Historically, rosettes are an ornamental carving, arranged in a circular pattern. The designs of the rosette radiate outward from the center, creating a pattern similar to rose petals. On today's acoustic guitars, a decorative band around the guitar's sound hole, a remnant of the instrument's heritage, represents this rosette pattern.
Guitar sound hole rosettes originated during the medieval period, when full-detail rosettes were carved into the top wood piece of lutes and vihuelas. Incorporated as the as the sound hole of the instrument, this full rosette feature continued into the renaissance and baroque periods. It eventually became the most intricate on baroque guitars. Rosette examples of the period show a three-dimensional carving with descending layers into the guitar body. Eventually, sound hole rosettes evolved into a circular design around the guitar's sound hole, as open holes were acoustically louder.
The rosette survives as a relic of the guitar's beginnings. According to luthier Trevor Semple, "the rosette serves no acoustic purpose, but it is one of the most subtle and complicated of all woodworking decorations." Rosette decorative patterns are varied, and on fine, hand-made instruments, rosettes often serve as the luthier's signature.
The most common designs are normally multi-colored mosaics, not unlike tile designs. These styles evolved from decorations found on wooden objects of the eighteenth century, called Turnbridge Ware in England. While elaborate hand-made designs are found on high-quality guitars, many of today's guitar manufacturers opt for decal replicas to save money.
The process of inlaying rosettes around guitar sound holes is complex, and involves a series of small, colored blocks put together in a puzzle-like manner to create some stunning designs. Semple describes the process by first creating the rosette design on graph paper squares. Semple's block designs are 0.5 millimeters in size, cut from thin wooden "book blocks" Since guitar rosettes are circular in pattern, the individual blocks have to be tapered carefully to make the design work. Often times, diamond lozenges are implemented into the design, further complicating the process. After the design is inlaid into the guitar, the effects can be quite stunning.
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