Harvey Leach’s Intricate Guitar Inlays on Colour In Your Life


G’day viewers, my name’s Graeme Stevenson and I’d like to invite you to come on a journey of creativity and learning and adventure through the series Colour In Your Life. There’s an artist in every family throughout the world and lots of times there’s an artist deep down inside all of us as well. So grab your kids, your brothers, your sisters, your aunties, uncles, your mums and dads, and come and see how some of the best artists do what they do. (Music Plays) Well hi viewers, how are you? Well I’m up in Sierra Nevada, in Northern California, a little town called Grass Valley. And we’re coming – as you can see there’s dogs in the background – we’re out in the country. But I’m going to see a gentleman called Harvey Leach. Now Harvey is the number one inlay artist in the world, and he’s also one of the world’s leading guitar makers. So you’ve got art and craft combined in this amazing human being. So lets go inside and have a talk to Harvey. You’re going to see some stuff today that’s going to blow your mind, because when I first saw what Harvey was doing it blew my mind. This man is incredibly talented. Lets go and have a look at what he’s doing. (Graeme) G’day Harvey. (Harvey) Hey, good to meet you. (Graeme) How are you? (Harvey) I’m good. (Graeme) Great to see you. (Harvey) You too. (Graeme) Can I come and see what you’re up to? (Harvey) Please do. (Graeme) Fantastic. What an amazing place you’ve got here. (Harvey) Well, thank you. (Graeme) It’s fantastic. Okay guys, well here we are in the workshop of Mr Harvey Leach. Harvey, fantastic to be here. (Harvey) Thank you. Glad you’re here. (Graeme) Harvey’s actually really prepared the shop for us today, and he’s going to take us through the process of how he puts the guitar together. Then we’re going to go into the other workshop and see how he does these, literally when you look at this you’ll think they’re paintings. They are absolutely magnificent. Lets have a look through the first part of the workshop (Harvey) Okay. (Graeme) and explain to people how the guitars are put together, and then we’ll go next door and make a picture. (Graeme) Okay Harvey, now probably the most important part about what you do, apart from the precious stones, is the timber that you use. Can you describe to us the different parts of the timber? What happens with that? (Harvey) Sure. One of the things I really like about what I get to do is, I get to work with nature’s treasures. And building a guitar is I think, kind of an interesting thing because there’s three artists involved in every guitar. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) Mother Nature, (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) who is the ultimate artist, me, the guy who builds the guitar, and then it has to be in the hands of the person who can play it. So this is kind of one of the most common woods used for guitar making. It’s Indian Rosewood, and for the top wood, this wood be Sitka Spruce. (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) So probably half the guitars made in the world are either made out of Mahogany and Spruce, or Indian Rosewood and Spruce. (Graeme) But you’ve got some timbers here that are very, very specialised and very exclusive too. (Harvey) That’s correct. (Harvey) I almost never use these, (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) they’re too common I guess. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) This particular piece of wood here is a piece of Redwood,(Graeme) Yep. (Harvey) that came from a wine vat. You can hear this, the way it rings, resins, like a piece of glass. (Graeme) Yeah. (Graeme) That’s amazing. (Harvey) This is one of the most amazing woods out there and it’s very rare. There was only one tree obviously, (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) and it’s gotten down to there’s probably only a couple of hundred guitar sets left. (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) Last but not least here I have this piece of wood here (Graeme) Well this stuff, this is quite amazing. There’s a, there’s a story behind this that’s incredible. (Harvey) There is. This is probably the most highly sort after guitar wood in the world. And it’s a Mahogany that was cut down in the Chiquibul jungle in 1965, it was this huge tree. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) It rolled into this ravine, and sat in the ravine for I think about ten years. