Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
User avatar
bacsidoan
Posts: 2223
Joined: Sun May 10, 2009 1:59 am

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby bacsidoan » Wed Apr 12, 2017 8:28 pm

rojarosguitar wrote:On average, yes, if they are willing to develop and are not to complacent.


I can see that your luthier friend has made a lot of progress over the years.

astro64
Posts: 518
Joined: Sat Aug 06, 2016 7:43 pm
Location: American Southwest

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby astro64 » Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:18 pm

Indeed, on average yes, this is why we have to keep buying guitars, the best one is always around the corner....

User avatar
rojarosguitar
Posts: 3884
Joined: Sat Sep 19, 2009 12:24 pm
Location: near Freiburg, Germany

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby rojarosguitar » Thu Apr 13, 2017 5:48 am

astro64 wrote:Indeed, on average yes, this is why we have to keep buying guitars, the best one is always around the corner....


At least the good new is here that there always is a chance to find a new great sounding guitar if necessary ... but ... the better they become, the longer is the waiting list and the more expensive become their guitars :mrgreen:
Music is a big continent with different landscapes and corners. Some of them I do visit frequently, some from time to time and some I know from hearsay only ...

Alan Carruth
Luthier
Posts: 2463
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 6:56 pm

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby Alan Carruth » Thu Apr 13, 2017 8:37 pm

I have yet to meet a really good craftsman in any media who was not striving to improve.

Several years ago I showed one of my guitars to Sharon Isbin. She asked if it was my best one ever. Since it was, at that time a few years old, I didn't feel that it was in some respects, although it certainly was a nice one, and had been built for show. I was very tempted to ask her if the concert I had just heard was her best one ever, but I didn't.... I just mumbled something like: "No; that would be the next one".

User avatar
rojarosguitar
Posts: 3884
Joined: Sat Sep 19, 2009 12:24 pm
Location: near Freiburg, Germany

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby rojarosguitar » Thu Apr 13, 2017 9:52 pm

Alan Carruth wrote:I have yet to meet a really good craftsman in any media who was not striving to improve...


Sounds strange, I know, but I met some... 1983 when I was in Granada, Spain, I met a young guitar maker, a son of a known maker, and he said, he just does what used to be the way of doing it, and he was not interested at all in research or improvement. Later, when I left his home with my friend, who was a French professor, he told me, this attune was not rare among the guitar makers in Granada. Just following in the footsteps of the forefathers with no thought of development...

Another motive could be a kind of conceit, belief in having reached the pinnacle of the possible...
Music is a big continent with different landscapes and corners. Some of them I do visit frequently, some from time to time and some I know from hearsay only ...

Alan Carruth
Luthier
Posts: 2463
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 6:56 pm

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby Alan Carruth » Fri Apr 14, 2017 6:13 pm

I think we need to be clear here about the difference between design and craftsmanship. The Spanish makers could make the case that they are the heirs of a 'perfected' design. As David Pye said:" Where the problem is old, the old solutions will nearly always be best (unless a new technique has been introduced) because it is inconceivable that all the designers of ten or twenty generations will have been fools". There's a good case to be made for sticking with the tried and true.

I think we're talking here more about improvements in workmanship within a given form that is more or less restricted. There is a wonderful article about this in the old Catgut Acoustical Society 'Journal', Vol. 1, #8, by Antonio Pace, entitled 'Bee in a Foxglove Bell'. In it he cites the sonnet of the same name by Wordsworth, about the joys of effort in a proscribed field for those who have "felt the weight of too much liberty".

Leaving aside the question of whether the guitar is 'perfect' (the counter question 'for what?' arises spontaneously) we can argue that the design is, as Pye says, pretty close to optimized in some sense. On the other hand, as any maker knows, wood is variable (to put in mildly). That's why making first rate guitars consistently is impossible in a production setting: the 'correct' top thickness varies from one piece of wood to the next, to give the most basic example. The problem recurs for every part and feature, and that doesn't even start to address questions of visual esthetics. In those respects each instrument, no matter how similar in design to others, represents a new set of problems and opportunities to a good maker. It is, of course, possible to simply ignore all of that; to carry on a great tradition blindly, and there are people who do. This is not uncommon in dynasties. It's why they don't usually last for many generations.

