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Pete Howlett
12-23-2011, 10:48 AM
I want to start a serious dialogue with luthiers here.

By now you will know I don't pull any punches. This often goes down poorly because saying it as it is or as I see it is raw, uncomfortable and often considered rude. Many will ascribe unseen motives to such 'critical review' where there is none and some will see it as petulence, jealousy or mean spiritedness. And yet, scientists and artists regularly submit their work for the most ruthless criticism by their peers. Is there something we are missing here when we cannot objectively talk about each others' work without dancing around the piece or walking on eggshells? It's the elephant in the room isn't it? Our inability to critique each others' work for fear of offending. And by the same token, taking offense when none is intended.

I mean this for peer to peer situations. Gifted amateurs and all you great go-for-it guys should be beyond such comparisons since you inhabit a world which us professionals can only look at in wonder because what you do, in essence, doesn't impact on your 'reputation' and therefore you are often the greatest risk takers.

So I ask - Is there a place for honest peer review in our world? Or am I being simply a troll? Harsh criticism nearly destoryed one of my early mentors - Peter Sensier back in the 70's so that he stopped publishing his ideas about building and instruments - As part of the performing team Dorita y Pepe, he was first in the then unkown phenomonem of 'world music' and built the strangest instruments - but they were loud and strong...

0011000011001
12-23-2011, 11:10 AM
Honestly, I think people need to grow a thicker skin and stop being offended at the small things! So what if you're offended? Nothing happens when you're offended! People needa learn to deal with criticism!

ProfChris
12-23-2011, 11:24 AM
I work in academia where peer review of our productions (writings) is the norm.

There are two different levels: First drafts, where the review is private as between me, the reviewers and the journal editors. This is feedback to allow me to fix problems/improve the product. Published work, the second level, is fair game, and reviews can be opinionated, sometimes harsh, occasionally unfair. But the only readers of the reviews are others in the same game, so we know about feuds, reviewer prejudices and so on. So far as I know our "customers" (students and, in my case, practising lawyers) never read the reviews.

The problem I think you face is that peer review works well when it stays within the community of producers and reviewers, where all members of the community potentially play both roles. It doesn't work where the review affects the decisions of customers - these customers don't know about prejudices/feuds/whatever, so they can't give the review its proper value.

Also, because my products are writings they can be reviewed by anyone, because they have access to the thing they are reviewing. Chuck Moore, say, can't review a Howlett uke unless it's physically in his hands. I'm not sure how helpful a video clip is - all I can say from seeing one is that the uke looks pretty and sounds nice (or not). It might play like a dream, or a dog, but I wouldn't know.

So I think that peer review of the kind I participate in is only possible if you meet up and show your ukes. In that situation honesty shouldn't hurt too badly. And if offence is wrongly taken, it's easy to put it right on the spot.

Speaking as a "go-for-it guy", I welcome any comments from real luthiers. Here your role is like that of mine with my PhD students, kindly pointing out flaws and suggesting ways to put them right. Kind but honest is the way to go here, and if there's no kind way to be honest then honest is the most important.

Sorry to bang on at length, but this topic is in the forefront of my mind at present. I'm about to publish a book which took two years in the writing, but really represents 30 years of thinking. So I'm about to enter the "no holds barred" stage of review!

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
12-23-2011, 11:49 AM
Chuck Moore, say, can't review a Howlett uke unless it's physically in his hands.

I have recently had the pleasure of playing one of Pete's earlier ukes and can honestly say that Pete Howlett is one of the two best ukulele builders in the world today. That's my peer review and I'm stickin' to it!

Pete Howlett
12-23-2011, 12:14 PM
I can die happy now :)

maclay
12-23-2011, 12:19 PM
If you want to build ukuleles (or any instrument) professionally, I recommend attending a luthier school, and then spend a number of years working for an established builder. This will give you a quality benchmark.

When you work in a high level production shop, everyday is a peer review. If it's not good enough, you have to do it over. If you can't learn how to do it right, you will be fired....how's that for peer review.

Having said that, I agree with Pete. If you ask for a critique or advice, you better be prepared to hear the truth.

