What qualifies a luthier

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
markblues
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What qualifies a luthier

Post by markblues » Wed Mar 30, 2016 4:28 pm

I was just wondering exactly what qualifies someone to class themselves as a luthier? Just because you build guitars, fix them? To me it would indicate a masterful build level but them maybe I'm wrong? If so, how does one qualify? Not that I'm in the business of making guitar but more because you want to know that when you have a guitar made, its going to made by someone with a recognised level skill
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Alan Carruth
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by Alan Carruth » Wed Mar 30, 2016 4:37 pm

It depends on where you are. In some places, where there is a stronger guild system, you actually need to get training and pass an exam. Here in the USA anybody can hang out a sign that says 'luthier' and they are one.

One of the US luthier organizations tried to set up a rating system but the idea foundered: basically it came down to who was writing the standards. Lute and violin makers really didn't want to have to check out on electric guitars, and vice versa. Some of the more 'creative' types didn't see the point of knowing the traditions, and the traditionalists couldn't be bothered with the 'scientific' stuff.

As far as becoming a 'master', I'm of the opinion that it's the same as it has always been; you're a master when the other masters tell you you are.

printer2
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by printer2 » Wed Mar 30, 2016 4:40 pm

On another site a 'builder' of three guitars is billing himself/company as XXXX Luthier. He has yet to sell a guitar and I would be embarased to offer up what he has so far. But he thinks he is miles ahead of everyone else and nothing else compares to his offerings. He does not seem to have an understanding on the basics of how a guitar works but he is already the CEO of his budding company.

I would think that a luthier would understand wood and how to put it together to build and repair musical instruments. I also think that they generate a major portion of their income from the building or repairing of instruments.
Fred

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Brian McCombs
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by Brian McCombs » Wed Mar 30, 2016 6:41 pm

When I think of the term, my minds eye sees a kindly older person, wearing a shop apron who can speak with authority about any stringed thing you walk in the door with, within reason. The luthier should be able to repair it, or expertly advise why it cannot be repaired....or why it will cost too much to repair.

....and if you want a new one, can make one for a price.

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Dan Davis
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by Dan Davis » Wed Mar 30, 2016 7:59 pm

My two cents (not adjusted for inflation):

As is the case with many professions, there are no qualifications that guarantee a competent work product. I spent two decades in software development, working with both self-taught and formally trained developers. Many of the former could produce results superior to the latter, impressive diplomas notwithstanding. Many who claimed to be "software architects" were terrible designers, and many who preferred to sit and hammer out low-level algorithms (and would never claim architecture expertise) were nevertheless excellent high-level architects when called upon. What qualified them was the quality of their work, not the quality of their resumes.

Am I saying that formal training mechanisms have no value? Of course not. But I most certainly AM saying that the proof is always in the pudding. Anyone who has tried to find a decent doctor or attorney or mechanic or [insert profession here] can attest to that.
All of us contain Music & Truth, but most of us can't get it out. -- Mark Twain

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Andy Culpepper
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by Andy Culpepper » Wed Mar 30, 2016 8:13 pm

Merriam-Webster's definition of LUTHIER: one who makes stringed musical instruments (as violins or guitars)

That is the definition of the word 'luthier', but how to identify a "good" or "master" luthier is a little more tricky. As someone pointed out previously, in the US anyone can call themselves a luthier, hopefully after having made at least one guitar. Whether you trust a luthier enough to commission a guitar from them comes down the responsibility of the consumer to do their due diligence: research, try a guitar if possible, ask for references, etc.

I do not think someone has to derive most of their income from making instruments in order to be called a luthier. There are plenty of talented amateur luthiers who anyone should feel comfortable ordering a guitar from, as long as the price is right and the quality is good.

In regards to Brian McCombs comment above, I find that funny because the same image pops into my head when I think of a 'luthier', even though I'm 29 years old and have derived 100% of my income from making and repairing instruments for the past 6 years. I can't say that I've encountered "age-ism" per se in this business but I don't think I visually match what most people think of as a luthier, even though my life is completely devoted to making great instruments.

In a way I do think that it should be mandatory to have some kind of apprenticeship or training in order to call yourself a professional in this craft, but the laws here aren't set up that way...

printer2
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by printer2 » Wed Mar 30, 2016 8:46 pm

I think the making your living off your trade should be a requirement to call yourself something. I look at it as what do you have listed on your tax form. Sure there are a lot of talented people that can do the work of a luthier but you might be a Dr. that builds a couple of instruments a year. Same goes for people that play an instrument. You could be pretty good at it, but unless you made your living from playing the title does not really stick. Had a number of friends that derived their income from playing for a number of years. Today they do not call themselves musicians even though they could play that role again. I think you could be a crappy luthier but if people keep paying you income for the services then you have a right to hang up your shingle.
Fred

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Dan Davis
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by Dan Davis » Wed Mar 30, 2016 9:45 pm

printer2 wrote:I think the making your living off your trade should be a requirement to call yourself something.
By that definition, van Gogh was not a painter. :P
All of us contain Music & Truth, but most of us can't get it out. -- Mark Twain

Paul Micheletti
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by Paul Micheletti » Wed Mar 30, 2016 9:58 pm

For a few years, I worked as an engineer and built guitars as a hobby. Then a couple of years ago, I quit the full-time engineering job so I could dedicate more time to lutherie. I did find a part-time job in engineering (very rare to find), so I can feed my family while I make this costly transition in my life. When I quit being a full-time engineer, that's when mentally I switched from "being an engineer that builds guitars in his spare time" to "being a luthier that does part-time engineering to feed his family". In a couple more years, I'll drop the engineering part and make the final transition to simply being "luthier".

