Luthier School

BuzzBD

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Kekaha, Kauai
I have noticed lately an increased interest in DIY instrument building. I am in the process of upgrading my website to offer a much greater range of lutherie courses, other than my build a ukulele course. These will be aimed at the beginner to intermediate builders who enjoy building their own instruments, but want to keep the costs of tools and jigs to a minimum. A small example, I am offering a half day course on fretwork. The pictures show a couple of cauls I designed and make to install frets. So instead of $300 for a fret press and cauls, this $20 tool takes most of the angst out of installing frets because you hit the caul with a hammer, not the frets, nor the fretboard or your fingers. Because the caul spreads the force over the length of the fret, there are no kinked frets or dented fretboards. More information to follow

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I have mentioned my lutherie school in a couple of places on the forum, and am getting some questions, so I will post my thoughts here. First and foremost I am looking for input on what you would like me to do. For some years now I have been teaching a ukulele building course, where the customer comes to my house/shop and stays with us for 8-10 days and we build them a ukulele that they keep. The price has been $1200-$1400 depending on the size of ukulele made. This has been moderately successful, although Covid put a major damper on it. I have had a wonderful time teaching those who have come and am looking to expand my offerings. Primarily I am looking to scale down the customer’s time and expense commitment, while accomplishing a similar result. There are a number of people offering build an instrument courses around the country, but in my opinion, the students spend most of their time gluing prefabricated parts together and not learning all that much about lutherie. Here’s what I have in mind. A 4 to 5 day class that is spent building a concert size ukulele. Day one, 4 hours spent discussing wood selection, design criteria, bracing patterns and sound hole design. The student picks the materials to be used from a variety of precut lumber. After which I spend some time thinning the top, back and sides, joining the top and back, then cutting them to shape. The next day we discuss and select a bracing pattern, then cut and glue the braces to the top and back. While that is drying, we bend the sides, and cut out the end blocks. After that the student is free to enjoy Kauai, while I install the linings and end blocks, then glue the top to the assembly. The next day we spend shaping the braces, voicing the top and gluing the back to the body. While that dries we will start to assemble the neck and fretboard. This pattern goes on until we have a complete ukulele with a couple of coats of shellac, ready to take home for final finishing. Please let me know if you have any questions or wish to offer any ideas.
Mahalo,
Brad
 
@DownUpDave Brad has responded to your interest here.

Brad this sounds FANTASTIC and yet another excellent reason to take a trip to Hawai'i! Although, I'd personally vote for a soprano, but whatever! Such a neat experience. Are you 100% in Kauai now, and no longer in Oregon?
 
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As someone who made the trip and spent time with Brad in June of 2021, all I can say is it was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget. His craftsmanship is astonishing (from a billet of koa to what you see below in 8 days) and his hospitality was incredible. I give my highest possible recommendation!
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Thank you all for the comments. Yes ploverwing we are full time residents of Kauai. Mahalo nui loa Pete for your very kind comments. And EDW I am going to be very flexible with this. Basically I am in the brainstorming stage and that’s why I really want everyone’s input. My reason for only one size was driven by my desire to offer as large a choice as possible in wood selection. After thinking about it, some simple email exchanges with potential students could nail down the choices beforehand and simplify things for me. Not a big issue as most coming to Kauai will be planning ahead anyway
Brad
 
It sounds amazing, a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" that is sufficiently reasonably priced that people could do actually it more than once (I doubt I could find any lodging in Kauai for 8-10 days for under $1500, much less with a custom ukulele to take home). I suspect your biggest problem is going to be managing the waitlist.
 
Yes. Brad are you flexible about doing different sizes? It sounds as if you do a fair amount of the nitty gritty of the build. Maybe offer some flexibility for those who want to be more or less hands on?
This was my question as well, because my first thought was, "Too bad my disability (which makes it difficult for me to work with my hands) would never let me do something like this"
 
Yes. Brad are you flexible about doing different sizes? It sounds as if you do a fair amount of the nitty gritty of the build. Maybe offer some flexibility for those who want to be more or less hands on?

