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  1. #1

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    Hello!

    TL;DR - How can I find a luthier or anyone really to learn from whether it's making guitars or violins or mandolins. I just want to learn how to use these hands to create. I don't have any experience with wood working though.

    [The Long Version:]
    For the first few years playing guitar I just thought every guitar was the same. I didn't know the difference between guitar bodies or anything. I basically went 7 years just playing whatever I could get my hands on.

    Then I joined the military and I had actual money to spend and I needed a new guitar as I donated my previous ones to friends who wanted to learn guitar. The first guitar I got was a big baby taylor. It had a solid top with laminate sides and back. I was astonished by how beautiful it was. By how different it seemed from any other dreadnoughts I had ever played. I And then I started learning about different body types of acoustic guitars, different woods and qualities, different companies who made guitars differently. I began to read their stories and discover their methods. Watch documentaries about their factories. I got my first solid wood guitar about 6 months after that. Different body shape. An OM. I got it because I wanted to feel the difference in build, to smell the wood (one of my favorite parts, really), and to just admire the piece of work. Needless to say, it was the best guitar I had ever played. Not at first, no. I didn't hate it. But the more I played it, the more I searched for the sound that those woods created, the more I wanted to know more. So began watching luthier documentaries and reading a lot about luthiery. And then I got my first archtop. It's not the best quality. I've seen better quality in other guitars. Even though it's solid wood, has a pretty nice sound, even sounds great plugged in I knew I needed to feel something better. I spend a lot of time looking at the guitars I have, examining them. Looking beyond the wood, researching the makers and their methods. I have an Eastman on the way, which I can't way to examine.

    I know it's unrealistic to think that I'm going to make a guitar even within the next 5 years. My job won't allow time for it. Tools are mega expensive. But I will say that I want this eastman to be the last company built guitar that I own. I want to have one handmade or even better FINALLY make one for myself one day. I yearn to know more. I need to know more. But I don't really have any woodworking experience. I love working with my hands though. LOVE it. I love the smell of wood. I love the feeling of creating something.

    Are apprenticeships still a thing? I'd love to find someone who I can learn about guitar making from. Even if they don't let me touch anything, I just need to learn more. ESPECIALLY about archtops. I love their shape and the building methods for them. It's so interesting.

    Questions: Is it common for a luthier to allow someone to learn under them? For those on this site, what do you usually charge someone to teach them? Of course, I'm sure most (if not all) of you are nowhere near New Orleans, but it'd be cool if one of your were. Is there any such school or anything like that to learn the art? Even if I'm not making guitar, maybe making violins or mandolins or anything. Any way that I could learn I would love to learn as much as I could. I guess the only thing I really have to offer is that I'm an empty vessel, so I don't have my own bad techniques or habits that I've spent years and years building up to be too spiteful to kick.

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  3. #2

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    Are you familiar with the Guild of American Luthiers? Guild of American Luthiers - Guild of American Luthiers

    Not sure if/when it would make sense to join as a member, but maybe poking around their site can give you some direction
    (I'm not a luthier, but have been a featured performer at a number of their conventions)

    Best Wiskes,

    PK

  4. #3

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    I suggest you have a look at some of the luthier specific forums, like mimf.com and luthiersforum.com. You don't need to formally apprentice to learn to build guitars for yourself. I used to be a part of a great luthier program at a community college that ran for about 30 years (until feckless administrators shut it down). I don't know of other public options, but there might be some. There are good books, and endless online resources.

    As far as building as a profession, or to sell instruments as a business, that is a much taller order. Watch Youtube, join a maker's club, or a woodworker's club and you will find out that there are literally thousands of people hoping to make guitars and sell them. Some amateur builders are very, very good. I had a couple of students build guitars on par with the absolute best $20K celebrity built guitars --and not be able to give them away. There is simply no market for unknown boutique builders.

    The economics of building today are very different from the fifties or even eighties. Starting back then the field was relatively open and you had a chance. Today, China can sell hundreds of THOUSANDS of guitars for less than it costs you to buy the raw materials. If you pencil out a business plan, given the costs of materials, hours of work, equipment required, marketing, etc., you would be hard pressed to make a living off of guitars unless you can sell them for about $3,500 and find a market for as many guitars as you can make (talking hollow body guitars, not solid bodied). It takes selling them for closer to $6,000 if you want any breathing room. How many people are willing to shell out that kind of money for an unknown maker? In any case, most people are buying brands, not functioning tools for making music. As an analogy: there might be a young genius unknown watch maker in Zurich today making tiny works of art, but no one buys a Rolex because it keeps better time. They buy a Rolex because it says "Rolex". I know there are a lot of people who will take offense at this, but a large segment of the market buys "Gibson" or "PRS" for the same reason.

    I've been building guitars for twenty years. I long ago stopped playing factory made guitars. I build them to be what I want. For example, I've been playing a thin line full hollow single cutaway guitar with a 1-7/8" nut and 25" scale length. I could never have bought that. I occasionally build for other people. I have sold a few over the years to players I know, or friends of friends. But even if I worked full time, I could never build more than two dozen guitars a year. There is simply not enough hours in the day. There is about $500-$700 in each guitar I build, depending on pickups and other hardware choices. If I pay someone else to do the finishing, there goes another $500. Killing myself (and 24 archtops a year would be killing myself), I might clear $50,000 at the lower end of my price scale. That's assuming that somehow I find a market for 24 archtops a year without any time or budget for marketing. I've paid receptionists more than that.