Vic D
12-23-2011, 12:37 PM
Pete, I agree with everything you said. As long as the person critiquing a builder's work is kind about it I think it's great. In fact that's what makes the internet so great... so many minds together making stuff better. I only have a problem when someone gets offensive or wants to act like a dicktator.

Pete, I was actually daydreaming just yesterday that you allowed me to send you one of my ukes to go over it and give me pointers. Seriously...

I want to add that I rely on the player's review as the builders and luthiers / pros... so far I ain't got too many complaints and quite a few hints that I make some nice sounding instruments... amateur warts and all. :)

My other daydream is to send "The Bride" to Jake when I get it completed hehe.

hmgberg
12-23-2011, 12:40 PM
Like ProfChris, I'm work as a teacher in an academic setting and have for over 20 years. Currently, I head an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) degree program. Critiquing is an integral part of the educational process. I've witnessed and been involved in it all, believe me, from lovefests to a suicide. That said, good critiques are analyses, as opposed to rating events, and are generally productive provided certain elements concerning context (boundaries) are understood and respected.

Pete is calling for "peer" review. In the context of a peer review, it is normally accepted that everyone participating is on the same level and aspires to the same goals. On those occasions when there has been a lot of sniping on this forum, the people involved in the discussion have not all been peers. Some think the "pros" are being condescending, for example, when they are just coming from a different place with different purposes. Like Pete says, for the pros it's a matter of livelihood and reputation, vision and skills. For the "go-for-it" guys, it's all fun and experimentation. They want to share their projects just for show and tell. Lumping everyone together is a prescription for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

I build, but I am not in the same league as these guys. Not even close. I'm not happy about it, but I know it. Besides, it gives me something to aspire to in my fast-approaching dotage. So, when the pros get into something heavy duty, I try to keep my mouth shut and absorb as much as I can. It's a matter of respecting the context in which the conversation is occurring. Really, the idea that everyone is entitled to their own opinion is not applicable in these circumstances.

What I think would help is a new forum, maybe call it "projects-show and tell." Then, people who want to present their experiments can share them freely without fear of being dumped on. If the pros want to chime in with an understanding of the context, so much the better. Then, we could reserve the "Luthiers' Lounge" for discussions of luthierie and the rest of us could lurk and learn, maybe ask a few questions.

Pete Howlett
12-23-2011, 01:11 PM
I think you have made an excellent point above - there really ought to be a section for all of the enthusiasts. it would be a proper place for those who build for fun to share ideas.

For me, it is all about context and while I don't overly worry where I am in the food chain, ultimately it matters. Clients are great; they often tireless and loyally sing your praises and generally thankfully massage your ego. Privately, my peer reviews are the most important accolades I have like the two professional luthiers who I know own Howletts - one a commission and the other a store purchase. That has been really humbling for me and I think this should be the lasting outcome of peer review - the humility that comes with the honour of praise... and although I don't make guitars any more my past work is sought after. Ironic when you think I wanted to give up after Bill Collings ridiculed my best acoustic guitar design (or so I thought) at Arlington Guitar Show in 1994. Now that truly was peer review of the cruelist kind :( Still he had to eat his words didn't he..hahahah :)

Vic D
12-23-2011, 01:44 PM
Peer review is scientific. Don't confuse it with competition. Competition is a bad drug.
I could be bozo the clown on heron and a two week drunk and make a claim that's scientifically provable.. hierarchy and competition, although pleasing to those who are indoctrinated into the big brother, father figure, trickle down on me mind set... doesn't exist in scientific peer review.

ecosteel
12-23-2011, 02:33 PM
I get what you're saying Pete, I think being able to give and take criticism isn't necessarily part of everyone's experience though. Age, maturity, sensitivity and educational experience come into this. For me as a working class bloke everything changed when I did a degree in the 70's, the business of evaluating and critiquing were part of the learning process and It changed me, think Educating Rita. I can't count the number of people I've upset by being blunt, but having our ego rocked now and again is no bad thing, it helps us grow up.

Vic D
12-23-2011, 02:38 PM
When you upset someone you've done something wrong.

Allen
12-23-2011, 09:08 PM
When you consider yourself a professional, you should be able to take peer review on the chin if you ask for it. I fully expect that from my peers. Though I suspect that for all of us, we are our own worst critiques.

