Luthierious Rex

Michael Smith

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I went in to LMI the other day. Got to talking to an employee about why they didn't sell the business rather than just fading into the sunset. His take was that they weren't making money. That they weren't making money largely because small builders of acoustic instruments were fading away all the younger were CNC and electrics. Acoustic builders aging out and not being replaced by a new generation. He said he could count on one hand the number of younger customers he has seen in the last several years. I'm wondering if this is a US thing or global. Do we have many builders on this forum under 40?
 
Meh. I'm not convinced that there were ever a lot of young independent instrument builders, EVER, building ANY instrument.
It's just not the way things have ever been.
Young instrument builders would have first been apprentices, and then after their apprenticeship they would have worked for a senior builder or business.
You need a name and money behind you to run your own business.

There's not a lot of young Chef's runing their own businesses either.
 
And it isn't restricted to luthiery. I worked for Lowe's at the corporate level and Lowe's had a program in which they would pay if I opted to go to a trade school to become a contractor because there is a dearth of artisans who work with their hands nowadays.
 
That's why I'm going out of the lutherie parts business too. Been at it, to supplement my building, for over 30 years selling tuners, wood, pickups, plans, etc. Somewhere around 2010-12 the revenue and sales started to go down, after years of constant growth. There are just no new builders. The Ukulele Guilds here in Hawaii are dying or totally dead. Ukulele making classes and schools are mostly closed now.Add to that the intrusion of Amazon and it is a death cry for a lot of small businesses. Actually, I see the same decline in most hand craft areas. We have come through a time of great renewed interest in handmade work, but it's over! As Repack said people don't want to work with their hands anymore. Stew-Mac looks desperate, from the amount of e-mail blasts they are sending out. Yesterday I finally asked them to remove me from their e-mail list. They replied immediately, so I suppose they are getting a lot of those requests.
 
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41 here. Not sure why there are not more younger builders but I suspect that at least part of the reason is that it’s not seen as a viable way to make a living. There’s no way I could build full time and make a good living, and I’m lucky enough to be pretty vertically integrated.

And as far as wood sales go, they’re way down. Prices are very high (at least for koa) and unlikely to go down because the landowners have got the idea that every log is worth its weight in gold. My higher end custom builder clients all say that their sales are slow as well.
 
When I was 16, more than 50 years ago, I ordered Sloane's book on classic guitar construction ( ) from the Whole Earth Catalogue thinking I would make a guitar. It was way more than I could handle at the time so never attempted it. Fast forward to 1993 when I ordered a "kit" from LMI. It wasn't really a kit and was just the wood needed (block of mahogany, block of ebony, block of spruce, etc). Again way beyond my skill set so it lived in my closet for 20 years. Finally when I was getting old I finally got around to building it. Maybe you just need to get old enough to have the skills and tools to tackle what is a very advanced woodworking project. Maybe that is why luthiers are so old? Maybe when Generation X or Z gets old they will take up lutherie.

Anyway, musical instruments come and go in popularity and I think maybe the uke craze is cooling off. It was only a matter of time.
 
Show me a 20-30 year old who knows how to change a flat tire and I'll bet it's a farmer's son. With the advent of computers and video games younger people stay on their rear ends instead of standing at a workbench. I'm not being an old grump that's just the way the workforce and job markets have gone.
 
Show me a 20-30 year old who knows how to change a flat tire and I'll bet it's a farmer's son. With the advent of computers and video games younger people stay on their rear ends instead of standing at a workbench. I'm not being an old grump that's just the way the workforce and .
Dave, I am afraid I will have to wholeheartedly agree.
 
With the advent of computers and video games younger people stay on their rear ends instead of standing at a workbench.
I think that's quite a negative view of young people. I am lucky enough to know quite a few and I can say that they all work far harder than I did at their age. With globalisation came cheaper goods but also a much more precarious existence.

This is not the place for politics, of course, but I would say jobs like being a luthier are much harder to get into than they were in the past. You need a workspace for starters, and realistically that means owning a house - renting a workspace is just not a realistic proposition for that kind of business.

As to lacking skills to repair stuff, you have to accept that we live in the age of the consumer item. Modern items are designed to be disposable, sealed units. When I was 20, I would spend most of my weekends doing something to one of my cars. I haven't opened the bonnet of a car to do anything other than check fluid levels for years now, decades actually. I'm 46. It's absolutely fair that people aren't taught this stuff any more - why on earth would they be taught skills they don't need?
 
I think that's quite a negative view of young people. I am lucky enough to know quite a few and I can say that they all work far harder than I did at their age. With globalisation came cheaper goods but also a much more precarious existence.

This is not the place for politics, of course, but I would say jobs like being a luthier are much harder to get into than they were in the past. You need a workspace for starters, and realistically that means owning a house - renting a workspace is just not a realistic proposition for that kind of business.

