Dave Nichols – Custom Pearl Inlay, Malone, New York

As promised in my last article, here’s a website concerned with inlaying that is fun to visit. Go to www.custompearlinlay.com

This is a site that shows off the work done by not only Dave Nichols, but also his students, and his friends / employees. His shop and home is located approximately 2 hours driving from Ottawa, which means that he gets a lot of customers and students from Canada, particularly from the Ottawa and Montreal areas. I participated in two classes here, first to learn inlaying, and second to build myself a guitar.

There’s a whole library of photographs accessible from the “Photo Gallery” button at this site that makes for enjoyable viewing, check it out. To view some excellent inlay done specifically by Dave and his co-workers, click on the Services button, and then click on the link to “Some samples of our work” for examples of the pieces done by Custom Pearl inlay.  Notable is the back of the 50th Anniversary Guitar on the home page, built to commemorate Dave’s 50 years of building guitars. He built his first while in high school and it was playable ! My understanding of the building of the 50th anniversary guitar is that pretty well everybody that works at Custom Pearl Inlay had a hand in some part of the process.

It used to be that the fingerboard and the headstock were the main pieces that you would see inlayed with mother of pearl. If the guitar was heavily inlayed, there might also be inlay on the pick guard, the saddle, the heel of the neck, and maybe a brace that would be hiding, but still visible, inside the sound hole. Today you see many artists using the back of the guitar as a canvas for their work and given the grain, colouring, and beauty of the wood the results are often stunning.

Here’s an example of some of the work that passes as good, but not spectacular. If I could do as well on a consistant basis, I’d be strutting like a peacock !

Fine work requires very steady hands

It’s hard to describe the feeling one gets when visiting Custom Pearl Inlay or when taking a course. These people are experts and recognized all over the US and Canada as being at the top of their professions. Basically artists work here, and some of the pieces that are in progress are simply exquisite. Pearl that is cut incredibly fine, and perfectly, is deemed to be normal, and quite often you see a very tastefully inlayed fretboard or a guitar back of Brazilian rosewood that is stunning. On one hand it’s inspiring, and on the other it’s almost overwhelming. At minimum, I find it very humbling.

Beautiful Rosewood


Dave likes tools; the shop is festooned with them. The big machines are plentiful, but the number of hand tools hanging from the walls, squirreled in drawers, hidden behind roll out cabinet doors, organized in tool chests, and simply sitting on the benches is astonishing. Apparently Dave knows where they are all located and to what uses each one can be put. Any tool that should be sharp is sharp. Some of them he has designed and made himself. As you browse through the pictures you can see that just about every square centimeter of the walls is in use as a storage area for tools. It’s quite a shop.