    I love building, and will probably never stop. I have ideas for a new guitar that I'm working on right now. I also get huge satisfaction at having other people play my guitars. But I wouldn't recommend devoting yourself to an apprenticeship thinking your are going to make a living doing this.

    At least not if you live in the US. Maybe this is still possible in places like Spain or ...?

  5. #4

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    Michigan has a school of guitar building: Galloup School of Guitar Building and Professional Guitar Repair Galloup School — Galloup Guitars

    Maybe there is something like that closer to you?

  6. #5
    Thank you all so much for your answers and information.

    To @rlrhett, I'm not expecting to make a living out of it. Not at all. The apprenticeship isn't really to be able to make a living out of it, but rather to spend time learning a craft. Learning. That's what I like to do. Learn, create, and hopefully pass off what I learn to others. More importantly, be able to hopefully build a guitar for myself. And for my friends if they'd like. I really just want to learn the right way is all.

  7. #6

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    In that case, have you seen fellow forumite's first build thread:

    First-timer Archtop Build

    He made this from just the Benedetto book. It is definitely doable, and as the OP in that thread probably knows by now it is all about just getting out and building. You will be proud of guitars #1, #5, and #20. The first is a huge sense of accomplishment, but you will have a lot of "doh" moments. The fifth is when you feel like you are starting to understand how these things go together. The twentieth is where you start to feel like you have "your" guitar, and not just following some other luthier's instructions.

    If you really want to build right, and have the scratch, there are several luthiers who give mini-courses on guitar building. I don't know of anyone doing an arch top specific course, but general acoustic courses are all over. For example, I've had some positive interactions with Robbie O'Brien in Colorado and hear his course is great:

    Teaching • O'Brien Guitars

    StewMac (a luthier supply company) has a pretty good list of schools and learning programs:

    Lutherie Schools List | stewmac.com

    Good luck, and watch out! It is almost as addictive as playing the damn things!

  8. #7

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    Having grown up with, lived with, played with, represented and befriended a couple dozen luthiers -- medium and small, 'famous' and unknown -- and having apprenticed to Froc Filipetti and Ron Bolduc in the early 80s and worked for a couple of years as a guitar-store bench-hack, my observations are:

    a) Many people are excellent at their work but find running a small business to be an endless, tedious chore.

    b) At best working in a musical instrument factory is a really cool factory job. The slope tilts steeply down from that.

    c) Luthiers fall all across the spectrum between hermetic bridge-trolls and upright, engaging people, but their median is shifted far toward the hermetic bridge-troll end of the curve. The proportion of Gary Uptons and Jon Coopers is small compared to the number of bridge-troll types.

    In sum, becoming a professional luthier is like becoming a deeply-engaged jazz player: It's something you do because you have a calling -- if you're going to be true to yourself you don't really have a choice.
    Last edited by Sam Sherry; 05-16-2020 at 09:58 PM.

  9. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by rlrhett
    In that case, have you seen fellow forumite's first build thread:

    First-timer Archtop Build

    He made this from just the Benedetto book. It is definitely doable, and as the OP in that thread probably knows by now it is all about just getting out and building. You will be proud of guitars #1, #5, and #20. The first is a huge sense of accomplishment, but you will have a lot of "doh" moments. The fifth is when you feel like you are starting to understand how these things go together. The twentieth is where you start to feel like you have "your" guitar, and not just following some other luthier's instructions.

    If you really want to build right, and have the scratch, there are several luthiers who give mini-courses on guitar building. I don't know of anyone doing an arch top specific course, but general acoustic courses are all over. For example, I've had some positive interactions with Robbie O'Brien in Colorado and hear his course is great:

    Teaching • O'Brien Guitars

    StewMac (a luthier supply company) has a pretty good list of schools and learning programs:

    Lutherie Schools List | stewmac.com

    Good luck, and watch out! It is almost as addictive as playing the damn things!
    Brilliantly encouraging, this is. Thank you so much. You have no idea how much this post inspired me. I know it's just a small gesture of good faith, but thank you for pointing me in the right direction.

  10. #9

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    I would suggest that the best thing that you can do right now is take an introductory woodworking course.

    Getting comfortable with chisels and planes, learning the basics and safe use of power tools, and especially learning how to sharpen (!!) are invaluable skills no matter what you end up doing in terms of instrument building.

  11. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Jehu
    I would suggest that the best thing that you can do right now is take an introductory woodworking course.

    Getting comfortable with chisels and planes, learning the basics and safe use of power tools, and especially learning how to sharpen (!!) are invaluable skills no matter what you end up doing in terms of instrument building.
    Will do! How much do intro woodworking classes usually cost?

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by broturtel
    Will do! How much do intro woodworking classes usually cost?
    It really varies quite widely, but take a look at what is near you. In the southern US you shouldn't have to look too far. There's no need to go to Waters & Acland to learn how to sharpen a plane iron.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by broturtel
    Will do! How much do intro woodworking classes usually cost?
    Guitar building can be a bit esoteric, but general woodworking is usually available for very little cost at local community colleges and adult education programs. If you don't have any woodworking experience, that certainly would be the place to start --and not a bad place to start at that. Woodworking can be quite enjoyable in its own right. Actually making something, anything, with my hands when I first started building was a huge tonic to a young lawyer who usually had his hands occupied sticking his fingers in dykes for other people.

    I would suggest getting a little fluency in three areas: 1) Proper use of hand tools, 2) Use of standard power tools such as a table saw, band saw, router, and drill press, 3) How to apply a finish. The actual guitar building you can learn on your own if you possess basic woodworking skills. It's more fun to learn from a master, but not strictly necessary.