Pearl name inlay on stars’ guitars.
How many of us remember the guitars our cowboy songsters played so proudly, and visibly, when we were younger? Or those of us who aren't quite of that age but couldn't help noticing those flashy instruments with the artists' names writ LARGE in mother-of-pearl on the fingerboards? The most visible one I can remember from when I was maybe ten years old, in the 1950s, was Gene Autry's, didn’t get much bigger than Gene as a movie-star singing cowboy and his Martin D-45 had his name oh-so prominently inlaid on the fingerboard. Possibly the very first to do that was Jimmie Rogers, the original Singing Brakeman from the late 1920s (Blue Yodel # 9, Waiting For A Train, so many more classics), whose Martin 000-45 had his name on the fingerboard in large pearl block letters. Martin has since made re-issue copies of both of those historic instruments. And I can think of so many more: Eddie Arnold with his J-200; Loretta Lynn carrying on the tradition with her Epiphone Excellente (Rest in peace, Loretta). And more. And more. Then there was the country-blues singer from Alabama who worked in my store in the 1970s-80s, for whom I ordered a custom Martin Style-5 uke (all that abalone trim!) in complete black lacquer, with his name, LJ Henry, in mother-of-pearl script on the fingerboard. Years later he apparently had to sell it and it came into the hands of a dealer I knew, who just couldn’t live with that fingerboard and replaced it, a practice I am vehemently opposed to as it is “part of the story” and who are we to deign to eradicate that story? A coda to the story though is that my dealer friend gave me that inlaid fingerboard and it sits on my desk to this day. And then…….there’s my own, ahem, entry into that world when I was maybe twenty years old, around 1967-8, the whiz kid guitar restoration and repair person here in NYC, years before I had opened my store, and of course knew that I knew everything. My good friend Danny Armstrong, a bit older than me and pals with all the rock stars of the day, knew my capabilities so when Eric Clapton came to him with a treasured 1959-or-so Les Paul with a hopelessly smashed peghead, Danny knew that I was the absolute best person in New York most qualified to somehow make the guitar whole and usable again, and he gave it to me to do the job. Being somewhat um, brash, I asked Danny if it would be OK to get a bit creative with the project and he said "Sure!”. So being very steeped in pre-war American acoustic instruments, I of course made and grafted on a peghead just like the asymmetreical ones on pre-war Gibson F-5 mandolins. Of course. And it seemed quite logical to me, where the mandolins had had a “The Gibson” logo inlaid in script pearl, to put “Eric Clapton” there, in script pearl. Of course. You can see a picture of it on P. 14 of Vic Da Pra’s fabulous book “Burst Believers II”, all about those earlier sunburst Les Pauls. And I still have the piece of pearl from which I cut out the word “Eric”. And so up to date, right now today, here we are with a Martin Eric Clapton Signature model 000-28EC with Eric's signature in script pearl, inlaid at the end of the fingerboard. Thing is, back then this stuff was all done by hand, with little saws and teeny files and such one at a time but today, what with laser cutters(!) driven by computers(!), those things can be cranked out in minutes, exactly the same, every time. Sometimes it's hard to admit progress, much as we revere the old-time ways.