I've far outgrown the need to please everyone. Comes with age I suppose. So there isn't much anyone could say to me that would make me run away and hide. Input from peers and players whom I truly admire is eagerly taken on board.

Pete Howlett
12-23-2011, 10:39 PM
Hit the nail on the head Allen...

ukulian
12-23-2011, 10:54 PM
There is a world of difference between criticism and critique. While I welcome genuine critique with open arms, criticism, spawned from numerous reasons, is often taken with a pinch of salt. It is a world of difference separated by a fine line.

Nixon
12-24-2011, 12:31 AM
I've had my ukes critiqued by Pete and a few other builders, learnt so much from it. Best way to learn is to know where you went wrong.

Dan Uke
12-24-2011, 05:27 AM
I mean this for peer to peer situations. Gifted amateurs and all you great go-for-it guys should be beyond such comparisons since you inhabit a world which us professionals can only look at in wonder because what you do, in essence, doesn't impact on your 'reputation' and therefore you are often the greatest risk takers.

Not to get too Biblical but "Who's your neighbor?" Who is your peer?

I agree with Pete. He is not trying to be righteous but wants an honest opinion from his "peers" and I believe he wants to give his honest opinion to help others so that they can improve. Helping and Honesty are the true "Aloha Spirit". It shouldn't be like my kid's soccer league where they don't keep score and everyone gets pizza and a trophy at the end of season! LOL

funaddict
12-24-2011, 06:25 AM
As far as amateurs displaying their latest projects, it depends on how they present it. If they say " Here's my first uke. I built it in my kitchen using a steak knife and some 60 grit sandpaper" they're looking for some positive encouragement and perhaps some kindhearted suggestions for their next build. If they say "Here's my latest project, I decided to use a reverse-kasha bracing on the outside of the uke and to use my own dished fretboard design. What do you guys think?", then they should be able to take whatever critiques come along. That said, I don't think there is any reason to be cruel. Yes, an honest opinion may end up seeming cruel to the receiver, as long as it isn't given just for the sake of being cruel.
Alan

Sven
12-24-2011, 07:38 AM
... I decided to use a reverse-kasha bracing on the outside of the uke and to use my own dished fretboard design.
Ha ha ha! Have you been reading my to-do list?

thistle3585
12-24-2011, 11:08 AM
There is a world of difference between criticism and critique. While I welcome genuine critique with open arms, criticism, spawned from numerous reasons, is often taken with a pinch of salt. It is a world of difference separated by a fine line.

I think you hit the nail on the head.

If you want peer review then you need to go to where your peers are which would be something like a GAL or ASIA gathering or send your work to a peer.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
12-24-2011, 11:30 AM
If you want peer review then you need to go to where your peers are which would be something like a GAL or ASIA gathering or send your work to a peer.

Exactly. By definition a peer is: 1.) A person of the same age, status, or ability as another specified person. 2.) One that is of equal standing with another. Note the words "same" and "equal" in the definitions. That ain't happening on this forum. Everyone I've seen here is unique in their own approach.
Honestly, aside from my customers, I can't afford to care what other builders think about my work. They aren't who I build for. Nor do I care what they are doing. If you are seeking kudos from someone, ask your wife, your best friend, or you mother for their opinions. They may not be honest but they are unlikely to hurt your feelings.

Pete Howlett
12-24-2011, 11:39 AM
Radical - ask my wife? After 25 years playing hot ragtime on my guitar my wife turned and said one day "You know that ragtime you play? I don't like it...." Don't think I picked up my guitar for 6 months after that :(

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
12-24-2011, 11:44 AM
Merry Christmas Eve Pete.

gyosh
12-24-2011, 11:51 AM
I thought I'd throw my two cents in as a lurker/observer of the lounge. I love learning from this forum, but it sure is easy to spot who is looking for an "attaboy" from who is looking for feedback. As an observer it's sometimes funny and often a little annoying to watch someone try to "spar" with the big boys. You can always spot these bouts because they go quickly from talking about a lutherie specific topic to language semantics and internet protocol for "manners." Why people put their work out there and then get hurt/belligerent when the response isn't what they were hoping for is beyond me. I would never argue with or question the advice of someone that does this for their lively hood and has decades of experience and knowledge behind them. Especially when they have the respect of their actual peers.

