Vine of Harmonics

Custom OMC Deluxe

Vine of Harmonics

Rosewood, Spruce, Ebony


Pushing The Limits


     Fascinated with the mathematical relationship between the harmonic locations of the strings, the fractional subdivisions of the scale length and the actual positioning of the frets, I decided to attempt to create an inlay pattern that bore some connection to these mystical relationships. I started with a piece of illustration board and demarcated Martin’s standard long scale string length of 25.44”, this being the compensated distance from the nut to the saddle. I divided this distance in half and made a small mark with my ink pen. Then I divided the string length in thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, eights, ninths, and so on, ad infinitum, each time making appropriate marks along the line of the string. Clusters of marks emerged near the primary harmonic locations at the 5th, 7th, 12th and 20th frets. Secondary clusters accumulated close to the 4th, 9th and 16th frets. Smaller patterns and clusters emerged in other areas, not seeming to bear much harmonic significance, but nevertheless closing the gaps. Projected lines from the primary clusters laterally helped to locate areas of the vine intersections, while the remaining projections became the terminations of branches weighted by my assessment of their significance. I came to call the inlay pattern that resulted the Vine of Harmonics.

     Having become close friends with inlay artist David Nichols, I was very aware of the difficulties in hand cutting pearl patterns. It seemed to me that bookmatched patterns might be cut from two slabs of shell glued together. The slabs could then be immersed in water to separate and unfold into the symmetrical design – twice the pattern for half the work!

     I suspected that such a pattern might be useful to slide guitar players, since the harmonic locations seem to lend themselves so well to traditional open-tuned slide techniques. Anxious to try the idea on a real guitar, I submitted specifications for a 12-string OMC Cutaway to the Martin Custom Shop and enlisted David Nichols to inlay a special fingerboard crowned with an ivory wishbone. It took nearly two decades, but gradually the pattern began to command attention, though no doubt not for the intended reasons.


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