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) And then an American went down with a team of people and he went back and they dragged this tree out of the forest. They cut it into quarters and dragged it out of the forest. And when they got it out to the mill and cut it up, it had this incredible flamed pattern to it. Like I said we like the tap on stuff. This one doesn’t do it. (Graeme) Oh yeah, it is dense. (Harvey) The remarkable thing about it is, a guitar made out of this doesn’t sound like Mahogany, it sounds like Rosewood, so its very, it’s kind of like an added benefit to it. (Graeme) Even the grain in this, (Harvey) Yeah. (Graeme) if we can just look closely, this is not the normal grain of a tree is it? (Harvey) No. (Graeme) For whatever reason its done what its done. (Harvey) Right, I squirt a little alcohol on this and show you (Graeme) Yeah, lets have a look. Yeah, (Harvey) what this looks like. (Graeme) I’ll hold it and (Harvey) We’ll do both sides of it cause so we kind of hold (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) it just like this here (Graeme) Okay. (Graeme) Wow. Oh look at that, just the grain in this – it’s bazaar isn’t it? (Harvey) Yeah, it’s like a, it’s really like nothing – no other wood. (Graeme) But there’s another stage that we have to move onto. (Harvey) Correct. (Graeme) Okay. Alright. (Harvey) Okay, the next thing that happens is, I would take these two pieces of wood, and I would join the edges of them so that they’re smooth (Graeme) Aha. (Harvey) and I put them in this thing here. So typically this would be two pieces of wood; this is a back that has already been glued up. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) So it goes into this jig which basically what it does is you put this rope through there like this, (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) and I would do that on all three of these. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) And this little wedge goes in here, (Graeme) Oh, okay. (Harvey) and what it does is (Graeme) It really pushes it down. it holds the piece down (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) while clamping it together at the same time. (Graeme) Ah, I see what you’re doing there. Ah, that’s pretty cool, very cool. (Harvey) This is probably a couple of hundred years old this design, (Graeme) That’s fantastic. (Harvey) but it still works better than any other way that they’ve come up with. (Graeme) Absolutely. So from here where do we go? (Harvey) From there, the next step really, this wood gets sanded to the right thickness. (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) Some people scrape it but I sand it because I’m too lazy. These would be a pair aside right here. They’re cut out here to the basic rough shape of what I want to start with. (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) Well next I would take this piece of wood and I would want to bend it. Traditional they would bend these over a hot pipe, but fortunately we have this great, clever invention here, which is called a side bender. (Graeme) Yep. (Harvey) So what I would normally do is I would spray this piece of wood with water, and I would slide it into this fixture here like this. (Graeme) There you go. (Harvey) Turn it on; this would heat up. (Graeme) And then you’d push it down. If you can see guys, well that’s pretty well what it turns out to look like. (Harvey) Correct. (Graeme) once it’s been literally dried by the lights inside. And then we hook it up down to the bottom there. (Harvey) So this would go down like that. (Graeme) And it heats it and guess what? (Harvey) Look at that. Fifteen minutes later it’ll come out of there and it’ll be pretty much formed. I usually run it through a couple of times to make sure that it sets really well. Okay, for the next step we’ll take these bent pieces (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) and build a guitar out of them. The first step is I need to take the pieces and cut them to the right length to fit in the Jig. So this basically is a router with a flush trimmer on it. (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) And then we’ll run along these edges here (Graeme) Okay (Harvey) and trim the pieces off. (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) Once they’re trimmed off, the pieces are put into this Jig here (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) and the end locks are put in place so it attaches the two sides. And then this light colored wood you see in here is called lining or kurfing (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) and basically what it is is a piece of wood with a lot of little cuts in it so it’s very flexible. (Graeme) Look at that, it’s amazing. (Harvey) The guitar is actually a dome shape on the back (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) so it’s a dished form, and it’s actually sanded to that form. The braces are then glued in to that same curve, and then they’re placed into the guitar form. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) Okay, so the next step – we’re going to put a top on this. