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Help please, LUTHIER????

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SammyQ

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One of my daughter's school friends has eschewed the University route to a career and is hell bent on becoming a LUTHIER (Zachary Taylor?). Can anyone shed light on courses, or dare I say it in these enlightened days "apprenticeships"? The local Careers Dept in the school is on its metaphorical ear and I wondered if anyone out there could provide a starting point that I might follow up?

Yours, Sam
 

Gill

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Steve Miklos is a luthier who posts regularly on the Scroll Saw Workshop forum. Although he's based in America, I'm sure that he'll be able to offer lots of 'sound' (sorry) advice.

Steve's website is here.

Gill
 

srs

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Back in my dim and distant past well 12 years ago (doesn’t time fly) I was a full time student of what was then The Sir John Case School of music and furniture at Guildhall University which is now the London Met where I studied early stringed instrument construction, I don’t know how things have changed over the time I have been away but the early stringed course was a lot more technical and skill based over the modern stringed instrument’s. There is a lot more to making a lute than there is making a guitar, the course has a lot of associated classes included such as tool making, acoustics, music history, business studies, etc.

So if the dear daughter was thinking of going into a career of making instruments I would strongly recommend a full time course as there is more to it than just making a guitar. If however she wanted to dabble her toes in the water so to speak you could look at West Dean collage who run short courses (from a week to a couple of months).

I would warn her that there is no fortune to be made from making instruments on the whole from talking to people in the business you are lucky to be charging £5 an hour for you work if you are self employed unless you are really at the top end of the field. But it can be personally rewarding and my regret in life is that I could not afford to work in the trade after I finished my course so now I work in the family engineering business and dabble with wood at the weekends.
 

johnelliott

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Musical instrument making, in this country anyway, should be considered to be an interesting and rewarding hobby. If one understands that from the start, then courses can be chosen to best fit in with the student's intended means of supporting themselves.
The problem with trying to make a living at it is the same as with every other form of manufacturing--selling the produce. Especially with musical instruments, people simply will not pay the kind of money that one would need to charge in order to be viable.
I trust that the colleges are making this clear to potential students

John
 

Gill

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srs":k9hc05kr said:
you are lucky to be charging £5 an hour for you work
johnelliott":k9hc05kr said:
people simply will not pay the kind of money that one would need to charge in order to be viable.
Until recently, whenever someone said they wanted a career in woodworking they would be met with a barrage of negativity on this forum. Fortunately, that now seems to be less of a problem.

Here we have a youngster who might be a gifted musical instrument maker for all we know, and yet all the negativity is coming out again. It is possible to produce musical instruments and earn a living - there's a guy just a few miles down the road from me who does it making violins. Although it may be a difficult career path, let's try to encourage people in their aspirations instead of demoralising them from the outset. The initial question was about how the lass could make a success of a career as a luthier, not about the perils of trying to become one. :x

Gill
 

srs

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Gill, I was in no way trying to put any future "gifted musical instrument maker" off by my comments I personally would let anyone on this forum pull all my teeth out with a pair of rust pliers if I thought I could make a "GOOD" living from making musical instruments I did spend nearly 4 years of my life chasing that dream but sadly when you need £700+ a month for a one bedroom flat around this area and then pay for somewhere to work out off there will not be much spare cash.

I would personally like to see more skilled people plying there trade out there but sadly as more and more stuff is brought in from overseas at ever cheaper prices and better and better quality I do not personally see much hope. (In the next 18 months I can see my family business having to close due to the ever decreasing mark we live in)

I still stand by my suggestion that if she is serious in training to look for a course that covers more than just making a Spanish guitar that way the skills learnt could cross over into other fields of wood working.