We all know the name of Antonio Stradivari. It could well be argued that he did not actually originate anything; he simply took up the designs of his teachers and refined them over a long lifetime. While he introduced several different models of violin, most non-players or makers would have trouble distinguishing among them. Still, within the narrow scope of the Italian Baroque tradition of the violin, he did work to 'perfect' his craft.

He left behind him two sons to take over the business. Since he lived so long they were, themselves, older men by the time he passed it on, and seem to have been content to coast on their father's name. As a result, as famous as he was, almost nobody outside of the craft remembers Francesco and Omobono Stradivari.

Jeffrey Armbruster
Posts: 1189
Joined: Fri Dec 27, 2013 3:16 am
Location: Berkeley, California

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby Jeffrey Armbruster » Fri Apr 14, 2017 6:36 pm

As a clumsy non-luthier, I wonder how technology, in the form of modern tools, may or may not have affected guitar building over the last century. Paul Weaver, who built my guitar, strictly uses hand tools; probably the same ones that have been used for centuries (?). But maybe even these are improved in their modern iteration. Machine tools must be different than what was available to Stradivarius, etc. Perhaps it's possible to get more precision today? Or maybe build more quality guitars using modern tools because you can work faster?
Paul Weaver spruce 2014
Takamine C132S

User avatar
Erik Zurcher
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 14545
Joined: Thu Oct 06, 2005 8:38 pm
Location: The Hague, Netherlands

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby Erik Zurcher » Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:50 pm

Alan Carruth wrote:... I just mumbled something like: "No; that would be the next one".


Perfect answer!
Reedition Domingo Esteso by Conde Hermanos 2004; Kenny Hill, model Barcelona 2001
"While you try to master classical guitar, prepare for a slave's life: the guitar will forever be your master and you its slave".

Adrian Allan
Posts: 633
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2015 9:56 am

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby Adrian Allan » Fri Apr 14, 2017 10:31 pm

Jeffrey Armbruster wrote:As a clumsy non-luthier, I wonder how technology, in the form of modern tools, may or may not have affected guitar building over the last century. Paul Weaver, who built my guitar, strictly uses hand tools; probably the same ones that have been used for centuries (?). But maybe even these are improved in their modern iteration. Machine tools must be different than what was available to Stradivarius, etc. Perhaps it's possible to get more precision today? Or maybe build more quality guitars using modern tools because you can work faster?


I wondered this as well, particularly in relation to measuring.

Do luthiers use engineers' micrometers to measure thicknesses of wood? These would certainly not have been available centuries ago.

Alan Carruth
Luthier
Posts: 2463
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 6:56 pm

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby Alan Carruth » Sat Apr 15, 2017 12:46 am

Strad had some pretty nifty tools for measuring things like wood thickness, and they probably worked about as well as the ones I use. Power tools do make things go faster, of course, but where I have a bandsaw, he had apprentices. The Hills, in their biography, figured out that Strasd built about two violins or violas, or one 'cello, per month. I'm not sure I could work and faster or more precisely.

Of course, modern tooling really comes into it's own in making production instruments. Bob Taylor, of Taylor guitars, told us at a luthier's meeting once that the Indonesian factories produced a guitar with only 1-1/2 man-hours of labor. Virtually everytning is done by machine, with the people basically only there to move things from one machine to the next. In that realm we're rapidly moving toward the fully automated factory where the only living things are a man and a dog. The man is there to hold the dog's leash, and the dog is there to bite the man if he touches anything.

