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View Full Version : How to become a Luthier?



Eallend7
07-25-2010, 04:44 PM
Well, thats my question, i mean, i know there are some of you out there that make ukes at home or in a shop to sell, or as a business of your own, but for a guy just looking for an interesting hobby aside from just playing, how would one go about getting into "Luthier-ing", dont know the word :P

Keef
07-25-2010, 05:22 PM
This is an interesting question are luthies certifyed by some standard?

Eallend7
07-25-2010, 05:41 PM
I'd like to know, granted its probably years of trial and error, and i've seen kits that you can build your own ukulele with, but there are others that make them with just the raw material, thats what im wondering about.

bryanperk
07-25-2010, 08:20 PM
Yeah a lot of us build from raw materials, not just kits. That's an added challenge from the kit builds, and it makes it a lot more gratifying in my opinion

Pete Howlett
07-25-2010, 09:13 PM
Go to school, learn a trade like engineering or joinery/cabinet making, become apprenticed to a luthier, have a spouse/partner that works. If you look at all the good luthiers they have part or all of this in their background.

Brido
07-25-2010, 09:39 PM
I wanted lute, I had no idea how to make one and a kit was the cheapest way to go. So that is what I did, bought a kit and made it.
I then bought books about the instruments I wanted to make/ plans etc,
Then i made friends with other instrument makers.
After most of life time of what i might well call Lutherie, I have given it away and I am now a "hack" instrument maker, leave over wood, DIY ply, my own designs.... They are not works of art, but I am having fun and they don't sound "that bad" either. It is huge fun experimenting and not worrying that a sound board took you three days to carve! (etc)

So, do you want to have lovely Lutherie type, works of art instruments, (that probably sound nice too) then do the hard yards . Otherwise consider joining the hacks! Oh yes, have a look at Cigar Box Nation if you want to get into the making the easy way.

[Oh dear, I don't think i should have said that!]

erich@muttcrew.net
07-25-2010, 09:46 PM
Just a little trivia on the side: Until a few years ago the profession of Violin Maker (including guitars, ukes and other stringed instruments) was "protected" in Germany, and it still is in Austria. You had/have to go through several years of training and apprenticeship and then pass certification in order to call yourself a guitar maker or luthier or ukulele builder. For what it's worth that restriction has now been lifted in Germany, so anyone can now set up shop making and selling instruments.

For the ambitious autodidact that might sound good :nana: For the buyer :music: you have to wonder - all it says is Hand Made in Germany... ;)

farmerboy
07-25-2010, 10:02 PM
the answer seems to be to get a kit and get the hang of it, or do a course of course.

Allen
07-26-2010, 12:51 AM
Aside from being able to build an instrument, you have to know how to repair them. Know what will go wrong, why it does, and how best to carry out those repairs. That will make you a far better builder than someone who doesn't have that skill.

To start off with, it's easy. You're going to make mistakes building your own, and you'll need to learn by the seat of your pants on how to correct those mistakes and little disasters. After about 10 instruments you'll probably realise that you've really got a hell of a lot more to learn, and will either give up in disgust, or continue on with a passion, never truly being satisfied with what you've accomplished, and knowing that you can do better next time.

Timbuck
07-26-2010, 02:32 AM
Just... Obtain the "Scott Antes Plan" and some cheap wood and get the hardware bits from E-Bay.. and have go..like wot! I did 3 years ago:D....I scrapped the first two efforts and the 3rd one I managed to finished..I still have it, it's not very good but it plays in tune up to the 10th fret :eek: ..It's not very loud co's the tops not thin enough...the Auto laquer finish has now gone crazed for some reason but it still gets played a lot by the Family... I've made about a 100 since then, but no way would I call myself a Luthier.

thistle3585
07-26-2010, 03:13 AM
As a few others mentioned, get a book and start building. In regards to being a luthier, I think you'll know whether you are one or not. I am not a luthier and I think it would be insulting to my friends that are luthiers to call myself one. At the most, I will refer to myself as an instrument builder.

lindydanny
07-26-2010, 03:59 AM
There are several methods that I am aware of. Most of which have already been mentioned.

For me, I'm wanting to learn to do it, but I have a day job and a mortgage. So, taking long time classes or being an apprentice (especially at 30) isn't practical for me.

What I've chosen to do is take my love of woodworking and work a couple of projects into my shop. As time goes on and I get more skilled and experienced, maybe I could sell one or two. Hell, I could build one and sell it. There isn't anything saying I can't. There are just loads of "tricks" that are never covered in books that you either learn from someone or you learn by screwing up.

I would say the first step to being a luthier is to actually have some tools that would make it possible to build even a kit. If you are like me and already have a shop full of tools, then it is simply a matter of getting some specialized tools together. The trick here is that tools = $$$. And $$$ only seems to come with time. (Whatever you do, don't finance this stuff... You'll end up over your head in a hurry and having to sell all your stuff for half and still being in debt.)

