Inlay and Decoration

While inlay and other decoration is merely "foo-foo" and adds nothing to the musical qualities of an instrument, it can certainly add to both the pleasure you'll experience when you look at or play the instrument and to the instrument's value.

Inlay can be aplain as a simple logo (left) or as elaborate as a minutely detailed graphic created entirely in shell or other materials (right). One thing every inlay job has in common with all others, however, is its origin: it began as an image or idea in someone's mind.

Mouse over any of the thumbnails below to scan through a selection of inlays that have been done on a wide array of Skipper instruments.

The Process

All my inlay is cut by hand, with a jeweler's saw. Inlay often begins with an idea in the form of a sketch or picture supplied to me by the customer. In the case of the "Alice in Wonderland" rabbit featured above, it was in the form of a sketch taken from a book. Using tracing paper, below, I transfer outlines to form a "paint-by-number" color puzzle. It's then resized to fit the target -- in this case a banjo head. Then I add solid colors to my puzzle. Using whatever inlay material will fulfill my palette (this inlay uses mother of pearl, abalone, gold, celluloid, and floor tile), I begin to assemble the form. Finally it's recessed into the headstock overlay, sanded level, and finished.

More Examples

While the example of the deer on the left is almost entirely of mother of pearl, the soldier on the right is made of various colors of floor tile.

My Logo

Though I don't make it a hard-and-fast rule, I like for my "Skipper" logo to be prominent on my instruments; I'm proud of my work, and like my name associated with it. My "standard" logo is the leftmost below, and my "fancy" logo is next to it. Partly by necessity, and sometimes by request, the logo may take different forms, even as extreme as the one on the far right that appears to be bent out of wire.


This last logo was part of a larger "barbed wire" scheme for a customer whose only order was, "I want it fancy, but I don't want any #@!* flowers." The wire motif continued down the fretboard, with barbs for position markers, and as decoration within the eccentric rosette -- perfect for this customer!

Position Markers

Position markers are both functional -- they keep you oriented as you move down the neck -- and decorative. Markers can be as simple as side dots only or fretboard dots, or they can take the form of floral or geometric shapes, can be interwoven into a vine motif, or can even be an integral part of a complex scheme, as the barbs in the example above.


Inlay can be as simple or as complex as you wish, and can be done on any portion of an instrument: peghead, neck, rosette, bridge, pickguard, heel cap -- you're limited only by your imagination. Motifs can be established, and can even be carried from one instrument to another for the same customer, as with the "dancing fools" inlay in the center below.

Other Decoration

Carving is another decorative option, and another is the use of inserts of contrasting materials, such as the ebony "tongue" on the back of this banjo neck.

When it comes to inlay and other decoration, let your imagination be your guide. Bring your ideas to me, and I'll bring them to life on your next instrument. You can contact me here.

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