Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

msb
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Aug 02, 2017 1:50 pm

Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by msb » Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:26 pm

I am currently wrestling with a decision (or many decisions) related to getting my first luthier made guitar. My first dilemma is whether I am worthy of making such a large jump in the quality of the guitar I play! I am self taught, with limited time and have been playing for around 10 years, so my skills are fairly limited. However If it makes playing more enjoyable, incentivises practice and makes me happy perhaps it is worth it?

So if I park that decision and say that its probably more efficient financially than buying incrementally better guitars over time and having to sell them on. My next problem is exactly what I should get. I know that I prefer the sound of cedar so that's sorted. However the luthier I have in mind makes both double top cedar guitars that have received a lot of acclaim from local musicians far better than I and he also makes a more traditional model based on Friederich designs. It seems that a lot of performers are going for double top guitars, but is this mainly for volume and projection? I don't really have any aspiration to play in public and certainly not in any large setting so these attributes aren't so important to me, so I don't want to sacrifice tone for projection. Does this mean I should stick with the more traditional design? I keep toing and froing on this, the double top is more expensive, but not enough to be a big issue. Part of me likes the idea of having a guitar using the latest 'technology', and part of me like the idea of tradition.

So I'd be grateful for any comments/advice that will help solidify my resolve to purchase and help me choose between the available options. :D

DerekB
Posts: 422
Joined: Tue May 01, 2012 10:22 am
Location: Bollington, Cheshire UK

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by DerekB » Wed Aug 02, 2017 4:24 pm

Rather than taking a stab in the dark, I would advise first of all finding a decent teacher. This is likely to improve your playing more than a better guitar. He/she would also be able to advise you on upgrading.

If you reject that advice, I would suggest finding a shop specialising in classical guitars and to try as many as possible. If you want advice on where to try tell us what area you live in and I am sure someone here will be able to make suggestions.

As far as the type of guitar is concerned, don't rule anything out. When I bought my first luthier made guitar I, too, was certain I preferred cedar but finished up buying a spruce model. At that level spruce can sound very good indeed. The general advice on double tops is that they give more volume but less variety of tone and not always a very pleasant tone. That being said, I do own a double top which is not plasticky in the slightest and gives an amazingly even response throughout the range. It is also exceptionally loud.
I've suffered for my music. Now it's your turn... - Seasick Steve

Ana Espinosa 2014 Swiss spruce/IRW
Yulong Guo 2009 640mm scale cedar/IRW

User avatar
souldier
Posts: 812
Joined: Tue Dec 08, 2015 4:45 pm

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by souldier » Wed Aug 02, 2017 4:27 pm

I personally don't think you need to be "worthy" in order to play a fine instrument. If a complete novice wants to play a $10k guitar, who is to say that's wrong? I think there is also nothing wrong with advancing as a beginner on a fine instrument rather than starting off with a student guitar. However those with better playing ability and wider experience will be able to appreciate and maximize a guitars potential as well as discern what makes a really good guitar. The risk of a beginner dropping big cash on a fine instrument is they may not really know how a good guitar sounds and won't know how best to spend their money.

The luthier market is definitely overwhelming and oversaturated. I've gone through the process myself and here are my tips from my experience:
-It is worth the time and money to travel to various dealers to play as many fine instruments as possible! Do not merely rely on word of mouth, online reviews, etc. The only way to know if you will personally like the guitar is if you play it! Play as many guitars as possible at different price points. Dealers such as GSI, The Classical Guitar Store, Reverie Guitars, etc. should have some good options to try. There is simply no other way to better assess the sound and playability of a guitar. People will give their opinions, but their experience can be drastically different from your own.
-When testing guitars, have specific criteria in mind and test them out systematically. It is all to easy to spend hours testing guitars without really discerning their qualities and soon forgetting what they sounded like.
-Price is subjective! More expensive definitely does not mean better sound and playability. In fact, I currently play a $400 factory guitar that I like more than many luthier instruments that I have tried. Before this I owned a $7500 guitar that also sounded better than other guitars that were 10k plus!
-Don't be swayed by what woods and construction methods are used or by the reputation of the luthier... Judge every guitar on its own merits. If you allow your preconceived biases to affect your judgment on how a guitar will sound, you won't hear its true sound. For example, you say you've already settled on Cedar... big mistake. There are far more factors to a guitars sound than the species of wood used for the top. I know of one dealer who said that a lot of guys come in saying they want a traditional sounding Spanish guitar, but end up leaving with a double top. Don't assume you know what you want before you actually try something in person. I've played fan braced guitars that sound like double tops and double tops that sound like they were fan braced. I bet even the most experienced players wouldn't be able to tell you the species of wood and construction methods of a guitar through a blind test.. There are many of factors that collectively come together to make each individual guitar.
-I prefer to buy used or pre-made that you can try in person... I understand the excitement of having a guitar made specifically for you, but you save a tonne of money and take less risk when you can try a guitar in person. Even the best luthiers can't make two guitars that sound EXACTLY the same. I personally have made the mistake of having a guitar commissioned without trying it first just based on reviews and word of mouth, and I paid the price for it.