I love learning, so this forum is an invaluable resource for me. "Thank you" to you pros, who put up with the nonsense and still continue to post here.

Back to lurking,

-Gary

Dan Uke
12-24-2011, 01:13 PM
My 2cents is that if you want to spar with the heavy hitters, you gotta put your dues and have made a minimum of XXX instruments including ukes. Agree with Gyosh as there seems to be too much confrontations with experienced luthiers. If they make comments and disagree, just say thanks for the advice and move on.

joejeweler
12-24-2011, 06:05 PM
I want to start a serious dialogue with luthiers here.

By now you will know I don't pull any punches. This often goes down poorly because saying it as it is or as I see it is raw, uncomfortable and often considered rude. Many will ascribe unseen motives to such 'critical review' where there is none and some will see it as petulence, jealousy or mean spiritedness. And yet, scientists and artists regularly submit their work for the most ruthless criticism by their peers. Is there something we are missing here when we cannot objectively talk about each others' work without dancing around the piece or walking on eggshells? It's the elephant in the room isn't it? Our inability to critique each others' work for fear of offending. And by the same token, taking offense when none is intended.

I mean this for peer to peer situations. Gifted amateurs and all you great go-for-it guys should be beyond such comparisons since you inhabit a world which us professionals can only look at in wonder because what you do, in essence, doesn't impact on your 'reputation' and therefore you are often the greatest risk takers.

So I ask - Is there a place for honest peer review in our world? Or am I being simply a troll? Harsh criticism nearly destoryed one of my early mentors - Peter Sensier back in the 70's so that he stopped publishing his ideas about building and instruments - As part of the performing team Dorita y Pepe, he was first in the then unkown phenomonem of 'world music' and built the strangest instruments - but they were loud and strong...

Pete,...i'm not a builder as you know,......although i have done a lot of setups, repairs, back removal and re-install on an archtop, refretting, bridge making and install,....etc.

I think you're asking an honest question,......which i also think you partially answered in that you really can't expect this type of critique without the "walking on eggshells", as you mentioned. I got reamed for bringing up saddle slots not flat, and other less than optimum work without even mentioning a builder by name,....and got run over bringing it up.

Additionally, an unfair linking it to my "then" listed instruments in my signature brought such a storm that the entire thread was deleted. It was incorrectly charged that i was probably making it up, and ONLY AFTER starting another thread wherin i posted pictures did a moderater admit it might have been better to have the pictures in the original post to back up my findings. Unfortunately, the mods reacted too fast for me to add the pics and clearly refute the personal attacks and charges from a builder here.

In essence,.....i will never voice an honest opinion about any problem seen again, even without naming names. The egos on some here seem to feel that ALL builder's work is faultless, and beyond the critique of us mear mortal "non-builders". Getting a builder to critique another builder's work is only asking for trouble!

.........but i agree,......it shouldn't be that way. (if that's what you were alluding to?)


That said,....i will add that as someone in the jewelry field for many years, it was interesting learning about the mechanical watch competitions that were held for many years. Very special movements were made up seeking the utmost accuracy under various conditions.

It might be feasable to have some sort of an annual builder's competition, where highlighting the tone and volumn would be the focus rather than such things as AAAAA wood and "bling". "Sound and playability" would then be judged between the instruments entered, and compared and rated.

......for sure it might also encourage new areas of experimenting on bracing, bridge design, and top tensioning.

Nothing like the spirit of competition to bring out the best in new areas. :D

Pete Howlett
12-24-2011, 10:10 PM
This is not about competition - I despise competition in the Arts because it is a complete minefield. This is about just and honest criticism. My distributor here in the UK likes my instruments because.... fill in the blanks. He interestingly doesn't like.... because... again, fill in the blanks. This is customer comment and preference but isn't 'review'. "Hey Bob (ukulele builder) what do you think of the finish on this one - up to your standard is it?" is peer review. As builders, we get few opportunities to do so and images are just not good enough material neither are videos for this.

All comments very interesting - only a few from builders tho... too busy building I guess:)