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) So over here I’ve got, it’s called a Go-bar Deck. These are basically sticks of wood (Graeme) They just sort of go in there under pressure do they? (Harvey) and they just kinda clamp underneath the top, and holds the bracing and everything in place (Graeme) Wow. (Harvey) while the glue dries. Once the guitar is all put together, I would have a guitar, I would have it here and I would use these routers, (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) and these have different baring so they cut depths. (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) So what I’m trying to do is cut a ledge right along the edge of the guitar here (Graeme) Oh, I see,I see, I see. (Harvey) for the binding to go on. We end up with here, here’s a completed guitar. You can hang onto this. It has the binding already on it and ah, so this is ready for finish now. The only thing left to do would be to make a neck. Here’s a kind of an example of a couple of necks that are in sequence. This would be a very beginning neck, and then you’d glue the fretboard on it. (Graeme) Wow. (Harvey) And finally you’d have a completed neck which would look like this. And it should basically (Graeme) Fit into there like so. (Harvey) It doesn’t actually go on this guitar but it gives you an idea of how the process would be done. (Graeme) Well part of the art of what you do apart from this magnificent craftsmanship, is to make these inlay stories and pictures. (Harvey) Correct. (Graeme) You know, you’ve got some fantastic clients as well that correct your work, I mean like major clients, major musicians as well (Harvey) Right. (Graeme) right across the United States. But I think the fascinating part about it is, is the inlay. So why don’t we go next door to your (Harvey) Okay. (Graeme) other area and have a look at what Harvey does, because it really is quite amazing. As I said it’ll blow you away. (Graeme) Okay Harvey, now we’re in the area where you do your inlay work, but you’ve got some of the materials that you use over there. So can you describe those to us please? (Harvey) Sure. Generally inlay work the most common material is the type of shell, either Abalone or Mother of Pearl or something like this. And this is basically what the shells looks like. So in Asia, they came up with a way to actually cut the shells very thin. This is about seven thousands of an inch thick. There was a man here in the united States who decided that well this is a veneer, just like a veneer that you’d find in wood. So what would happen if we took several of this veneer and glued several of them together, and created plywood basically. So this is a new material called Abalame. (Graeme) But you’ve also got some, is it Mammoth Tusk? (Harvey) This is actually prehistoric, fossilised Mammoth ivory. Very similar to elephant ivory, of course this is twenty-five thousand years old, not out of something that’s alive today. Another thing that I do is I use a lot of synthetic materials. One of the challenges of doing inlay work is as a painter you can take reds and blues and mix them together and your purple. Well you can’t do that with inlay work. But some of the other materials that I use, these are semi precious metals. This is ten carat gold; (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) this is silver. (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) This is actually nickel silver, and copper. (Graeme) Yep. (Harvey) These are basically corian, which is a counter top material. They have a lot of real stone textures to it, so a lot of the inlay work I do in fact some of the ones we’ll be seeing later we’re using these imitation stones. And then lastly, this is a new material that’s been created by the same people who, same guy who invented the abalam, and it’s actually a, I’m not sure how they do it; it’s using a foil. (Graeme) So from that there, I can see that you’ve got, it looks like a jewellers fretsaw of some sort. (Harvey) Right. (Graeme) So you’re going to give us a small demonstration today, as I said because your work just takes an extraordinarily long time to do. But you’re going to cut out a heart for us. Is that correct? (Harvey) Correct. (Graeme) And just show us how that’s done and then show us how you use the router to inlay into the timber as well. (Harvey) Okay. (Graeme) Well lets make a start on that then. (Harvey) First of all: the tools of ignorance. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) This is a jewellers saw. It has a blade in it that is very (Graeme) Very thin. (Harvey) This is a blade; you can’t see it but there’s a blade here – trust me. And it’s so flexible you can actually tie a knot in it. (Graeme) That’s amazing. (Harvey) But it’s basically a coping saw blade that’s very, very small. (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) And it’s mounted in this frame, and the tension of this of the blade is completely put in by applying pressure to it here. (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) Okay, so now the other, the real tool of ignorance, is this beautiful headlight which has a magnification on it here, and has lights. And it’s a good look I think, you know (Graeme) Yeah. Straight out of an ant colony. (Harvey) Yep (Graeme) Okay, so (Harvey) So basically I have a board here, there’s a hole cut in it (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) where the blade will go into that hole. I have a smaller hole here for cutting finer things. (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) So on this is a pattern, a piece of paper that has a heart on it. (Graeme) Yes. It’s a very slow process. It’s kind of a zen thing