Luthiery - Jemsite
Tech: Setup, Repairs and Mods Guitar workbench discussion such as setup, repairs, mods, installing new parts and more.

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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old 10-28-2003, 07:39 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Nr. Liverpool, UK
Posts: 868

Hey everyone. This topic could change the rest of my life so anyone who has anything to say on the subject, wether it be good or bad please voice your opinions
Im sixteen and am currently in college studying maths, physics, geography and systems (electronics) after achieving excellent results (if i do say so myself ) in my GCSEs. College is ok but I am finding the work laborious and if anything, too easy and so am considering a career path adjustment.
Like most of the people on this forum I love my guitar, and anything assosiated with it, and also am a keen and quite compitant woodworker and I am considering combining the two and taking up luthiery; and I have a number of options at this point. I could;

a) stick at college untill the end of the year and see what I feel like then.
b) start to teach myslef luthiery in my spare time and continue college untill the end of next year.
c) leave college now and get a 9-5 job, and study luthiery in my spare time
d) leave college now and go to the school of luthiery in dorset for 3 months and get proffesionally trained (expensive, very very expensive)

At the moment I am very confused as I am not getting the enjoyment out of learning that I got in school and dont know quite what to do. Do you think the UK needs a luthier in touch with "our sort of playing"? as If I did take it up I would be building modern guitars and also extreme guitars (I allready have someone interested in a 10-string as a "show guitar" for my company) and I feel the UK market could benifit from sucha service. Another buisness idea I have had is to combine my luthiery shop with a modern guitar shop stocking top of the range stuff (I hate the lack of quality gear in UK music shops at the moment) such as jackson, ibanez, mesa etc...
As far as I know the UK has no such thing like it (the workshop of the guitar shop itself) and so I feel I could take advantage of the neiche in the market. what do you think?
So the questions I put to you are... what do you think I should do now? If I were to set up shop, would you buy from me? to any luthiers or guitar shop owners out did you get into the buisness? and how do you feel I would do as a new-starter? Please fellas, say what you feel, dont hold back because I need to have some sound advice to base my decisions upon. thanks

-better shred than dead-ANDY
Jammy is offline  
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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old 10-28-2003, 01:51 PM
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: California
Posts: 1,895
I did exactly what you want to do, and I can tell you what was right and wrong with it. I was building guitars at 16, and I was recruited right out of school to a large guitar manufacturer for R&D, marketing, sales, and to build custom instruments. I don't regret it, because I felt like I started my life's goal sooner than others did by bypassing useless schooling. I was very self motivated to learn and hone my skills. I am very good now, and have been for quite some time. Let me tell you what the environment is like for me where I live. You are either a hack, who does poor work cheaply, or you are good, but you still have to limit your price to be competitive with the hacks. Or, in my case, I have had to limit not only the number but also the type of people I deal with. I am very selective of my clients because I don't do what other techs/builders do. But I couldn't have gotten here without working among the former two categories for a long time.

To make a name and money, and to hone your skills, you will have to do service work for awhile. That's why I didn't speak directly to "luthierie". You can't ignore the repairs and go straight to building, because by doing service work, you see what other manufacturers to incorrectly. And you'll see, to the smallest detail, what you must do differently. There are too many things that aren't in any of the books or videos I've seen. I worked with someone who went to luthierie school and only received a basic knowledge of guitar construction, with no development of his eye, or motor skills to go right into regular building or repairing. It takes time.

Also without a degree, but with a wife and child, my situation is very limited now. It's been difficult to balance making money to support a family with my love of luthierie. If I had a degree, I could make a high level income, provide for my family, with time to spare for luthierie. So I had to do things outside of college to gain the education and licenses to do what I do in the financial industry now to "provide for the family". As it stands, I can't see getting back into full time luthierie and ever making the $90-130k per year that you need to really do right by a family in these parts. I mean provide a nice lifestyle, savings for college, savings for retirement, etc. And those are things that I want to do-even more fervently than build yet another guitar. So my life as a luthier who has time now to build what I want and for whom, would still have been improved by the presence of a degree.

Stay in school, poke around with guitar repair and building, and learn business and finance. Those things are infinitely more important than your skills as a luthier. If, by the time you're in your 20's you have looked at business models and you think you can make a living doing it, have at it. But you need something to fall back on. None of us knows how children age 8 and under will feel about wooden guitars. Technology is changing so fast that a Parker Fly concept, that is, just mold the guitar as one piece on an assembly line could make that generation happy, even though this one prefers luthier built wooden instruments. The electric guitar is only 60 years old for crying out loud! Would you build a career with that kind of track record without knowing you could do something else if you had to?

I've been guilty of long posts in the past, but this is a serious enough topic to warrant it. Forgive me if it's harsh, but you're better being safe than sorry. Others may say follow your dreams and don't listen to nay-sayers. I agree with that philosophically, but I think finishing school, and getting an education in the raw science AND business of guitar making is all part of that dream. I jumped the gun. I went early because I was good, and the opportunities were being thrown at me. And although I don't have any regrets, I am paying the price for it now.
frankfalbo is offline  
post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old 10-28-2003, 02:49 PM
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Canada
Posts: 4,215
This is reassuring. Thanks for the reality check, Frank!

I got the luthiery bug back in high school as well, and built my first guitar at age 17. That was easily the most rewarding experience of my life. But i continued along my career path and went to university and have now been working as a graphic designer for nearly 10 years.

I think i have a pretty well-developed eye and have no shortage of ideas for particular designs i want to create, and i've been amassing a pretty extensive knowledge of what makes a good guitar as far as specs, woods, electronics, etc. I'm sickened by the horrible, mis-proportioned and downright weird designs you see on the student pages at well-known schools like Roberto-Venn... they may be good at teaching the skills, but they suck at teaching design.

My desire to build guitars is still strong, 15 years after building my first. However, i'm currently limited by 1) not having the time to do it; and 2) not having the money or the space for a workshop.

My time management is flexible up to a point, but i tend to over-extend myself. I'm working out of town a lot these days, and i also teach and play in a band in addition to my regular "day job" working for a large technology consulting company. But in the next 10 years i'm hoping to transition to more independent work, allowing me a bit more time flexibility.

The space issues are a bit tougher. I live in a big city where i would need much higher household income to be able to afford a house with enough space for a decent-sized workshop. Eventually we may move out of the city just to get more space we can afford, but i'm not ready for that yet. My partner is halfway through her apprenticeship to become a master carpenter, so eventually a workshop will be a necessity for her... i'll just have a little corner in there where i can do my stuff.

As much as i would love to retire from the rat race and build guitars full-time, there are only a few elite luthiers in Canada who have built strong enough international reputations that they can pursue their craft full-time. And they've probably had similar career paths to Frank's.

I mainly want to build guitars for myself and for people i know. If they like them and it grows from there, that's be awesome. But for now, my dream is just to be able to build a few guitars exactly as i envision them. Eventually i'd like to take a course just to get a few more of the fundamentals under my belt and get a couple of protoype instruments going so i can continue to refine my ideas.
darren wilson is offline  

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