View Full Version : But for the grace of God...

Pete Howlett
02-23-2011, 11:50 AM
If you want to find out why so few people in this business are full time read this (http://chantus.com/journal/).... William King's latest journal entry gives everyone pause for thought.

02-23-2011, 12:06 PM
Quote from Charles Dickens.."Mr Micawber explaining business to David Copperfield"

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness.:D:D Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.":(:(

02-23-2011, 12:36 PM
I saw William King's post as well, and it made me wonder if it's possible to find a sweet spot between one-offs and full production that can be profitable for a small operation. Specifically, I wonder how well Mya Moe is doing as they seem to combine small size (two people with the occasional guest as far as I can tell), quality, and prolific output.

02-23-2011, 03:22 PM
My father was a skilled woodworker but everything he ever made probably would have earned him $5/hour if he had sold it. He supported us with a corporate job and built beautiful art for the love of it. I've never been tempted to try to earn a living as a woodworker. But I admire the stuff I've seen by the professionals out there, and I admire their tenacity to be able to survive.

02-23-2011, 03:59 PM
I think it's very true that when something you enjoy as a hobby turns into your main source of income, it can become less of a pleasure and more of a chore because then you have to do it, on time and on schedule, instead of just when the mood strikes you to do it.

If you can do both, more power to ya!

02-23-2011, 05:00 PM
You know the one about the luthier who wins $10 million in the lottery? They asked him what he was going to do and he said, "keep making guitars and ukes till the money's all gone."

Sad, but not far from the truth...

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-23-2011, 05:14 PM
Or, How do you make a million dollars building ukuleles? Start with two million.

Seriously, if I had half a brain in my head and was as smart as Mr. King appears to be I wouldn't be building full time myself. From his blog:
"My current interests are focused on the design and programming of massively scalable information systems , programming of GPU/HPC based financial trading systems, the design and implementation of wireless ad-hoc mesh networks and Android application development."

I feel like Bud Abbot; I don't even know what that means! There must be money in it!

Mr. King is a fine builder and there will always be a demand for his work, perhaps even more so now. He'll do well in whatever field he is in (Have you seen his photography?) I wish him the best.

Pete Howlett
02-23-2011, 08:12 PM
Me too Chuck - just wish that an artisan skill wasn't such a curse. I have a friend who manufactures ukulele and he said - "Those big companies, Martin and Taylor aren't doing as well as you think" and just look at Collings - where is it turning to keep expanding? First archtop guitars, then mandolins, then electric guitars and now ukulele - 2 a day if we are to believe that NAMM clip. Just remember, when William King was the new thing, he had plenty of work. Now MyaMo comes along... this is not a gravy train that runs forever! I can remember the same happening to others who thought ukulele was the big thing. I have been trying to make money at this for 16 years and it still requires my wife who should have retired last year to work to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. My luthier friend said recently when I said you need $50K to start a business said, "More like $75K - and remember folks, this is money you DONT get back for a very long time...

In the famous words of Alvin Okami, "You don't see a Mercedes parked outside do you?". It's why many a famous UK furniture designer/builder also taught - there is no money in CRAFT! Stick to the day job if you have one.

02-23-2011, 08:59 PM
I get at least 1 and most years 3 people wanting to be apprenticed. They think that it's going to be a great way to make a heap of money doing something cool like building guitars. I'm usually patient enough to give them a bit of a math lesson and they all leave thinking they just dodged a bullet, and thankful that they won't make the mistake of going down this path.

Uncle Rod Higuchi
02-24-2011, 06:12 AM
What an eye-opener.

Thanks to all you ukulele luthiers out there making ends meet, or not.

Thanks for letting all of us be the beneficiaries of your craft (read 'hard work and sacrifices').

It's threads like these that enable some of us to get a glimpse into your world.

I hope the joy your craftsmanship brings to all who are fortunate enought to encounter it reverberates
and resonates in your creative being for a long time. I'm sure whenever one of your creations is revealed
from its case, not only is the owner's satisfaction rekindled, but your reputation gains another star in the
hearts and minds of all who witness it.

Keep up the good work Guys and Gals!

Yours, with great admiration,

02-24-2011, 06:38 AM
I've followed William's journal for a few years now, and he has hinted at turning lutherie back into a hobby. Assuming that he posts all his work onto his online journal, I've always wondered how this business could bring enough income to support a family given the low output he seems to have. William makes great instruments so it's too bad that he will not be doing this full time anymore. But good for him that he seems to have plenty to fall back on.

As a big fan of his work, I wish him the best in his future endeavors.

Dave Higham
02-24-2011, 12:35 PM
I'm retired, so I don't need to 'make a living'. I haven't made many instruments, but occasionally someone sees one and asks if I would make them one. I always say no, because it's my hobby, and I want it to stay that way.

02-24-2011, 02:29 PM
I went back to building spec instruments. Dealing with lists and customers was too much work and I was beginning to avoid going into the shop. Everything I build now is on my terms and occasionally I'll customize a work in process but I haven't taken a custom order for about nine months. I couldn't do it for a living and not really sure I'd want to try.

02-24-2011, 08:45 PM
Yes, I hope the day never comes that it stops being fun.

I really like doing commissions perhaps because all of those customers have been great to deal with and I love the challenge.

But spec instruments are really where it's at. When you can let your hair down and do something you've been itching to get a chance at. I'd say as well, that you end up getting a fair bit more instrument for the money when you get someones spec instrument, as they tend to do more without the expectation that they will fully realise payment for the time and effort involved. They did it for the love of the craft.

02-24-2011, 09:13 PM
I used to do pretty well as a professional woodworker, up until about two years ago. Cabinets, kitchens, entertainment centers, paneling, that sort of thing. I made a few instruments on the side, but didn't have much time for it, so things went pretty slowly. It's hard to produce anything fast when all you have is nights and weekends, and I have two kids with all of their activities to deal with as well. Now, I am sorry to say, I have a lot more time for lutherie and a lot less money. It is better than doing nothing at all, and puts my skills to good use. I'm sure I make a tenth of what I used to, and thank God my wife works or we'd be in the soup line for sure by now.