Wish you the best on your search
"Success grants its rewards to a few, but is the dream of the multitudes.
Excellence is available to all, but is accepted only by a few." - Christopher Parkening

User avatar
Rick Beauregard
Student of the online lessons
Posts: 938
Joined: Thu Nov 06, 2014 5:23 am
Location: Blaine, WA

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by Rick Beauregard » Wed Aug 02, 2017 5:33 pm

I'm a believer in "buy local". Unless you plan to be the next Bream, and hire your own personal luthier to live with you, find someone your region and start sampling some of his or her products.

If you live in the Northwest US, we have at least 2 wonderful luthiers (that I am familiar with). If you have the funds, Dake Traphagen's instruments are world class. But as a student like me, a lesser known luthier (for now) like Steve Ganz, who creates amazing guitars, may be a good choice economically. Why pay extra because so and so plays their guitars? I can recommend either without reservation and would love to own a Traphagen some day. Or another Ganz (in spruce this time Steve?)

Another thing to consider: when I bought Solidarity from Steve, I noticed it was much more sensative to my technique (or lack thereof). More responsive has its upside, but also downside. More squeaks and string noise. This will make you develop better technique, but may also be frustrating for a beginner. My understanding as a neophyte is that doubletops and guitars built for volume exacerbate this problem.

If you can afford a handmade guitar built by a local artisan, do it if for no other reason than to perpetuate the artistry of these masters in your community.
All this time I thought I was making music; it was making me.
2015 Steve Ganz "Solidarity"
1980 Dauphin D30
1962 Fender pre-CBS P-Bass
National Triolian Uke ca.1930
Almost as many fly rods as guitars
_/) _/)
_/)

UKsteve
Posts: 595
Joined: Fri Jan 04, 2013 2:48 pm
Location: St Albans, UK

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by UKsteve » Wed Aug 02, 2017 6:21 pm

msb wrote:
Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:26 pm
My first dilemma is whether I am worthy of making such a large jump in the quality of the guitar I play!
Having a great guitar is a daily joy and brings immense pleasure whatever your standard. The better the guitar, the more you'll enjoy playing, the more you'll play, the more you enjoy playing ... repeat ad nauseam!
msb wrote:
Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:26 pm
However the luthier I have in mind makes both double top cedar guitars that have received a lot of acclaim from local musicians far better than I and he also makes a more traditional model based on Friederich designs.
So, what does YOUR luthier think is the right guitar for you? Take his advice, which is far more valuable than any you will find here, given that you seem to have settled on the maker. Do not buy a dog and then try and bark yourself.

User avatar
James Lister
Luthier
Posts: 7081
Joined: Fri Nov 17, 2006 3:53 pm
Location: Sheffield, UK

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by James Lister » Wed Aug 02, 2017 6:46 pm

Rick Beauregard wrote:
Wed Aug 02, 2017 5:33 pm
I'm a believer in "buy local". Unless you plan to be the next Bream, and hire your own personal luthier to live with you, find someone your region and start sampling some of his or her products.

If you can afford a handmade guitar built by a local artisan, do it if for no other reason than to perpetuate the artistry of these masters in your community.
Good advice.

If you don't need the volume, then I'd suggest traditional, but as has been said, try as many guitars as you can and see what works for you. Listen to advice from other players if possible, and luthiers, but don't be persuaded away from what speaks to you personally.