The end of the day she must go into this with her eyes open and knowing all the pro’s and con’s.
 

johnelliott

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Gill":12bh3n81 said:
Here we have a youngster who might be a gifted musical instrument maker for all we know, and yet all the negativity is coming out again. It is possible to produce musical instruments and earn a living - there's a guy just a few miles down the road from me who does it making violins.
Gill
Anecdotal evidence doesn't really prove that it is possible to make a living making musical instruments. though, does it?
We only need to do a few simple sums to see whether or not it is possible to make a living making musical instruments
For instance how much might it be reasonable to charge for a violin? £1000? £500? £3,000 I don't know, but I'm guessing that perhaps a £1,000 might be achievable. Now subtract the cost of the materials, £150 maybe. How long would it take to make a violin of this quality? Lets say 4 weeks. Gross profit £375 pr week. Not too bad. Now lets subtract the cost of the workshop- let's say £100 to include heating, light, rates, insurance (although the insurance will be difficult with all that inflammable stuff around). We're now down to £275pw. Not too bad still.
What is absolutely going to mess things up is the cost of the advertising, enough to attract sales of 12 £1,000 violins every year. By the time that's been paid for (even if it could be done at all) there isn't going to be enough to live on.
Ask me how I know

Gill":12bh3n81 said:
Although it may be a difficult career path, let's try to encourage people in their aspirations instead of demoralising them from the outset. The initial question was about how the lass could make a success of a career as a luthier, not about the perils of trying to become one. :x
Gill
In my previous post I said that
"Musical instrument making, in this country anyway, should be considered to be an interesting and rewarding hobby."

Perhaps I should have added that one might as well do a course on that as go to Oxford and take an arts degree.
But I believe that it is only fair to let people know (because I don't think the colleges themselves are doing it) that, your friend's experience to the contrary, the economics of it just don't work

John
 

Noel

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Think John has a fair point:- there is a very thin line between reality and hope. No problem laying out a lot of money and time for training etc at college but what happens after that in the big bad world of capitalism?
Anyway Sammie, isn't there a reasonably sucessfull guitar maker down in Down somewhere? His name escapes me at the moment. Maybe worth having a chat with him, or see if he'll take an apprentice on for a year?

Noel
 

Alf

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I would assume, as in furniture, there's probably a good deal of work available restoring musical instruments - in fact they're built with the knowledge they'll inevitably need repair, no? So perhaps making them can be partially subsidised by that? I don't know. Good luck to her though; it's always nice to hear of someone starting out who wants to make something more than just money.

Cheers, Alf

P.S. Gill, what's the ethical position of a mod promoting another forum in their sig...? :wink: :lol:
 

mudman

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You know, I so disagree with all the negativity about trying to make a living at something.
The girl is young and has a lifetime ahead of her in which to change direction and try something else if she can't make a living at what she initially chooses.
The trouble these days is that everybody tries to guide youngsters into a profession that the is seen to be a lucrative way to make a living. It may be at the time but times change and circumstances change. If she wants to become a luthier and has her heart set on that, then people should encourage and offer advice on how to reach her goal rather than knocking her back with "doses of realism". It should be remembered that what is reality now will not be so five, ten years down the line. Likewise, reality for one person is not going to be reality for another.

Apart from that, I also hate the 'you can't make a living from xyz' attitude that is so often spouted as gospel truth. You can make a living from anything that you choose if you have the willpower, drive, determination and strength of character needed to succeed. It is just that some professions will be slightly harder to succeed with than others. In these cases you will need to approach the problem of making a living slightly differently. It won't be as easy as turning up to a nice warm office five days a week and sitting at a PC bashing in numbers, but if you approach it right, then a living could be made.

We should all remember that any endevour can succeed or fail, it is your own actions that will decide what happens.
 

johnelliott

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mudman":1t799d02 said:
Apart from that, I also hate the 'you can't make a living from xyz' attitude that is so often spouted as gospel truth. You can make a living from anything that you choose if you have the willpower, drive, determination and strength of character needed to succeed.
Unfortunately that simply isn't true. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most obvious and powerful one is that in order to make a living from doing anything you have to have customers. The problem with customers is that you cannot control them. No matter how much of the qualities you describe the intending living-maker possesses, they cannot force customers to buy from them. This has been shown time and time and time again.

mudman":1t799d02 said:
We should all remember that any endevour can succeed or fail, it is your own actions that will decide what happens.
Similar to the above, and again, not true. Commerce involves two people, the seller and the buyer. You can control your own actions but you can't control the buyer's.

I wish that it was otherwise.