cause it’s a breathing process almost like you do five strokes, and then you blow the dust out of the way also. (Graeme) Yeah, yeah. (Harvey) Everyone says it keeps me breathing good. (Graeme) And the one that you did for CF Martin, which was sort of like the Da Vinci unplugged. That guitars worth a million dollars. (Harvey) That’s, that’s what they say; (Graeme) Wow. (Harvey) that was the value that they put on it. (Graeme) That’s unreal. (Harvey) And it’s in their museum so. (Graeme) And also there was a gentleman that actually helped you with that, and his name was Bob Haggett, and he is the leading scrimshaw artist in the world. (Harvey) Correct. Yeah, he’s up in Oregon, he’s just an amazing artist. We had wanted to work together on something for years, and finally we were presented with the opportunity of one point five million. Martin said yeah that’ll work, (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) one hundred and seventy years of worth of history. (Graeme) So you guys make a million dollar guitar – like wow. (Harvey) As I get close to the end here, I kinda slow down a little bit so it doesn’t chip out on the end. (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) There I’m done. Okay, so the piece’s cut out. (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) The next thing I do is I want to inlay into this piece of ebony right here. So what I do is hold it approximately where I want it to go. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) Right, with something really delicate I might actually glue it in place. I just want to cut in to the board a little bit. When I take it off there’ll be a cut there. Now you really can’t see that so what we do is we take and rub a little chalk in it. (Graeme) I see. (Harvey) You can see it better right here what I’m doing. (Graeme) Oh, there you go. How about that? (Harvey) The next thing is, this is a router that I use. It has a thirty thousand diameter router bit in it. (Harvey) Okay, that’s looking pretty good. (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) Slide that in there. (Graeme) Oh, look at that. And ready to go. So it’s (Harvey) The last thing I’m going to do is just put on a couple of drops of super glue in here around the edges. A lot of people think oh, you want to have a perfect join, but you really want to have a glue line so the wood when it expands and contracts it doesn’t crack the inlay itself. (Graeme) Of course, yes. (Harvey) And that’s basically a very basic inlay. This is about as basic as it gets. Um, what I do is obviously more advanced, but it’s just more advanced versions of doing this exact same thing over and over again. Smaller detail and putting inlays into inlays, you know so. (Graeme) Alright, well lets have a look at a bit more of that advanced (Harvey) Okay. (Graeme) stuff on your next table which is at the back of this room. Okay Harvey, now we’ve moved to the other section of your workshop, and this is where you really start to put these fantastic imaginitary pieces together. Now I’ll just hold this up because this is the only way you are going to get the idea of what this man does. Is that this is the actual dress of the Geisha, and Harvey actually is cutting each individual piece out. Now what actually is this that we’re using here. (Harvey) This is Mother of Pearl, (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) they’ve been cut into these little tiny triangles (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) and then they then dipped in a red dye. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) What I’m here is I’m remaking two guitars that I did originally, the Geisha and the Samurai guitar into one guitar. And it’s for a museum show that I’m doing for the musical museum in Arizona. So this is a bridge and this is just different kinds of wood that have been put in here to, some of them to show the underside of the boards. Some of them to show the sides of the boards. (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) I’m a little obsessed with detail. (Graeme) Yeah. (Harvey) You know, we were talking about the dress here and these little triangles. There’s twenty-eight hundred of them in this dress; that’s tedious at best. (Graeme) Sort of, kinda. (Harvey) Yeah, earlier I was talking about using some of the synthetic materials – the corian and counter top material, and that’s basically what this rock wall is. So this rock wall would go here like this. (Graeme) Yep. (Harvey) And this other rock wall would go over here. (Graeme) And you’ve also got another piece of clear material there, (Harvey) Right. (Graeme) and this is something that you alone have come up with (Harvey) Right. (Graeme) and I think it’s a bit of the envy of the other inlay folks. (Harvey) Yeah, it’s kind of, you know a lot of them have asked if they can use it, but a few of them were a little you know, disappointed they didn’t come up with it first, to put it lightly. The name for it came up as Smoke N Mirrors. The first inlays that I did for Martin was for recreation of a, these western scenes. And it was on a guitar