~DB

Eallend7
07-26-2010, 05:29 AM
So, for a complete beginner, one would say to buy a kit? Any yes we do have a gratuitous amount of assorted tools around the basement, but im sure not as many specifically for woodworking or uke building, could anyone lay out for me a list of basic and specialized tools i would need? And any suggestions on a good kit? Soprano preferably? Or is there a difficulty scale on soprano concert tenor baritone? i heard soprano was hard somewhere, because of its size, any help is much appreciated! Thanks!
-E

mzuch
07-26-2010, 10:26 AM
E: I would recommend the Stew-Mac kit. Either soprano or tenor, whichever you prefer. I built one of each before going on to a scratch build (which I finished today. Hooray!). The Stew-Mac instructions include a good list of tools and materials you'll need. You can download a pdf here (http://www.stewmac.com/freeinfo/i-5348/i-5348.pdf). Also, I put together a blog of my tenor kit build, which you can find here (http://www.mzuch.blogspot.com/). Good luck!

Michael

thistle3585
07-26-2010, 10:50 AM
After thinking about it awhile, I think a kit is a great idea if you don't really understand how an instrument is assembled and/or you are more of a "hands on" learner. But, a kit is $100 and I think you'd be better off spending that money on tools and books. I guess it comes down to whether you are building an uke because you want a uke or you are building one because you want to learn to build ukes. Does that make sense?

With a $100 and the amount of videos and blogs on the internet there isn't really any reason that you couldn't do one from scratch.

Pete Howlett
07-26-2010, 11:14 AM
Yes there is Andrew - it's hard! Making musical instruments well is like any craft and I am not aware that doing a half decent job is a good starting point in any endeavor. As you can imagine, I get all sorts of enquiries about my kits and most I can't answer because they fall into the category of "Can I do it?" How I am supposed to the know the answer to that one is a mystery but people expect me to be able to tell 'em they can... Again - this is a craft which in the normal scheme of things is learnt by some form of mentoring. Few of us can afford to do it gull time, most do it part time. And believe you me, it has ever been thus with a few at the top of the pile and the rest off us scrabbling to get the table crumbs :)

Matt Clara
07-26-2010, 12:09 PM
There are luthiers, and then there are luthiers. By definition, anyone who repairs or builds stringed instruments is a luthier, but then, you wouldn't want just anyone working on your prized Martin. Unlike Andrew, I am unafraid to call myself a luthier--of the first sort (opposite the one you take your Martin to for repair). And I don't do repairs. :)

Instead of a kit, you might want to try your hand a building a cigar box ukulele. You can learn your basics there for next to nothing. That's the route I chose to pursue, and I've built several instruments now that perform correctly, and look kinda cool. I've got a long way to go before I'll be satisfied, though. But I'm having fun in the meantime, and I hope to sell a few to pay for the hobby. Just like I used to shoot weddings to pay for my camera gear, except I hated shooting weddings!

thistle3585
07-26-2010, 01:12 PM
I hear what you're saying about the conversations you have with your customers and I'm more inclined to tell people they are able to do it but can't say how well they will execute it. Yes, a mentor is ideal but that is pretty unrealistic for a lot of people.

In looking at the StewMac, kit which costs a bit more than $100, I'm thinking the only thing you are not doing is bending the sides, joining the top and back and carving the neck. Are those things worth $100? For me, they are not but that's because I came to the uke thing with some background in instrument building and had a sense of confidence in those areas. But, the first mandolin I built was from a kit, but I can't say that I really learned anything. It seemed more like model making then luthier.

mzuch
07-26-2010, 01:57 PM
In looking at the StewMac, kit which costs a bit more than $100, I'm thinking the only thing you are not doing is bending the sides, joining the top and back and carving the neck. Are those things worth $100?

Andrew, you've forgotten to include the cost of materials for a scratch build. For those of us building one instrument at a time, unjoined and un-thicknessed mahogany top back and sides cost about $50. Quartersawn mahogany for the neck another $25 or so. Soundhole rosette material, fretboard, fretwire, bridge, linings, bracing, nut and saddle, etc. add more $$. Not to mention cost of bending iron, circle-cutting jig and other tools not necessary for a Stew-Mac kit. For beginners, add the cost of an instructional book or two. That $100 for the kit seems like a pretty good bargain to me.

thistle3585
07-26-2010, 02:18 PM
Andrew, you've forgotten to include the cost of materials for a scratch build. For those of us building one instrument at a time, unjoined and un-thicknessed mahogany top back and sides cost about $50. Quartersawn mahogany for the neck another $25 or so. Soundhole rosette material, fretboard, fretwire, bridge, linings, bracing, nut and saddle, etc. add more $$. Not to mention cost of bending iron, circle-cutting jig and other tools not necessary for a Stew-Mac kit. For beginners, add the cost of an instructional book or two. That $100 for the kit seems like a pretty good bargain to me.

