Guitar Heroes

Pearl Works might just be the state’s biggest little company.

By Amy Mulvihill - September 2015

Guitar Heroes

Pearl Works might just be the state’s biggest little company.

By Amy Mulvihill - September 2015

Bill Seymour and Jean Sifel in the Pearl Works studio. -Photography by Mitro Hood

Located deep in the heart of Southern Maryland, Pearl Works must be one of the state’s best-kept secrets.

Founded by Baltimore native Larry Sifel—a sort of hippie mad genius, who died of a heart attack in 2006—the company specializes in delicate inlay work. Using shell, pearl, gold, and other natural and synthetic materials, Pearl Works artisans create exquisite designs that have embellished everything from custom furniture to headphones. But the company’s bread and butter has always been guitars and other stringed instruments.

“Larry pioneered the use of computer technology to cut shell,” explains Pearl Works new president Bill Seymour, a friend of Sifel’s. “He was also a luthier, and he very quickly began to apply this expertise to his own acoustics.”

Soon, industry giants ranging from Maryland’s own Paul Reed Smith Guitars to the venerable C.F. Martin & Company wanted to collaborate. The company’s inlays are everywhere—as in the mother-of-pearl insignia of Texas on the fretboard of Martin’s signature Willie Nelson acoustic guitars or the elaborate abalone, ivory, and mother-of-pearl serpents created for Paul Reed Smith’s famous dragon-imprinted electric axes.

Though very successful, the 12-employee company has kept a low profile since its inception in the early ’90s. But Seymour sees that changing.

“Several years ago, you would have had trouble finding out about the company. There was little or no effort to reach out,” he says.

Now, the Charlotte Hall factory is undergoing renovations to add curb appeal and accepts visitors by appointment. Plus, Sifel’s son, Ben, a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate, designed the current Pearl Works logo and led efforts to create the company’s website.

But in most ways, Sifel—who, as a luthier, considered himself “the arms maker to the peace movement”—is still the company’s guiding force. In fact, Pearl Works just collaborated with Greensboro, MD-based guitar-maker Joe Knaggs on a commemorative “Night Sky” acoustic guitar for Sifel.

“I can feel Larry’s presence in the shop," says Sifel's widow, Jean. "His spirit is alive and well in the work we continue to do in his memory and honor.”

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Bill Seymour and Jean Sifel in the Pearl Works studio. -Photography by Mitro Hood

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