FRETS.COM Illustrated Glossary

An acre of nacre?
© Frank Ford, 2/11/01; Photos by FF

"Mother-of-pearl" is the name given to the iridescent lining of certain mollusk shells. More precisely, it is the inside of the shell commonly known as the "mother of pearl oyster shell." This white pearly substance, sometimes known as "Australian pearl" comes from a big flattish shell which has an unusually thick coating of the inner material.

For our inlay use, the shell is first cut into roughly rectangular chunks:

Then the chunks are flattened and milled down to about .060" thick slabs, like this:

Then, usually by hand, but increasingly by CNC machine, the familiar inlay pieces are cut:

The thickness of the shell allows some small structural shapes to be carved, such as the button on this fine 1930s banjo peg:

Just for contrast, here's a piece of milled abalone shell, with its characteristic color and striations:

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Thanks to Chuck Erikson, the "Duke of Pearl," for allowing me (I hope!) to grab his old slogan for that little teaser line. . .