I know that distinction only exists inside my head. But every goal needs to start with a vision. I've learned that you become what you call yourself in life. If you think of yourself as a loser, then you will rarely succeed. Mental identification as a luthier is important to making that goal of becoming one. It would be a shame to have to work at something for an arbitrary 10+ years or something before you could be called a "luthier".

I also realize that I will have to be working at this for 10+ years before I could be considered as a luthier with any sort of recognizable name and with that being able to achieve a recognizable income from my instruments. And I'm certain that I will never refer to myself at any level of future experience as a "master luthier". That title is an honor bestowed by others and not claimed by oneself.

mqbernardo
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by mqbernardo » Wed Mar 30, 2016 10:37 pm

i pay other folks to call me a luthier. it works.

riffmeister
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by riffmeister » Wed Mar 30, 2016 11:31 pm

Andy Culpepper wrote:Merriam-Webster's definition of LUTHIER: one who makes stringed musical instruments (as violins or guitars)...
Bingo.

Some do this as their profession.

bushweek
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by bushweek » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:55 am

A luthier needs to have good ears in addition to knowing how to craft a guitar

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Michael.N.
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by Michael.N. » Thu Mar 31, 2016 10:38 am

Dan Davis wrote:
printer2 wrote:I think the making your living off your trade should be a requirement to call yourself something.
By that definition, van Gogh was not a painter. :P
No he was a painter, just very much an amateur painter. He became professional after he died. Fat lot of good that did him.

Germany is one of the few countries that still employs a guild type system. They still have a lot of power including the authority to shut you down if you haven't passed the guilds test. Having said that I know of some who trade and are in breach of that policy, including one very well known violin maker who openly admits that he contravenes the code. They won't shut him down though, the fish is too big.
I've never heard of them actually closing down anyone connected with instrument making but of course I'm hardly an authority on this. I have been reliably informed that it has happened to other trades, including confiscation of tools.
In the UK anyone is perfectly free to set up as a maker/repairer irrespective of qualification or experience. Most of the restrictions are related to trades where there are obvious public safety issues.
Historicalguitars.

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Dan Davis
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by Dan Davis » Thu Mar 31, 2016 3:02 pm

Michael.N. wrote:
Dan Davis wrote:
printer2 wrote:I think the making your living off your trade should be a requirement to call yourself something.
By that definition, van Gogh was not a painter. :P
No he was a painter, just very much an amateur painter. He became professional after he died. Fat lot of good that did him.
Well.... Painting most certainly was van Gogh's profession. He was just never able to live off it without subsidies from his brother (most of which he spent on pigments and canvas, often at the expense of food). He only sold one painting, for 400 francs, during his lifetime. His is hardly an unusual profile. Surviving via one or more patrons when sales of one's work do not pay the bills does not make one an amateur. If this were the case, many of history's great artists would have to be labeled amateurs.

I may be misunderstanding the intent here, but it strikes me as a little "edgy" to link the boundary between amateur and professional to degree of success. Is the person who fully intends to sell his/her work but struggles to make a living off it any less a professional?

But perhaps amateur/professional is a false dichotomy in the first place -- or at least an irrelevant one -- especially in a field where "making a living" is an increasingly tenuous proposition. If we would make instruments whether we could live off their sale or not (as I suspect would be the case for most makers here), then we are something not adequately captured by either term, and it is probably that nameless something that comes closest to being the qualification that matters.
All of us contain Music & Truth, but most of us can't get it out. -- Mark Twain

printer2
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Re: What qualifies a luthier

Post by printer2 » Fri Apr 01, 2016 12:34 am

My thoughts on the use of the term is to name one's profession not what a person is capable of. Can there be a number of struggling luthiers out there? Probably more than non-struggling. Lot of struggling actors out there also, getting a bit part here or there. Might get by living off a girlfriend (boyfriend) and might making some day. Heck, might even be some luthiers that act, wait tables, mow lawns. Which is the defining occupation the person? I see it as the one you spend the most time and energy at. You could be a luthier 85% of the time and support yourself with the other 15% of the time playing cards and call yourself a luthier without me objecting.

In reality I don't care all that much if the person does make a living at it if they call themselves a luthier. I do care if they are up to the task though. I only get annoyed at the ones that couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag with a sharpened chisel.
Fred

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