About our Classes

   Custom Pearl Inlay offers classes in Inlay as well as guitar building. If you are planning to take both we suggest that you consider taking the inlay class first. In the inlay class you will learn how to cut pearl as well as inlay it for whatever purpose you choose. You may wish to inlay a finger board for a guitar or perhaps even the headstock or bridge. Then you can use these parts later in the guitar building class.

   The Inlay course costs $800.00 USD. You go home with your tools and materials.  The Guitar course starts at $1200.00 USD. You leave with a completed, playable guitar that you can be very proud of!    Both classes run for 5 days, Monday through Friday.  They require a reservation and a security deposit to enroll.  If you are interested please call David  at 518-483-7685 or send us a e-mail to reserve a opening with your down payment.  Download complete course description.

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A Class Testimonial from former student, Bob Rose .......

Neverland North – A Visit to Custom Pearl

By Bob Rose    4/27/05

     This reviewer recently had the good fortune to spend two weeks in the inlay and guitar-building courses at Custom Pearl, home of David Nichols and his band of lost boys plus Wendy (aka Nadine).  

   Off the beaten path describes the location in Malone, New York.  It’s more easily visited from Montreal ( especially if you are bringing smoked meat!) than from the lower 48.  The ambience of the workshop is a cross between the bar at Cheers and Pee Wee’s Playhouse.  Many regular characters drift in and out daily for a dose of philosophy, witty repartee, and advice on their instruments form the guru of guitars.

   Mr. Nichols and his Kato, Lee Mulverhill, take students with a wide range of experience, interest, and expectations and give them the skills to build a guitar and inlay it to a level that would impress any competent luthier.  David draws on more than 40 years experience as a builder and musician to show you how to take quarter-saw lumber and find the voice God hid inside it.  

   Equally impressive, of course, are his credentials as a pearl cutter extraordinaire.  His legacy at the Martin Custom Shop during the re-emergence of the D-45 in the 60’s,  as well as the fingerboards of the Nichols Custom Dreadnaughts, seem to be beyond the expectation of any student builder.  But after two weeks at the shop with David Nichols’ careful oversight and encouragement, it suddenly seems reasonable to dream of the joy of crafting not just a competent flat top, but a high-end acoustic marvel. Or as the MTV generation would say, Dave, pimp my guitar!  Part of the genius of the course is his turning the student loose on an exercise, and when successful, directing him (or her!) to the next level.; and when the student veers off-course, gently reminding with a good natured shout of “damn, did you want to do that?” ( Many variations of this inquiry exist with many different expletives).

   In the middle of all this may come the shout of “Brown!”: yes, just like “Norm” interrupts all activity.  Anything that is not hot, actively grinding, or wet, is dropped and a one-dollar-ante hand of poker ensues with the hapless UPS driver.  At 11:30 a.m. every day the lights go out at every work bench, the machinery stops, and everyone looks up.  In the old movies at this point someone says, “they just threw the switch on Billy in the big house,” but here at Custom Pearl it means it’s time for the mandatory lunch at the Number 1 Chinese Restaurant in Malone, a tradition not to be sneezed at.  

   After lunch, work resumes with Lee Mulverhill reinforcing the shortest, simplest way to get exact results.  This is key to the Nichols’ school of instrument-building.  That is, begin with the principle “mistakes are cumulative, precision is not.”  Make sure each step in the building process gives a solid foundation for the next with the least opportunity for error in the least complicated format.  And by Friday, there will be several delighted neophytes marveling at the instruments in their hands.

   I came to the Nichols camp by a devious course that began with the sadly mercenary goal of building a good guitar cheaper than I could buy it.  As I wandered through the build – it – yourself world of Irving Sloane, Campiano, Stew Mac, and LMI, I gradually realized I could also build it better.  But I thought I didn’t need “no stinkin’ inlay.”  I then happened to hear of the elusive Davis Nichols and some strange -encounters –of- the- third -kind –pull led me to drive 14 hours to the home of Custom Pearl.  I figured I should learn about inlay since everyone used it, but at the time, I really just wanted to build.

   I’d been through the Martin Guitar Factory tour, and seen the millionth guitar inlaid out the wazoo.  To me this seemed gaudy and not-so-attractive. But Mr. Nichols’ delicate patterns on fingerboard and headstock are of a different dimension that sucked me in immediately.  Of course, I initially assumed this could only be the work of a natural artist and beyond my expectations.  David encourages you to think big from day one, coaxing and supporting.

   The inlay course started with a piece of mother-of-pearl, a saw , ( for us who are over 50: Optivisors), and a ˝ hour instruction. Then dig in, boys!  David kept an eye on the progress – an impressive feat with 4 students and production work underway – but there is no getting lost in the class at Custom Pearl.

   Amazingly, I found a knack for pearl, and by the third day was laying out the floral pattern and test inlaying my name in a fret board for the lacewood and Adirondack spruce dreadnaught I would be making.  Thanks to the skillful encouragement and instruction, my interest and curiosity flared into mild obsession with the hope if someday becoming a real pearl cutter. If not, it’ll be great fun trying!

   Anyone signing up for either inlay or guitar-building will get their money’s worth as Nichols and Mulverhill will spot what you need to know and how much you can handle. (Dave can also explain many innovative uses for shop tools as medical devices with the unwilling Lee as the subject!)  It’s been a rude return to reality after two weeks in the shop, and I look forward to a second tutorial as soon as possible.