I went searching all over the internet and found 30 different ways to do this… And lots of arguments about the historically correct way. So after all my research I figured I’d add my 2 cents.

Gibson Restoration: ’59 Headstock Inlay

1959 Gibson Les Paul restoration inlay
Mother of Pearl ’58, ’59, 1960 Gibson Les Paul Restoration Inlay


The first step is to laminate the holly overlay to the head stock … I’ve seen the inlay work done prior to this but considering that the final overlay thickness of a 58, 59 or 1960’s Les Paul is only 1/16th of an inch thick that just strikes me as a bad idea, so… After the holly is cut to it’s almost final shape:


glue holly head stock overlay
Holly overlay clamped to the Headstock

Positioning Inlay and Marking for Routing

I literally scoured the internet for late 50’s Les Paul head stock images and basically used the average to determine where it ought to be… So what I’m saying is I shot from the hip like the old Gibson luthiers seem to have done back in the day.

Gibson logo inlay position
Determining the Inlay’s position on the headstock


Marking for routing the inlay:


Marking for routing the position of the inay


This was done by using two of the tiniest drops of  original Titebond glue to hold the mother of pearl logo in place, then tracing the inlay with a very sharp pencil… Don’t let it set too long and take care in lifting the inlay.

 Routing for the Inlay


guitar head stock inlay tools
Dremel with a precision router base and carbide down-cut bit.


I use a Dremel with a precision router base from Stewart McDonald and for this job a 3/32 down cut router bit (also from Stewmac).  This is the hot setup for routing inlays… I’ve tried just about everything else (within reason) and this gets it done with no cussing.


routing for the inlay
Routing for the inlay with the Dremel does take a steady hand.


Routing depth:


Gibson inlay depth of routing
MOP Gibson inlay sitting in the cut


The depth of the routing is just an RCH (finest measurement known to man) shallower than the thickness of the MOP (in this case 1.53mm and the depth of the rout is 1.50mm or so).  The inlay is set in exactly the spot where I want it and then I wick a little medium / thin CA glue into the cut to keep it there

   It is important to note that the holly is not quite sanded to it’s finished thickness of 1/16 of an inch… This comes later.


Gibson inlay in holly head stock plate
A touch of CA glue was used to keep the inlay from slipping around in the cut


  The Logo inlays on 50’s Gibson Guitars was not a super precision operation as the Mother of Pearl was actually set in glue rather than precisely fit into the wood… These cuts are made loose enough to allow the epoxy to flow and set in around the MOP inlay…


Filling the gaps with black epoxy
Filling the gaps around the inlay with black epoxy.


In the 50’s they would be using Fish glue tinted black with Lamp Black… But really some stuff we have now is way easier to deal with and lasts longer. You want to use the slow setting stuff in order to allow it to settle and fill all the voids around the inlay.


slow setting black epoxy for filling the inlay
Slow setting black epoxy.


And then you wait…


Inlay finished and filled with epoxy
Gibson Restoration Inlay finished and filled with epoxy…


  If all went well when you sand this and the holly down, there will appear a beautiful Mother of Pearl “Gibson” on your smooth American holly headstock overlay… Also note to take the sanding process slowly and deliberately I would not recommend using very coarse paper when you get down to the MOP because it can be brittle and cause it to chip out.


headstock holly overlay
Inlaid Holly Headstock


I’ll come back and show you how to paint it black after that… Just as soon as I figure it out.



 Dying the Holly Headstock Veneer

Holly Headstock Overlay Black Aniline Dye
Les Paul Head Stock Inlay Veneer Water Based Black Aniline Dye.


Dying the veneer turned out to be fairly simple,  this is just one of those operations that takes some care, good eye site and patience. I used water based aniline dye applied with cotton swabs taking care to only use enough for it to bleed into the holly and not run over into the mahogany… A good clean glue line where the holly is laminated to the peg head helps with this process tremendously.