Reading through the post I suspect that flexibility is the key to it all, well to get a happy result. Folk come with all different levels of skills, physical strengths and metal aptitudes; for a happy outcome in what is essentially an assisted and guided build it‘s really important to be flexible. At the extremes some folk will just want to talk and watch a little of their Uke being built, and others will want to spend every waking hour in the workshop and do every operation themselves. Perhaps some boundaries as well are needed too, of the range of scenarios covered and how a Uke will be built without accident or other upset.
 
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Mahalo everyone again for your input. Graham your insight is almost scarily reflective of my experience so far. My students so far have varied from experienced luthiers who wanted ukulele building skills, to those who simply wished to see something of their instrument’s creation.

My challenge is to create a flexible curriculum that doesn’t require 3 pages of fine print for people to figure out what things will cost. Here’s what I am thinking so far. I will go with an ala carte menu starting with the kits;

Soprano ukulele - $150
Concert ukulele - $175
Tenor ukulele - $200

Days of instruction (at least 4 hours)
$60 per day

Lodging
$90 per day
My MIL suite at ground level next to the shop and below the house can accommodate up to two as long as they are willing to share the queen size futon or one sleep on the couch.

So for example, if you wanted a tenor ukulele with 5 days of instruction and 5 days of lodging, would cost a total of $950.

For those who may be traveling with their families, in which case my lodging is not suitable. Or they can’t commit to 5 days of instruction; they could purchase a kit and a couple days of instruction and take home a partially completed ukulele. So there are lots of options available.
As always your comments are most appreciated.
Brad
 
The costs sound exceptionally reasonable. Wow. $60 per day of your shop time does not seem like it's enough. I mean, I'd be delighted to pay that rate, but it doesn't sound fair to you.

And this wouldn't likely ever happen for me (various reasons) but I would absolutely be all over doing this!! Shop time, building an instrument, playing with wood, learning from an expert in their field, getting to travel to Hawai'i... I don't think I could come up with something more awesome to do.
 
Mahalo everyone again for your input. Graham your insight is almost scarily reflective of my experience so far. My students so far have varied from experienced luthiers who wanted ukulele building skills, to those who simply wished to see something of their instrument’s creation.

My challenge is to create a flexible curriculum that doesn’t require 3 pages of fine print for people to figure out what things will cost. Here’s what I am thinking so far. I will go with an ala carte menu starting with the kits;

Soprano ukulele - $150
Concert ukulele - $175
Tenor ukulele - $200

Days of instruction (at least 4 hours)
$60 per day

Lodging
$90 per day
My MIL suite at ground level next to the shop and below the house can accommodate up to two as long as they are willing to share the queen size futon or one sleep on the couch.

So for example, if you wanted a tenor ukulele with 5 days of instruction and 5 days of lodging, would cost a total of $950.

For those who may be traveling with their families, in which case my lodging is not suitable. Or they can’t commit to 5 days of instruction; they could purchase a kit and a couple days of instruction and take home a partially completed ukulele. So there are lots of options available.
As always your comments are most appreciated.
Brad

Somebody once said the devil is in the details. So true... Are the "kits" like from StewMac or somebody like Hana Lima or do you prefab the parts? Prefabing would be cheaper obviously.

Costs seem to be most reasonable. Remember, this is Hawaii the home of the ukulele... The accommodations sound great for one, not so great for two. Sorry, I'm not sharing a futon with Bubba from Houston even if he is a nice guy (shudder)...

What seems most daunting to me is the range of involvement in the client. Everything from build me an uke to total hands on. Speaking of hands, do you have liability waivers ready to go?

I think you have a great idea Brad. Seems to me it's just working out the details that's the challenge. Good luck.
 