that was made to debut with their one millionth guitar at a big trade show. And I wanted to do something special, so I came up with this idea and that guitar has an inlay of a bar scene on it, with a mirror in the background. So I used this to create the mirror and it also has a train on the headstock, which has smoke coming out of it. And the smoke from the train obscures the Martin name (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) you know, which has never been done before on a guitar so. One of the guys at Martin, Dick Dick Boak he coined the phrase smoke n mirrors and it has kind of stuck with it, as that’s what this technique has been called ever since. (Graeme) Yeah. Well this is Mother of Pearl. One of the unique characteristics of Mother of Pearl is that it’s rightly reflective and colorful, but you can also see through it. On certain angles you can see whatever’s behind it, so you can use this as a type of glass to lay over the surface of things. And it creates this cool Smoke N Mirrors effect, its kind of a holographic effect, and it’s kind of become my trademark to do. (Graeme) Well what we’re going to do, were going to put one of these tiny little starts together (Harvey) Correct. (Graeme) for one of the Geisha dresses. And as I said guys, if you wanted to sit with Harvey for the next probably year you’d be able to see how he puts all this together. But we’re just getting a brief glimpse into it today. So how do we go about doing that mate? (Harvey) Okay, well first thing I need to do is get my headset again, because I’ll need to be able to see what I’m doing. (Graeme) Okay. (Harvey) Okay, so what I’m going to do here is first just have to, each one of these triangles have to be alined with another one, and I put the superglue on in here. Pretty much the way inlays been done for you know, thousands of years. It’s just taking it to a new level of creating detail. So what I end up doing is I end up making six of these little things pointy here, (Graeme) Yes. (Harvey) and I’ll set those after inside here. We’ve glued up a couple of other ones here so they are assembled into this little guy here, (Graeme) Yep. (Harvey) and another one here like this. What I’m going to end up doing with this, I’m going to put together a couple of hundred of these things. I have to do the whole dress. (Graeme) I’d like to talk about two pieces, one from the past: the 911 guitar. (Harvey) Okay the 911 was guitar was commissioned by my brother to kind of commemorate that, and it depicts the three scenes from the three crash sites. (Graeme) And now for the future, and this without a doubt will be your masterpiece. And it’s going to take you probably a year or so to complete it. And that is a guitar that is based around Michelangelo’s the Sistine Chapel. (Harvey) Well I’ve done Da Vinci, so then I have to do Michelangelo – it’s only fair. My attempt will be to recreate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, inside on the back of the guitar. I’m going to cut the windows through the sides of the guitar. You can actually I can see through the sides of the guitar into the back to look at the inlays. (Graeme) How long do you think it’ll take you to do that? (Harvey) Probably a couple of years. (Graeme) Wow. And it’s incredible. And you can just see by the images we’re screening up now, how unbelievable this particular piece of work is going to be. Okay guys, fantastic day with an amazingly talented man. I’m just going to show you this beautiful piece of work before we go. As you can see, you can see this spectacular piece of timber. That was off that special tree wasn’t it?(Harvey) That’s ‘the’ tree. (Graeme) Yeah, and just those, those panels at the back is worth ten thousand dollars, just that panel isn’t it? (Harvey) Correct. (Graeme) That’s amazing. Now your website Harvey, is? (Harvey) It’s harvey leach inlays dot com (Graeme) And some of the people, you’ve had some fairly famous people buy your guitars. Some of them we can’t mention because they are too famous, (Harvey) That’s true. (Graeme) but some of the other guys? (Harvey) One of my first guys was Ray Clark, and Brad Paisley, has a couple of my guitars. So it’s a number of people like that, you know. (Graeme) And in saying that, you know you’ve got some really reasonably priced guitars as well. I mean (Harvey) Correct (Graeme) these really are works of art under any circumstances, when you create a guitar that’s worth a million dollars, you can understand that it really is a piece of art. But we’ve had a fantastic day bud, we’re going to move on. Once again, come and see Harvey if you would like to know more about these. Or come to colour in your life dot com dot au, and come and see us. Ah, Facebook page and YouTube as well. But Harv, thank you very much bud. (Harvey) Thank you. (Graeme) That was fantastic. And remember guys – until we see each other again: make sure you put some color in your life. And also make sure you put some inlay in your life as well. We’ll see you next time guys. Bye now. (Harvey) Right, thanks for stopping buy. (Graeme) Bye. (Harvey) Alright.