As I said in my last post, the problem with production insteruments is that there is no way (as yet) that factories can adapt to the variation in wood. People who have not done or seen the measurements can be surprised by the degree of variation between pieces of ostensiblly 'identical' pieces of wood. This is especially critical in making Classical guitars, where treble response is particularly necessary. To get good trebles you have to use a 'good' top, work it to the 'best' thickness, and brace it 'right'. What's 'good', 'best' or 'right' for one piece of wood may not be for another similar piece. Dealing with this sort of variation takes time, and time is the most expensive input in a factory. We luthiers can take the time. That's why you see very few (if any) top notch Classical players using anything other than a hand made guitar. Steel strting guitars can be mass produced to professionally acceptible tone standards, but not Classicals.

That said, there are some individual luthiers who use computer controlled machinery to produce parts for their guitars. Things like necks, that take some time to carve, and are supposed to be pretty uniform in size and shape, can be made quickly by machine while the luthier does something else. There is some controversy about this in the lutherie community. Properly used it should make no real difference in the quality of the guitars, but, of course, it may be hard for the customer to tell whether the use has actually been 'proper'. Then again: "A difference that makes no difference is not a difference". At the moment, at least, it's possible to get instruments made entirely by hand, ones made almost entirely by machine, and everything in between. Take your pick.

User avatar
Michael.N.
Posts: 6198
Joined: Sun Mar 25, 2007 7:28 am
Location: UK

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby Michael.N. » Sat Apr 15, 2017 8:39 am

Adrian Allan wrote:
Jeffrey Armbruster wrote:As a clumsy non-luthier, I wonder how technology, in the form of modern tools, may or may not have affected guitar building over the last century. Paul Weaver, who built my guitar, strictly uses hand tools; probably the same ones that have been used for centuries (?). But maybe even these are improved in their modern iteration. Machine tools must be different than what was available to Stradivarius, etc. Perhaps it's possible to get more precision today? Or maybe build more quality guitars using modern tools because you can work faster?


I wondered this as well, particularly in relation to measuring.

Do luthiers use engineers' micrometers to measure thicknesses of wood? These would certainly not have been available centuries ago.


Hand tools haven't really improved, perhaps they have the odd convenient feature that has been added. That's about it. It's pretty difficult to improve on a chisel or a plane iron, there's just not a lot available to improve on. Besides we have some pretty seriously good instruments that are 350 years old. The evidence suggests that it wasn't the tools that were holding them back. The only thing that may have been holding them back was time and money. Now a thickness sander, router and a bit of CNC will undoubtedly speed things up and make you more productive. I'm not sure it makes the finished instrument cheaper. I can point to many makers who are 'tooled up' who charge a lot more than others who use all hand tools. I don't think players are concerned with how a guitar is made. They are concerned with wood type, model, price and the name on the label.
I also doubt that being able to measure to .01 mm is all that relevant when it comes to guitars. If there has been any improvement it's down to education and attitude. You might say that any general improvement has been to things that have absolutely no bearing on tone, save for fret placement and compensation and even then some of the originals are clearly good enough for many people. Otherwise you may as well say that any Torres, Hauser I, Bouchet and Fleta are nothing like they are cracked up to be. I can't guarantee that they weren't using engineers micrometers on the relevant parts but my knowledge of guitar making says that it's highly unlikely that they were. It's much more likely that they had a very rough target thickness and then flexed a few fingers to do the rest. After all that was the craftsman's way.
Last edited by Michael.N. on Sat Apr 15, 2017 8:52 am, edited 2 times in total.
Historicalguitars.

User avatar
Michael.N.
Posts: 6198
Joined: Sun Mar 25, 2007 7:28 am
Location: UK

Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Postby Michael.N. » Sat Apr 15, 2017 8:49 am

Duplicate.
Historicalguitars.


Return to “Luthiers”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: bmdavis, Brandwatch [Bot], CommonCrawl [Bot], hatalap, Marshall Dixon, Ricardo Barros, sfusco and 32 guests