As to lacking skills to repair stuff, you have to accept that we live in the age of the consumer item. Modern items are designed to be disposable, sealed units. When I was 20, I would spend most of my weekends doing something to one of my cars. I haven't opened the bonnet of a car to do anything other than check fluid levels for years now, decades actually. I'm 46. It's absolutely fair that people aren't taught this stuff any more - why on earth would they be taught skills they don't need?

It wasn't a put down of young people. Just an observation that they are not drawn to jobs in manual labor
 
It wasn't a put down of young people.
Fair enough, Dave. I'm not trying to throw rocks, even friendly ones.

I just wanted to put out an observation I have that a lot of people do put down young people by saying that they're lazy because some of them don't learn how to do some sorts of practical jobs.

To bring the discussion back to luthiery - it's not that there aren't young people who would like to train as luthiers, but the fact is to do such a thing they would have to have access to resources that they are unlikely to get from a career in luthiery. The price of property has risen so much it simply isn't possible for specialist crafts like this to be viable businesses.

Money spoils everything.
 
It wasn't a put down of young people. Just an observation that they are not drawn to jobs in manual labor

H’mm, as an observation our manufacturing industries are now a shadow of their former selves - buy it from China instead - and a load of stuff is effectively made impossible to repair. The young have little to no hand skills / craft skills taught to them in schools and we demand that they all study to a high academic standard. About half of the youngsters in the UK go to University and education until eighteen is now compulsory, no small wonder then that society now has imbalances such as shortages of manual labour. Perhaps I’m wrong but to my recollection historically youngsters started their careers as teenagers in manual roles and then, as they aged and gained experience, the more able minded could progress to more office based roles and technical roles.

My own children can’t mend a puncture on a bike wheel but can make computers do all types of useful stuff. The young are drawn to what opportunities open up to them and then, like we did, they try to find a way forward through them.
 
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true. I personally did not have the opportunity to move into a place with a garage until I was 40. There would have been no way to start the path of being a luthier in the very tiny “garden” apartment in the basement of an old SF building.
 
H’mm, as an observation our manufacturing industries are now a shadow of their former selves - buy it from China instead - and a load of stuff is effectively made impossible to repair. The young have little to no hand skills / craft skills taught to them in schools and we demand that they all study to a high academic standard. About half of the youngsters in the UK go to University and education until eighteen is now compulsory, no small wonder then that society now has imbalances such as shortages of manual labour. Perhaps I’m wrong but to my recollection historically youngsters started their careers as teenagers in manual roles and then, as they aged and gained experience, the more able minded could progress to more office based roles and technical roles.

My own children can’t mend a puncture on a bike wheel but can make computers do all types of useful stuff. The young are drawn to what opportunities open up to them and then, like we did, they try to find a way forward through them.
This sad loss of two generations of folks with basic life skills should probably be its own thread. When they were teenagers, I required both my son and daughter to convince me they could competently change a flat tire, check and fill all engine fluids, and properly attach jumper cables to the battery before they were allowed to take driving lessons (from me) in advance of obtaining a guvmit- issued license.

At the opposite end of that spectrum, a few years ago, I test drove a certain very popular Swedish- built car. I was appalled to find no spare tire under the trunk floor. When I mentioned it to the salesman, he responded, “Do you really change your own flat tire?”

Resisting the urge to slap the guy hard, I explained that I often drive in areas where it literally takes hours to get a tow truck or roadside assistance and yes, by G-d, I change my own tires, engine oil and windshield wipers, and mow my own grass. I draw the line at giving myself a haircut.

I didn’t buy the car. I’m sure he was happy to be rid of a crass redneck. :ROFLMAO:
 
At the opposite end of that spectrum, a few years ago, I test drove a certain very popular Swedish- built car.
TBH, an inflation kit should get you through almost any situation that you'd need a spare tyre for. I was really impressed the first time I had to use one.

As to jump starting, when do you need to be able to do that?

Cars don't let you down in the ways they used to a few years ago.
 
TBH, an inflation kit should get you through almost any situation that you'd need a spare tyre for. I was really impressed the first time I had to use one.

As to jump starting, when do you need to be able to do that?

Cars don't let you down in the ways they used to a few years ago.
Not being argumentative but my experience with inflation kits is that the “goo” inside will basically ruin the wheel, and mechanics hate it.

As to jump- starting, even the highest quality, modern, sealed- cell 12-Volt batteries have around a 24-month life span. And, when they go bad, you’re stuck, even if the car’s alternator is in good condition.

EDIT: Also, I foresaw that my kids might find themselves a passenger in a car driven by someone who had been taught no such skills who might need a jump start. :) It happened at least twice.
And, my now- attorney daughter once showed a [former, thankfully] boyfriend how to replace the headlamp bulbs on his car, for which the quarter-hour of labor alone would have run at least $100.00 if done by a dealership service tech.
 
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Cars don't let you down in the ways they used to a few years ago.
So true, these days the “black box” that controls your car will decide to stop shifting your transmission (happened to my Tacoma) or sense an engine fault resulting in the engine being put into “limp mode” (Jetta diesel). Both situations require either a laptop and intimate industrial control knowledge or a tow to the dealership.
 
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