Yes, you are correct. I did not take materials into the equation.

Allen
07-26-2010, 10:56 PM
If you think that you are going to save some money by building your own instrument, I'd seriously reconsider.

It will cost you as much and most likely more to build your first several instruments than going out and purchasing a like quality instrument. But that's now saying that you shouldn't do it. No, in fact I whole heartily encourage anyone contemplating taking up the challenge to jump right in. Nothing like building something with your own hands, and enjoying the journey along the way. Sure beats sitting in the pub or in front of the TV.

Brido
07-26-2010, 11:28 PM
Here is my most recent finished hack. Great fun and seems as if it will be a good jazz instrument. Plywood and other DIY materials, but i did have some rosewood for the fingerboard left over. Here is the photobucket link of the pictures..
http://s239.photobucket.com/albums/ff260/Brido2/CF%20Uke%20wooden%20copy/

Matt Clara
07-27-2010, 01:02 AM
Andrew, you've forgotten to include the cost of materials for a scratch build. For those of us building one instrument at a time, unjoined and un-thicknessed mahogany top back and sides cost about $50. Quartersawn mahogany for the neck another $25 or so.

Not me, but then I'm not buying the best quality tonewood; instead, I buy quartersawn planks from a lumberyard and resaw them myself. $50 will get you enough wood for several ukes.

Keef
07-27-2010, 02:24 AM
with no disrespect intended
it looks like being a Luthier is like being a kung fu master
all you have to do to be one is say you are one
.
then your reputation and proof by results are what allows you to continue being one

lindydanny
07-27-2010, 03:25 AM
As far as your tools are concerned, don't worry too much about it. One thing I have learned when it comes to wood working: you never have the right or enough tools. There is always something out there that you "need" for a project.

~DB

thistle3585
07-27-2010, 04:56 AM
Not me, but then I'm not buying the best quality tonewood; instead, I buy quartersawn planks from a lumberyard and resaw them myself. $50 will get you enough wood for several ukes.

I agree. I did a little more math on this. 2 board foot of mahogany at $5.00 per board foot should give you enough wood for top, back, neck and blocks. That would be a 2x6x24. Rosewood fretboard slotted is $12.00. Bone nut and wood saddle $11.00, tuners $9.00, string $9.00, braces and lining $10.00. Fretwire $4.00. So, total would be $56.00. You could also take a short cut and get a fretted neck, tuners and nut from Mainland for $25.00. I'm not saying this is for everyone but its not out of reach.

Vic D
07-27-2010, 06:08 AM
A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. I wish there was a pill I could take to become a luthier, or some kind of anointing oil that you rub in twice a day for a month... but there's not. I've played guitar since I was 14, 30 years... and I still suck, so I figured I might try building them instead of shooting for the guitar hero job. What has helped me is all the info gleaned from the internet. Do check out Frank Ford and Frets.com, Kathy Matsushita, and all the luthiers/builders sites you can find with google. Do check out Pete Howlett and other luthiers on youtube. Of course, if you have the time and money, college is always a good bet. Just keep on keepin' on.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
07-27-2010, 06:50 AM
All costs considered, I figure it costs me an average of $300 to build a tenor uke.
BTW, I like the title Kung Fu Master.

maclay
07-27-2010, 07:46 PM
If your serious, I would suggest attending a luthier school. I attended the Roberto-Venn School of Luthirey. It is a 5 month program....880 hours and covers construction and repairs. Then i spent years studying under Master Luthier Rick Turner building guitars and ukuleles. Im guessing that you don't want to get that serious, but there are programs and classes offered at all levels.....years, months, weeks, or days. I even saw someone offering hourly classes at $30. Books and videos are great, but taking a course and having someone physically walk you through the process takes comprehension to another level. I would highly recommend school or an apprenticeship.

Jake Maclay
Hive Ukuleles
http://www.hiveukuleles.com/

Otis
08-17-2010, 06:31 AM
This is an interesting question are luthies certifyed by some standard?

I've been a cabinet maker since 1974, but I have only built 10 Ukuleles, I know a lot about wood, but I find these little insturments a lesson on every corner I turn, I think an honest man wouldn't think of himself as even starting to understand what he is doing for a least 100 built.

Pete Howlett
08-17-2010, 09:11 AM
It's why I call myself a ukulele builder - I think the term luthier is very lofty for such a humble craft. Yet like all crafts, is a lifetimes work of endless reptition to learn it.

Just as a matter of lexichography: he'd probably diagree but I wouldn't call Chuck a luthier - he is a master craftsman/artisan/artist/kitchen fitter...

Matt Clara
08-17-2010, 01:54 PM
If you build or repair stringed instruments, you are a luthier. (That's what the word means.) It has a French origin meaning "dude who builds lutes." (Translation mine.)

Keef
08-17-2010, 02:08 PM
It just like everything else their are those who do it and those who do it well and those who do it great :)