James
James Lister, luthier, Sheffield UK

John Ray
Luthier
Posts: 398
Joined: Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:13 pm
Location: Granada, Spain

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by John Ray » Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:40 am

I just want to support all of the good advice I see in this thread. Reccommendations of famous builders are not always useful but things like "buy local", "listen to many guitars", "ask your teacher for help", "ignore the big name labels and prices" are all pearls of wisdom. Without a doubt there are too many choices. Good luck in your search.
John Ray
blog Great guitars of the past
facebook John Ray guitars

User avatar
tormodg
Posts: 364
Joined: Sun May 11, 2014 11:13 am
Location: Oslo, Norway

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by tormodg » Fri Aug 04, 2017 11:35 am

Rick Beauregard wrote:If you can afford a handmade guitar built by a local artisan, do it if for no other reason than to perpetuate the artistry of these masters in your community.
Totally agree. I went for it last fall and ordered a hand made guitar from a local luthier whom I had met at a festival the year before. It has been a very enjoyable (and educational) ride. The instrument is fantastic! And I have made a new friend. Plus the quality and playability of the guitar is so much better than what I used to play, that it has changed my playing (something I did not expect at all!).
2017 Yngvar Thomassen spruce
1994 Alhambra 6P (cedar, battered, broken and repaired)
+ various steel string and electric guitars

Sold: 2014 Alhambra Linea Profesional (spruce)

CathyCate
Posts: 572
Joined: Mon Jun 01, 2015 2:25 am
Location: Metro Detroit, Michigan

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by CathyCate » Fri Aug 04, 2017 1:44 pm

The thrill is in the hunt. Savor it and take your time with the search.
It's not marriage. Once you make your purchase, you are still free to keep looking and to change your guitar(s) as many times as you like. Whoopee!

Andrew Pohlman
Posts: 1004
Joined: Tue Nov 10, 2015 8:24 pm
Location: SF Bay Area

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by Andrew Pohlman » Fri Aug 04, 2017 2:28 pm

CathyCate wrote:
Fri Aug 04, 2017 1:44 pm
The thrill is in the hunt. Savor it and take your time with the search.
It's not marriage. Once you make your purchase, you are still free to keep looking and to change your guitar(s) as many times as you like. Whoopee!
I agree! I made the decision to buy a luthier made guitar as a self-gift for my 60th birthday. Ervin Somogyi lives 20 minutes from my house, but alas, I can't afford him. After researching many luthiers here and on the Official Luthier's website, I commissioned an instrument from Trevor Gore. It worked out wonderfully!

You need to find a luthier you can connect with just like I connected with Trevor. And what others have said above - that instrument is simply a joy both to play and to hear! Now, my household budget can't justify another commissioned instrument. But if you are lucky enough to have a robust budget, you can succumb to GAS guilt free and without affecting the weekly grocery run! :D As in: if eat only rice, beans and turnips for the next 10 years, I can afford another luthier made instrument ... :D
2013 Rodriguez FF Sabicas blanco
2015 Trevor Gore custom Neoclassical
- redwood top, Palo dorado B+Ss.

User avatar
Rick Beauregard
Student of the online lessons
Posts: 938
Joined: Thu Nov 06, 2014 5:23 am
Location: Blaine, WA

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by Rick Beauregard » Fri Aug 04, 2017 2:33 pm

tormodg wrote:
Fri Aug 04, 2017 11:35 am
Rick Beauregard wrote:If you can afford a handmade guitar built by a local artisan, do it if for no other reason than to perpetuate the artistry of these masters in your community.
Totally agree. I went for it last fall and ordered a hand made guitar from a local luthier whom I had met at a festival the year before. It has been a very enjoyable (and educational) ride. The instrument is fantastic! And I have made a new friend. Plus the quality and playability of the guitar is so much better than what I used to play, that it has changed my playing (something I did not expect at all!).
Same for me on the new friend part. Steve has become a good friend and we participate in local guitar circles and recitals together. He's also n intermediate student played like me. It's also great to have the maker nearby. Steve checks out my guitar periodically and offers free tune ups. He even called me to remind me to humidify when the forecast called for a drop in humidity last winter. And of course I couldn't be happier with my guitar. I get to try out his new guitars and see them in progress to see the care he put into Solidarity. And his workshop is on my local tour whenever friends come to stay with me. He loves to show it off. (Not much else to do in Blaine!).
All this time I thought I was making music; it was making me.
2015 Steve Ganz "Solidarity"
1980 Dauphin D30
1962 Fender pre-CBS P-Bass
National Triolian Uke ca.1930
Almost as many fly rods as guitars
_/) _/)
_/)

User avatar
Rick Beauregard
Student of the online lessons
Posts: 938
Joined: Thu Nov 06, 2014 5:23 am
Location: Blaine, WA

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by Rick Beauregard » Fri Aug 04, 2017 2:40 pm