Sequoia is quite correct about the details, so let me clarify things a bit. Instead of handing an arriving student a pile of wood as a kit, the student will select the woods for their particular kit after they arrive and during the construction process. The selection process is part of the lutherie instruction and they will have lots to choose from. As far as the accommodations are concerned; I will only be teaching one student at a time. I meant that if the student is traveling with a family member or significant other, they may share the room at no additional cost. I am very aware of the potential liability issues.

So, here are some of the perks as I see it;
1. One to one student to teacher ratio, you will receive my undivided attention.
2. You are in Hawaii, birthplace of the ukulele.
The class schedule of 4 hours a day is designed to let you enjoy all the other activities of the islands. The time of day you wish to learn will be your decision.
3. You will be choosing the materials for your ukulele from my large selection of wood, tuners, fretwire, and rosette/inlay material.
4. How much you contribute to the actual construction and how far down in the weeds I go on lutherie will totally be your choice, depending on your experience and wishes.
5. If you choose to stay with us, I have an extensive library of lutherie books for you to examine.
6. As Kauai residents, we are a very good source of local knowledge, places and times to visit, kanikapila, and low cost to free entertainment.

Mahalo,
Brad
 
Like you Brad I have been offering courses for years and have learned many things, the most significant being that the expectation of the students is always met so long as you know what it is! I've not read all the comments so consider this a response to your first two posts. 4 hours discussing wood selection etc is a very academic approach - something you would encounter on a University course or apprenticeship. If your goal is to educate on the craft of luthiery you are going to need more than 8 -10 days and at least $2000 a week for your knowledge and expertise. Students in this category have rarely applied for one of my courses which is an 'assembly' type course. I've designed it this way because in general, students have little hand skills and are expecting to be heavily supported. They have a kit of parts and enough engagement to have a meaningful experience. They get to shape parts, use hand and power tools, program and operate the CNC router for custom inlay work and of course, do the final set up. I see little value in spending time supervising the disaster that hand bending can turn out to be - even I cracked some ribs last week! be - isntead, I bend the sides. If they have skills they do all the other prep. For them, I want this sort of result:

Recent Course Completion

I like your fret setters. I'd make them in nylon....
 
I have done a bit of teaching and also been the student with a number of builders over the years.I think "assembly' type instruction is very suitable for most students. Probably quite a few students never go much further with their building, but I think they all remember their luthier student days as a great life experience. If they get inspired, they will have had a basic understanding to start their learning path. If they don't get inspired to continue, then they will at least have a uke or guitar. I don't see the point in trying impart too much about the craft to someone who does not have enough experience to use in depth knowledge.
 
Like you Brad I have been offering courses for years and have learned many things, the most significant being that the expectation of the students is always met so long as you know what it is! I've not read all the comments so consider this a response to your first two posts. 4 hours discussing wood selection etc is a very academic approach - something you would encounter on a University course or apprenticeship. If your goal is to educate on the craft of luthiery you are going to need more than 8 -10 days and at least $2000 a week for your knowledge and expertise. Students in this category have rarely applied for one of my courses which is an 'assembly' type course. I've designed it this way because in general, students have little hand skills and are expecting to be heavily supported. They have a kit of parts and enough engagement to have a meaningful experience. They get to shape parts, use hand and power tools, program and operate the CNC router for custom inlay work and of course, do the final set up. I see little value in spending time supervising the disaster that hand bending can turn out to be - even I cracked some ribs last week! be - isntead, I bend the sides. If they have skills they do all the other prep. For them, I want this sort of result:

Recent Course Completion

I like your fret setters. I'd make them in nylon....
Thanks very much Pete for sharing your insights. I want very much for my classes to be more than a paint by numbers ukulele assembly course, so in that regard I will be as flexible as possible with my students preferences being the main focus. How far I go down in the weeds with lutherie will be dependent on their desires and time available. I have already encountered a wide range in abilities and desire to learn the craft. We will see how it goes and adapt accordingly.
Brad
 
Noble aspirations. You are the one to do it, I have a different approach. All the best to you and your future acolytes..
 
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