John
 

srs

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I would assume, as in furniture, there's probably a good deal of work available restoring musical instruments - in fact they're built with the knowledge they'll inevitably need repair
Yep, your quite right though there is more of a market in the bowed string instrument market and pianos just because of the relitave throw away nature of giutars



This may also be of intrest to your daughter Sam there is a lot of technical infomation as well as plans etc

http://www.mimf.com/
 

mudman

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I'm sorry John but that is really a whole load of baloney. Why do you think the advertising industry is so profitable? In general, if you produce something, then there will be somebody who wants to buy it and if not, then you can create the market for it. This has been done time and again in business from the laser through to rocks in a box.

It seems to me that the whole stringed instrument market (not just guitars) is a significant one and so the opportunities should be there for a person to make a living at it. I'm not saying everyone who tries will make a living at it. I'm saying that it is possible. You have to approach the whole thing in the right way and that will be from both a business and a craft angle.
There are of course lots of cheap imports, mainly I would guess such things as guitars (electric and acoustic), violins, banjos etc. But, how do they sound? How do they look? There are a lot of musicians who will aspire to own the best that they can afford in the same way that we as woodworker aspire to the best tools we can buy. These are the people that will be the target market. Then add in musicians custom requirements and you add in another group of people into your customer base.

However, my main point is that we should never tell youngster that they shouldn't follow their dreams because they won't make a living from it. We should say, 'Great, go for it. Try your hardest, do your best and strive to be the best. One day in the future you will be able to look back and like the path your life took, rather than dwelling on might haves and could have beens.'
 

Alf

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Okay, where have I overlooked the place where it says "guitars"? How did guitars get into this anyway? Sheesh, what with John doing his famous Curmuddgeon of the Month impression, Sam's daughter being dragged into it instead of her friend and all this guitar stuff I think I'll have a lie down.

Incidentally, talking of Zachary Taylor, how about a long shot and asking him for advice? By coincidence I happen to know his connection to the Art Workers Guild, and lookee here. :wink: I don't think the email will necessarily go straight to him, btw; I see someone on there I know who definitely isn't online is supposedly contactable by email. It's a cheeky move, but how many success stories have you read which start with someone having the cheek to contact a "name" in the field?

Cheers, Alf
 

dedee

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I see no harm in learning how to do something in the UK then plying the trade in a country where living expenses might not be so high.

Andy
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DomValente

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Yes we're supposed to be talking about Lutes,but suspect there's less of a market for them than most other stringed instruments.
On occasions when the work load is to great I employ a violin maker to assist me, he has studied his craft not only here in the U.K. but also in Cremona Italy the home of violin making, his pieces are superb but he reckons they take too long to make(up to 10 weeks) this being the case he cannot earn enough to live and has to subsididse with other work.
He obviously loves his work and will not give it up, so I can only assume it must be a labour of love

Dom
 

mudman

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Alf":ue9uonrs said:
Okay, where have I overlooked the place where it says "guitars"? How did guitars get into this anyway? Sheesh, what with John doing his famous Curmuddgeon of the Month impression, Sam's daughter being dragged into it instead of her friend and all this guitar stuff I think I'll have a lie down.
Don't luthiers make all things stringed? I must admit to assuming lutes only until a bit of googling.

Alf":ue9uonrs said:
Snipped a bit...
It's a cheeky move, but how many success stories have you read which start with someone having the cheek to contact a "name" in the field?
Absolutely. I was going to suggest doing a trawl of those in the UK with a web presence and firing off e-mails initially just asking for a bit of info and advice.

Found this sitethat does an on-line apprentiship. But interesting to look at the list of instruments he makes and sells.
Don't forget that the lass can go and study anywhere in Europe now. May have to learn another language though. And then plying her trade in a country that values such things a bit more is also possible.
 

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Words of hard won experience are always worth passing on IMHO. Going starry eyed into anything is a danger to be sure. I thought the cautionary note of Johnelliot and srs was surly the right thing to pass on. Personally I applaud them for taking the time to impart their hard won experience. Blimmey I must be another Curmuddgeon
 

MIGNAL

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Of course it is quite possible to earn a living from making musical instruments and indeed there are a number of people in the UK who do exactly that. Most makers specialise in a particular type of instrument eg. stringed or fretted and combine making with repair/restoration and in actual fact the opportunities are much greater for repair persons. What must be emphasised however is the difficulty in reaching full time status. That's not to discourage anyone from trying but to give an honest appraissal of the situation. The following link has a nice summary: www.totnesschoolofguitarmaking.co.uk/asajob.htm
 
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