to get his creative juices flowing. Sean has designed several art pieces of his own that are being made right now. Brent also learned other operations throughout the facility, including rim assembly and pearl inlay, before transferring into the Custom Shop. One of the reasons these guys love their jobs is because every day is different.

Each guitar they work on is like creating a piece of art. One of our esteemed dealers said, “They are making the museum pieces of the future." I have to agree, some of the work they are doing is really amazing! Sean and Brent said the most rewarding part of their job is when a customer comes to the factory to pick up their guitar. They get to see their vision come to life and witness the extreme gratitude the customer has. It’s not every day you get to meet the artist that created your piece.

Sean and Brent have been working with many new materials to inlay guitars. The most traditional inlay has been mother of pearl. But Brent’s favorite material to work with is wood. He uses many species of wood to create his scenes. He discovered a special sand shading technique that he applies to each piece that really brings his projects to life. Other inlays that are used include reconstituted stone, blue and green paua pearl, rare coins, and even a request for the owners’ ashes to be turned to diamonds. Below is a fingerboard inlaid with many exotic woods to create a desert scene.

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Many people have asked Sean and Brent how these amazing pieces are made. They can’t give away all of the secrets, but they said some are done the old way by hand with a coping saw and a pencil grinder, a small type of dremel tool.  While some are now using today’s technology with finely tuned CNC equipment to assist in making very intricate cuts. Sean and Brent’s vision for the future is to help design products that will become cherished customs. Some other pieces that they have worked on recently include this:

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Custom Eagle Inlay

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Ace of Spades Fingerboard Inlay

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Custom Lion Head

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Custom Ornamental Bridge

Ready to get started on your own piece of art? Contact your local authorized Martin dealer to begin the custom guitar making process.


Steve Hess is a twenty-three year veteran who has had guitars around his entire life. Steve is a third generation employee of Martin Guitar, having his father and grandfather both retire after many years of service.  Steve has worked with guitars throughout his life. Steve spent six years at Martin learning the fine art of customer repair work. He then moved into the Quality Assurance department and has held several management roles. Steve is currently the manufacturing manager of the Custom Shop. He enjoys travel, meeting new people, and getting to share the Martin brand with guitar enthusiasts. Steve said one of his favorite things is when a person asks where he works and can proudly say, “Martin Guitar!" People are instantly blown away and jealous.

Topics: The Golden Thread

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