Our Story

Pearl Works was founded out of a desire to combine our shared loves of music & inlay artistry.

Jean remembers Larry telling her he wanted to build a shop in the basement. Little did she know this would involve an expanded foundation, a removable outer wall, the installation of a T1 line, an advanced computer network, tons of new machinery, materials, and equipment.

“Larry Sifel was a visionary in the music industry. I remember very clearly the day he came to our factory, took me to lunch, and carefully explained that he was going to take inlay into the 21st century. There was a lot of detail to his plan, but at its core was the intention for inlay to be cut by a CNC machine instead of by hand. I said, "OK, I'm in," and we started business with him. It played out almost exactly as he envisioned, and there's not a month that goes by that we don't take for granted something he did.”

— Paul Reed Smith, PRS Guitars

Larry was prone to thinking big. Above this new shop he would soon add a sundeck designed in the shape of an acoustic guitar. Only his contractor could convince Larry to do without the headstock fearing it might extend onto the lush Amish farmland surrounding the property.

To this day Larry’s shop looks amazingly as it always did complete with the CNC machines, sander, drafting table, computers, and tools among the other items Larry and his early compatriots employed in the course of furthering their expertise.

The Pearl Works professionals carrying on this tradition of inlay excellence today, find inspiration in the return visits they continue to make to the “South Shop”. Many of the photos found throughout this web site were taken in a makeshift studio set up here for these purposes.


Larry Sifel: Genius, vision, and determination

Larry’s father John, a machinist, advised his son that he would never make a decent living working with his hands. Yet it seems all Larry ever did was work with his hands. He made beautiful jewelry boxes. He built guitars, a banjo, a wedding chuppah, ornaments and more.

One of Larry Sifel's banjos

Larry always had a keen interest in machinery, electronics, technology, computers and software. He loved to tinker and to test the limits of the equipment and materials he worked with. Larry had a bit of mad scientist in him, and his basement shop was part laboratory and testing grounds.

In time, Larry’s father and his mother Irene would help him make an even more aggressive go of it on his own. Larry and Jean worked seemingly endless hours. He sometimes chastised Jean for going to bed and leaving him to work alone, even if it was three o’clock in the morning.

Larry worked hard, he endured endless failures and disappointments, yet he had the grit, determination and confidence to continue and persevere. The work never ended down in that basement, folks were coming and going at all hours of the day and night.

Larry’s ambition and expertise led to steady growth. Pearl Works would require an expanded facility to meet the growing demands of clients. Jean and Larry purchased a parcel of land not far away in Charlotte Hall and soon enough a spacious new factory was erected.

Larry Sifel and crew working on the first PRS Dragon guitars

“Larry Sifel completely changed the inlay universe by figuring out how to do this work by CNC. But what I can never forget is the joy it was to work with him. Larry spent two full years, working solo, devising techniques to do my style of complex inlay and engraving on a headstock and radiused fretboard by computer. We put my design and his techniques together on a special edition for Martin.”

— Grit Laskin, Luthier and Inlay Artist

On the wall inside Jean’s office hangs a framed letter from President Clinton on White House stationary addressed to Larry and dated June 11, 1999, congratulating Larry, his family and the entire Pearl Works team for this achievement. You can bet Larry got a kick out of that letter.  

The number of CNC machines expanded. The incorporation, understanding, and mastery of new shell laminates and alternative inlay materials continued. Production techniques were developed to accommodate the ambitions of clients and designers. Larry loved a challenge.

Even as the operation expanded and the use of modern technology led to increased output and even finer precision, Larry and his associates continued to work with their hands. Larry forged a new marriage of craftsmanship and technology to expand the universe of what is possible with inlay.

Larry was ahead of his time in so many ways and yet he kept good company. He was happy to share new discoveries and developments with fellow luthiers and inlay artists. The mark he left upon Pearl Works, indeed the mark Larry left upon the industry is profound and lasting.

Larry Sifel with one of his creations

It is an honor and a privilege to carry on the great work Larry gave life to. It is a thrill to enjoy continued relations as we do with so many of the clients, partners, suppliers, artists, performers, and friends that Larry came to know and serve so well along the way.

Larry Sifel was so much more than simply “the arms maker to the peace movement.” 

Working on a C.F. Martin D-100 Acoustic


Still chasing the last thousandth

Jean Sifel remains steadfast in her commitment to Pearl Works staff, clients, and partners. Jean is likewise committed to her husband, determined as she is that the spirit of excellence Larry gave rise to should carry on and the company he founded maintain a leadership position and prosper.

Ben Sifel, Larry and Jean’s son, graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore in May of 2013 with a degree in Graphic Design. Ben was kind enough to design and contribute the simple yet elegant Pearl Works graphic we employ as the company logo.

While each member of the Pearl Works team claims an area of particular interest and expertise, the staff remains a nimble and resourceful group, each serving in numerous ways, efficiently adapting to satisfy the changing rhythms and demands of the clients and industries we serve.

Quality remains job number one at Pearl Works, same as it ever was. Members of the team continue to hold one another accountable to the standard of excellence Larry first established all those years ago. Quality, precision, consistency, and service; it all adds up to excellence.

Our aim in the coming years is to further expand our work throughout the guitar industry and beyond, serving the design, inlay, and production needs of our clients with the reliability they have come to expect. We are always interested in new collaborations that enable us to share, showcase, and expand upon our years of inlay expertise and understanding.

PEARL WORKS TODAY

We are a dedicated team of inlay artisans with decades of experience.

“Larry Sifel absolutely loved music, nature and people. He was a totally brilliant person that was more interested in achieving things with other people than necessarily on his own. He was a true part of the flowing river of music and art.”

— Joe Knaggs, Luthier

Mike Byle in Pearl Works shop