by Scott Elliott
“I got my first subscription to Rock & Gem magazine as a birthday present from my mom and dad when I was 9 years old,” writes June Lapidary of the Month Scott Elliott, of Pocatello, Idaho. “Well, now I’m 49 and my only son is off to college. I spend my Sunday mornings as the praise band director at our little church and I go on one or two rock hunting trips with my dad and my son every year. Since my wife and I are recent empty-nesters, I decided to dive into a lapidary project that I’ve wanted to do for years: a stone inlay in a guitar.
“Of all the semiprecious stone on the earth, I love opal the most. In Spencer, Idaho, we just happen to have a famous opal mine that I’ve hunted with many friends, family members, and Scout troops on many occasions. Over the years, I’ve learned about the uniquely thin fire layers of most Spencer opal and about how creating triplets with a hard black backing, a layer of opal fire, and a quartz cap (polished to magnify the fire) is the most common way that people work with Idaho opal. Even though I’ve seen very few methods of working with this fragile stone, for this project I wanted to give the fire a unique look and make the stones look rugged in the mounting, with a high polish on the fire veins to let the colors sparkle against the distressed-wood background of the guitar.
“I started out by stripping down the guitar to bare, rough wood and covering up the electronics to keep them safe. After tracing the shape of the fish, I had the shape routed out to a depth of exactly ¼ inch. I then took rough chunks of Spencer opal in matrix and smoothed and polished various sections of the rock. Leaving the opal in its matrix of rhyolite and obsidian helped to maintain the rugged and natural contrast of the fire against the matrix. I put a slight dome on every piece and left a little matrix to the sides, back or ends of each polished piece to help give each segment its own character.
“After polishing each piece in its matrix, I used the fine-bladed trim saw to carefully trim the edges, depth, and lengths to puzzle-piece together the stones into the fish-shaped trough. After all the pieces were shaped to fill the trough perfectly, I removed the stones and finished painting and re-wiring the guitar. Even though I’ve worked with a wide variety of rocks for a long time, Spencer opal without the added integrity of the hard backing can be very frustrating to work with because it is so fragile.
“I airbrushed the ‘Sunburst’ blue pattern on the guitar. After re-wiring the electronics and re-installing the brass hardware, I seated the stone pieces into the fish routing using jeweler’s glue. To complete the instrument, I then added the guitar’s bridge, saddle, tailpiece and strings. I call it the ‘Blue Fish guitar’.
“I know this piece of lapidary is unorthodox, but it turned out exactly like I’d hoped, and it’s as beautiful to play as it is to see.”