When did guitars first get fretboard inlays? Or were they a common feature on pre-guitar stringed instruments before the the guitar was formalised to the shape we now know and love?

Was there a specific guitar which first coined the common dot pattern seen on a fender (3rd 5th 7th and the 12th fret double dot)? Did this evolve through the years?

  • If you're going to vote down a question it is good form to leave a comment or a vote to help the OP improve, thanks. Mar 12, 2022 at 6:56

1 Answer 1


According to the Guitar Guru column "Guitar Inlays - All About Those Fretboard Markers" on ledgernote.com,

Inlays on the modern guitar find their roots ... in the historic companies of Fender and Gibson. (Retrieved 22 Jan 2022)

And furthering the idea that these were the first uses of guitar inlay for fret-marking is this item from "Why Are There Dots on Guitar Fretboards? All About Guitar Inlays and Markers" on GuitarGearFinder.com (27 July 2020).

Classical guitars traditionally don’t have fretboard markers. (Retrieved 22 Jan 2022)

Inlay was most certainly used on earlier stringed instruments, including guitar, but as decoration rather than as fret markers. As one example of many, here is a late 17th-century guitar with fretboard inlay. Once can see clearly that the inlay was not measured to correspond to the fret placement.

Giacomo (Jacob) Ertel guitar with elaborate inlay
(IMAGE SOURCE: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

  • Fingerboard markers were certainly in use long before Fender or Gibson came on the scene. This page shows several guitars with dot markings built by JG Stauffer or his son Anton as early as 1805. Here is another Stauffer style guitar from 1850.
    – user39614
    Jan 22, 2022 at 23:44
  • @exnihilo Well, that certainly answers the question of whether they were used earlier, if not whether or not they were commonly used. Are you writing up an answer, or should I update mine?
    – Aaron
    Jan 22, 2022 at 23:51
  • I don't know when they were first used, but this information does push that date back a bit from Gibson. I'm sure that there is someone who actually has an answer, there may even be an MP&T regular who knows. IAC, I'll leave it to someone else. If you want to update your answer that's fine with me; there are links to some decent images on the first linked page from my comment above.
    – user39614
    Jan 22, 2022 at 23:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.