Robinson Custom Inlays: Piece by Piece
If you’ve browsed our custom guitars gallery or searched for inlay work through CustomMade, you’ve probably noticed the stunning projects by Robinson Custom Inlays that combine the two art forms. We’ve previously blogged about two of artisan Larry Robinson’s exquisitely inlaid guitars, the China Guitar, which took 11 years to complete, and the Lindisfarne Guitar, which was inspired by a medieval illuminated manuscript.
Clients like the Eagles, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, and U2 have also noticed Larry’s masterful hand craftsmanship. Every piece that goes into his inlays is cut by hand, not by computer-controlled machines. The floral border he created for the commemorative 750,000th guitar sold by Martin Guitars was made with over 2,000 hand-cut pieces. C. F. Martin & Co. also commissioned him for their commemorative 1,000,000th guitar sold, which was featured in an article in the August 2011 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
What makes Larry’s inlays unique can be summarized in three words: palette, technique, and artistry. In the foreword to his book (he’s an author, too), The Art of Inlay: Design and Technique for Fine Woodworking, his former mentor Rick Turner explains:
Larry’s work is remarkable on several accounts. First, his use of a wide palette of many different materials is outstanding. Traditional musical instrument inlays are general limited to just a few media – mother-of-pearl in its various guises, silver, ivory, and wood – and the media are very seldom combined and used together. Larry was never one to so restrict his options; one fingerboard may have all of those traditional materials augmented by copper, brass, bone, metal dust in superglue, turquoise, as well as anything else he can find around the house. Yes, I do believe he’d use the porcelain off the kitchen sink, if it matched the artistic need of the moment!
Then there is Larry’s technique; I have never seen cleaner inlay work with less filler than his. I’ve seen some as good, but none better, and the good stuff is mostly from inlay artists who don’t tackle the artistic or media challenges that Larry does. The first thing that inlay artists look for in someone else’s work is the quality of the cutting and fitting. Larry’s “chops” are simply world class, and in this book he generously lets you in on how he does it. Pay particular attention to his advice on layout and cutting.
Finally, there is Larry’s artistry. He truly transcends materials and technique to become a pure artist. Larry once did a fingerboard for me that is a forest glade scene with a frog on a lily pad. Looking at that fingerboard, your eye fills in the whole scene beyond the physical borders of the instrument. You are in the forest, the frog is just about to jump, and you are ready to hear the splash! It’s great inlay, but it’s more than that; it’s a great picture irrespective of the medium.
If you think Larry’s creations can only leap from fingerboards, take a look at this inlaid jaguar mantel ornament. The stealthy predator’s head is done in copper, ebony, mother-of-pearl, and red abalone, and the eyes are faceted citrines with LED lights that you can turn on to simulate glowing yellow eyes. The intensity of that stare will transfix you. The cat seems to be emerging from the stripe-figured walnut as if it were jungle foliage. The arrow-like shape and angle of the plaque combined with the jaguar’s raised and foreshortened right paw capture it just as it’s about to strike.
Some animals don’t leap. This inlaid great horned owl mantel ornament captures the graceful aerial swoop of this night hunter. Made from mother-of-pearl with black-mother-of-pearl and silver accents, the feathers and body parts are cut from different pieces of shell, so the light will reflect off the owl in unique ways as you view it from different perspectives. The stand is made from California walnut and angled to lean back about 10 degrees.
The inspiration for your own custom inlay work can come from any source. The design on this “Friendship with Morocco” box came from the 1987 22-cent stamp that commemorated the bicentennial of the US-Moroccan Treaty of Friendship and Peace. The inlay consists of brass, copper, silver, mother-of-pearl, and red abalone. The box is made from spalted walnut with a lacquer finish. No idea is too small for inlay work. Read how the microscopic world of molecular chemistry inspired the design on this tourmaline box.
However you envision your dream custom inlay project, as a mantel ornament, a decorative box, or a custom guitar, let Robinson Custom Inlays create your one-of-a-kind piece one hand-cut piece at a time.