Oh and you might just stumble into a great deal. My guitar was not commissioned. Steve had lent it out to a potential customer for a time. He decided he wanted the spruce, so it became available. Since it had a few playing blemishes Steve felt he couldn't sell it as a new guitar so he gave me a great price, and refinished the top to boot! It was one of three he had in his shop at the time. I liked it best and the price was right.
All this time I thought I was making music; it was making me.
2015 Steve Ganz "Solidarity"
1980 Dauphin D30
1962 Fender pre-CBS P-Bass
National Triolian Uke ca.1930
Almost as many fly rods as guitars
_/) _/)
_/)

fraim
Posts: 58
Joined: Sun Dec 18, 2016 2:22 pm
Location: Dallas, TX

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by fraim » Fri Aug 04, 2017 9:36 pm

here's a noteworthy problem... how to "play as many as you can" with a luthier made guitar? sure, you can get one for a trial but if you don't like it in the (usual 48hrs) time frame, you're sending it back & that shipping price for multiple trials can add up. plus i would feel real guilty sending someones heart & soul work back because i didn't like something about it to my hearing or feel. thoughts?

User avatar
Michael.N.
Posts: 6482
Joined: Sun Mar 25, 2007 7:28 am
Location: UK

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by Michael.N. » Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:05 pm

fraim wrote:
Fri Aug 04, 2017 9:36 pm
here's a noteworthy problem... how to "play as many as you can" with a luthier made guitar? sure, you can get one for a trial but if you don't like it in the (usual 48hrs) time frame, you're sending it back & that shipping price for multiple trials can add up. plus i would feel real guilty sending someones heart & soul work back because i didn't like something about it to my hearing or feel. thoughts?
48 hours would be a short trial but at least it's long enough to get to know the instrument. No need to feel guilty (unless you've put a great big scratch in the soundboard!). With the home trial you can put the guitar down, go back to it, sleep and go back to it in the morning with fresh ears. The alternative is to go into a dealers and of course you have a far greater choice, maybe too great in that you might be subject to guitar overdose. Even then you are likely to only have an hour or so with any one guitar. You also might feel under pressure to make a decision.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. It is true that multiple trials and shipping costs will very quickly add up to a fair amount of money. Maybe the ideal would be to visit a dealers and take 3 guitars on home trial :shock: Actually that is done with instruments such as flutes and recorders. They are pretty easy to carry around though and cheap enough to ship.
Historicalguitars.

User avatar
Eberhard Mueller
Posts: 109
Joined: Mon Oct 03, 2016 3:58 pm
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Re: Getting a luthier made guitar - too many choices!

Post by Eberhard Mueller » Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:42 pm

msb wrote:
Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:26 pm
I am currently wrestling with a decision (or many decisions) related to getting my first luthier made guitar. My first dilemma is whether I am worthy of making such a large jump in the quality of the guitar I play! I am self taught, with limited time and have been playing for around 10 years, so my skills are fairly limited. However If it makes playing more enjoyable, incentivises practice and makes me happy perhaps it is worth it?

So if I park that decision and say that its probably more efficient financially than buying incrementally better guitars over time and having to sell them on. My next problem is exactly what I should get. I know that I prefer the sound of cedar so that's sorted. However the luthier I have in mind makes both double top cedar guitars that have received a lot of acclaim from local musicians far better than I and he also makes a more traditional model based on Friederich designs. It seems that a lot of performers are going for double top guitars, but is this mainly for volume and projection? I don't really have any aspiration to play in public and certainly not in any large setting so these attributes aren't so important to me, so I don't want to sacrifice tone for projection. Does this mean I should stick with the more traditional design? I keep toing and froing on this, the double top is more expensive, but not enough to be a big issue. Part of me likes the idea of having a guitar using the latest 'technology', and part of me like the idea of tradition.

So I'd be grateful for any comments/advice that will help solidify my resolve to purchase and help me choose between the available options. :D
Perhaps a trivial point to make, but I will make it anyways: :wink:

There is a saying (usually attributed to Buddhism) that goes something like: "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." One could just as easily paraphrase: "When the student is ready the luthier (and guitar) appears." In either case, there is a patience required for the quested goal! One's feeling overwhelmed by the task (as implied in the original post) is a sign that one is not yet ready. As others have said, meeting the right luthier (as for a teacher) is the beginning of a relationship.

In my opinion, not a lot of decisions have to be made in advance re: guitar design, price, maker, etc., as all should eventually fall into place.
Neil Douglas 2001 (German Spruce / German Maple)
Neil Douglas 1992 (Engelmann Spruce / Brazilian Rosewood)
La Patrie Motif
Cordoba Mini M

Return to “Advice on buying, selling or valuing a guitar”