- To decorate (wood, cloth etc.) with a border; to border.
- 1590: Purfled with gold of rich assay. — Spenser, The Faerie Queene
- 1885: there stood before him an honourable woman in a mantilla of Mosul silk, broidered with gold and bordered with brocade; her walking shoes were also purfled with gold and her hair floated in long plaits. — Sir Richard Burton, The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, vol. 1
Purfling is a narrow decorative wooden (sometimes abalone) strip inlaid into the top and (often) bottom plates of stringed instruments.
Usually purfling is a sandwich of two black strips with one white strip in the middle, measuring about .050"W x .080"D (1.25 mm x 2.00 mm), but other variations are sometimes used.
The earliest known example of purfling is on a violin made by Andrea Amati in 1564, now on display in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University. It consists of two outer strips of pearwood stained black and an inner strip of poplar.
In guitars and ukuleles, abalone shell may be inlaid in a thin iridescent line reminiscent of colored mother-of-pearl along the prominent edges of the instrument; however, synthetic or manufactured laminates like Abalam are sometimes used by luthiers and described as fake or faux. As Chinese luthiers become more prominent in the guitar scene, the term "shin paua" (meaning "new" or "ersatz") is occasionally seen. Paua is most strictly a highly-regulated fishery of New Zealand abalone, but in practice the term usually refers to a brightly-colored decorative laminate sparingly used in guitar purfling.
Inexpensive instruments sometimes have painted lines rather than purfling.
Authorities differ on the acoustic effects of purfling. The most often cited reason for its use is to stop cracks in the plate edge from extending past the purfling. Although some say that it reduces wear to the edge of the plate, this seems unlikely as the purfling is normally flush with the surface of the plates and is inset from their edges. The channel cut to inlay the purfling may increase the flexibility of the plates where they join the sides. As the violin, viola, cello, and string bass transmit the vibrations of the top plate to the back through the sound post rather than by flexing the sides as is done in the folk harp, there may be some advantages to controlled flexibility in this area.