What inlay set options are available for bass guitar fretboards?

For bass of the week feature instruments here at BBG, you’ve seen a lot of custom inlay work. And while we would all like custom inlays that look absolutely perfect, there is always the option to buy a set of inlays instead.

Two things make buying an inlay set a whole lot easier. First is a 34-inch scale length neck, and second is a 4-string or a 5-string configuration. Yes, there are 6-string width inlay sets available, but the 4 and 5-string sets are more common.

Common inlay sets you will (usually) come across other than standard dot markers

There are 5 inlay design types you will usually see, which are:

Block

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Easy enough to understand what this is. It’s a Mother-Of-Pearl (commonly abbreviated as MOP) block shape. Also available in gold (or black for maple fretboards.)

Elegant Block

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This is MOP and abalone, giving a multi-color “swirl” appearance.

Note: There are several variants of Elegant Block. While the above example has an “ocean” appearance, you can also find examples that have more red or gold in them.

Split Block

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This is either Block or Elegant Block with a stripe in the middle of a differing color. It could be white + black, white + gold, MOP + abalone, and so on.

Ibanez Vine

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This is usually seen on 6-string guitars, but is also available for the 4 and 5-string bass as well. The Ibanez design can be easily recognized as it is very “leafy” in appearance.

Vine of Life

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Also available for bass. The 12th fret marker is much more prominent and does not “wave” as much as the Ibanez vine does.

Notes on vine-style inlays

It is very easy to take a look at a vine style inlay and think, “Wow, that looks good.” Before you run off and buy one to install on your fretboard, consider that there are many players who simply don’t like them for two main reasons.

First, the “busy” design can confuse the player, even with the assistance of smaller dot markers on top of the neck. Any player that is a plays-by-the-board type will get immediately turned off by a vine-style inlay.

Second, many players prefer to see more wood on the board than inlay. This bass of the week is an example of that. Only the bare minimum of inlay work was installed so you could really see the wood. (Also, fretless instruments usually have only small amounts of inlay work to prevent unwanted note changes when playing directly over the inlay.)

What other types of inlays are out there?

Many. Bowties, clouds, moons, half-moons, shark fins, snowflakes, lightning bolts and lots more.

But again, remember, many players prefer to see more fretboard wood than inlay. If customizing a neck for yourself, then go ahead and use anything you wish. But if you intend to sell the instrument later, a more reserved/elegant design may be preferable.

How are inlays installed?

Here is a video showing block inlay cutting into the fretboard:

When you want to do this right, don’t use stickers. The process of cutting the board and installing inlays is not quick. You will have to take your time and you will have to make minor adjustments along the way.

Worth the time to do it? That’s up to you. But one thing is for sure. Custom inlays, even if it’s just a set you bought that’s MOP blocks, really does stand out in a sea of plain dot markers.

(Images from DePaule Supply)

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