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Purfling Choices at Luthiers Mercantile

Purfling serves no purpose in the structural or musical functioning of the guitar, but if you enter a good guitar shop or high-end show, you’ll notice that many discriminating guitar buyers focus their eyes on the purfling lines before looking over anything else. It’s easy to separate an experienced builder from the others by how cleanly executed the inlay and miters of a guitar’s purfling scheme are.

It’s a big deal, and so we at Luthiers Mercantile pay a lot of attention to our purfling offerings, making sure you have the selection you need to nail the perfect look, and the quality you need to put your next instrument on the proverbial top shelf! We also have a number of useful tutorials available for the beginner (at the end of this article).

Here’s an overview:

Black white lines: We have dozens and dozens of options here, as this is among the most popular approaches to trimming the guitar. You can avoid getting lost in all the varieties on our website by using the helpful filters (the search window will in most cases truncate or over-serve your needs with the options it produces). Our filters are the same as you find on myriad other websites, but we have produced a short, helpful video if you need help using the filters to find what you need. Among the black/white options (called “laminate” purflings) are materials like wood, plastic, and fiber. Fiber is a wood-based product that is valued for its ease in nding, crisp color and affordable price (it glues-up with regular wood glues). If you do not find a pre-layered strip to your liking you can combine single black and white lines to make something custom.

Wood Strips: Luthiers Mercantile sells wood strips in several sizes in Maple, Rosewood, and while supplies last, Bloodwood.  In addition, we have colored wood strips made from Poplar. These are pressure dyed (the color evenly permeates the whole strip) in a rainbow of cool colors. The colors match our colored veneers, which can be easily sliced using a sharp knife or Exacto blade to create unique widths and layers.

Marquetry strips: Marquetry is the art of combining either naturally colored or dyed wood pieces into an inlaid picture, but also includes the production of patterned strips. The herringbone strips, available in bold and fine patterns, is the most commonly used pattern in guitar making, but we offer a variety of others as well. The marquetry purfling strips are stiff and need to be bent like wood binding. We are able to bend to a variety of common shapes for you if you wish!

Shell Purfling: Installing shell purfling is the most time-intensive motif for the builder, but it’s well worth it. Once again, we have a lot to offer, so use the filters on our website to focus in on some useful options. Shell slab strips are sold by the inch and each one measures close to an inch. We measure them out for each order, so if you order 20, you might get 19, 20 or 21 strips to equal 20 inches. The Abalam strips are longer (a consistent length in this case) and so a little easier to install, and the figure is more consistent and stronger overall than the slab alternative.  Both types are available in curved and straight strips and several options for width. One can work entirely with the straight strips but when working around the periphery of the guitar, most choose a combination of curved and straight pieces—about 50/50.  Typically the binding is glued down with a Teflon holder strip (available here) in place of the shell purfling. After the glue dries, the Teflon is removed and the shell pieces are forcibly broken into the channel and glued in with cyanoacrylate.  We also sell the flexible Zipflex strips, which are the easiest to install and are made from real shell.

Purflex: Developed by renowned luthier Bruce Petros, the Purflex strips are the most ornate of our offerings and are installed via a very unique process. Study Robbie O’Brien’s helpful installation video before deciding if this is for you. If so, you can be sure the results are well worth it!

Helpful purfling installation videos

Binding and Purfling Installation Tips

Using the filters on our website

Photo courtesy of Baranik Guitars.