Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
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Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Post by Guero » Mon Apr 10, 2017 10:21 am

Are luthiers getting better with every new guitar they build or are they just working more efficiently?
I would assume that a luthier apprentice or a "young" luthier is paying highest attention on every little detail in a maybe fussy way whereas an old luthier "master" knows by experience thus intuition what to do the get the best result.
But maybe the increase of experience comes along with a decrease of accuracy (you know what I mean, I'm not talking about sloppiness)

So, given the same quality of material, would you prefer to buy the 3th or the 243th guitar of the same luthier :wink:
Last edited by Guero on Mon Apr 10, 2017 8:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Gary Macleod
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Re: are luthiers getting better with every guitar

Post by Gary Macleod » Mon Apr 10, 2017 10:26 am

I'll let you know this summer, I sold my 2010 Stephen Hill last year and have a new one coming in a couple of months.

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Re: are luthiers getting better with every guitar

Post by zupfgeiger » Mon Apr 10, 2017 10:34 am

I play two guitars from the Tacchi family in Florence, one built by the father the other one built by his son (21 years). Both are amazing instruments and one would not believe that the younger luthier is around 400 guitars behind his father.
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Re: are luthiers getting better with every guitar

Post by Jack Douglas » Mon Apr 10, 2017 12:44 pm

I remember two of my classmates from Landscape Architecture school whose parent was a Landscape Architect. Both of them were much better prepared and creative than those of us that had no prior exposure to the profession. So, I can understand that the children of luthiers that grow up with and get exposed early to the details of lutherie come out of the starting block with an edge on those just out of a guitar building class. For example, Giovanni Tacchi, son of Andrea, with his Frederich copy is garnering much attention. Kathrin Hauser, daughter of Hermann Hauser III is already turning heads with her instruments. Both these two young Luthiers may well exceed the benchmark set by their parent.
Personally, I believe that experience is cumulative and the luthier's current new guitar becomes the next best one. That said there is always an ah ha moment that results in a one-off that never gets replicated.
This said, I also believe there are guitar consumers that have zero understanding of the creativity necessary to make the next best instrument. For them it's just the guitar with the most bling.
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Brian McCombs
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Re: are luthiers getting better with every guitar

Post by Brian McCombs » Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:08 pm

They hope so.

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Michael Lazar
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Re: are luthiers getting better with every guitar

Post by Michael Lazar » Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:14 pm

I think most serious luthiers try to make every guitar their best ever. In order to do that it may be necessary to have a mental image of the results they are seeking. They are always looking for and thinking about new design and process possibilities. Cosmetics take a lot of time and attention. In an article he wrote for American Lutherie, Greg Byers said ""Since most classical guitars are appreciated and valued for their sound above all else, I have devoted countless hours to improving my rosettes - go figure!"

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Re: are luthiers getting better with every guitar

Post by Pat Dodson » Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:49 pm

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Philipp Lerche
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Re: are luthiers getting better with every guitar

Post by Philipp Lerche » Mon Apr 10, 2017 6:33 pm

I don't really call myself a luthier but I have built 5 guitars. The 6th is comming soon. One variable I believe that plays a big role is luck.
With the time it will be my task to transform that luck variable into skill by simply know what I'm doing. (sry if my english hurts)

I made the experience that the beauty of every next guitar increased because I learned techniques which improved my woodworking skills.
Regarding the sound it is quite difficult to say because I never used the exact same wood/bracing combination for two guitars.

That graph puts it in a nutshell I think !! :)
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Alan Carruth
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Re: are luthiers getting better with every guitar

Post by Alan Carruth » Mon Apr 10, 2017 6:43 pm

It's a process of approaching a limit. Most makers improve pretty rapidly at first, and the rate slows down as they get older. Of course, as you approach perfection the small details become more and more important. The joke runs that with time you learn more and more about less and less; eventually you know everything about nothing. At this point, after more than forty years of building, the improvements are mostly in small details that many people don't even notice, and there's not much difference between the last guitar and the next one. On the whole, though, comparing what I'm doing now with even five years ago it's getting better. I've always said that if I make one that's perfect I'll have to quit, but it's an ever receding goal, so I suspect I'll be building for as long as I can.

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Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Post by John Ray » Mon Apr 10, 2017 8:33 pm

Guitar-making is a mystery in so many ways. Without a doubt, we get better with each instrument we make but it is not always clear why. My woodworking techniques have probably not improved in the past 5 years but my guitars have. For the most part it is a question of making very low level changes with each guitar. If you notice an improvement with that change you keep the modification and if not you go back. Having said that, even if you make no changes you still develop your intuitions with every guitar you make. Of course you have to assume that there is a plateau at some point and for some that plateau is somewhere below "great guitars". The other thing I have observed is that some makers don't trust their instincts and rely too much on others (a few players have crazy ideas about sound). This can cause a good guitar-maker to go downhill while he is being told that he is getting better. Ironic because players can give us our most useful feedback if we know how to take it. Your comment about young vs. old seems logical but in my experience it is the opposite. With experience you learn how to "see" and your accuracy improves vastly even though you might seem to be working more effortlessly. This is because you see imperfections that were invisible before.
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Dave M
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Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Post by Dave M » Mon Apr 10, 2017 9:07 pm

In a slightly dispiriting way our age comes into this. As I suspect quite a few of our amateur colleagues do, I have only been able to find the time to do guitar building after retirement. I can see objectively that my guitars are getting better - bending is improved, neck body/geometry is improved and general woodworking is getting more accurate.

However having started late in life the inevitable decrease in physical competence is bound to show up sooner or later. Already vision supports are necessary, and one's ears are simply not much good any more for hearing the subtleties that we are seeking.

So although I am striving to make better instruments, and feel I am capable of much improvement, there is going to be a serious plateau in the not too distant future.

And this must be true for even the very best craftspeople even, if it hits at a very late age - accumulated skill and knowledge will eventually give way to failing bodies.

Damn, I'm not exactly cheering anyone up here am I!

I do still love to get into the workshop and do things to pieces of wood, with hopefully a worthwhile instrument at the end of the process! Only the recipients of the guitars can tell us if they are getting better or not.

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Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Post by amezcua » Tue Apr 11, 2017 12:00 am

I saw a graph once of the work of Stradivari and it traced the changes he made over the years. He seemed to branch out in one direction with for example a longer body ,and then moved back in the opposite direction . It showed an organised way to discover a solution which was in the future and unknown till it was tried .Plenty is written about his work but the principle must apply to guitar making as well . A useful example of holding on to information is how he was careful to keep the air volume the same .The internet is a good source of information which can shorten the process .You need a balance between gullibility and total scepticism though .Scepticism seems to make a louder noise on the net . It must feel safer .

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Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Post by vesa » Tue Apr 11, 2017 5:49 am

Normally yes but maybe sometimes no.
What about Torres?
I can't see any quality development in his instruments when moving from FE to SE guitars.
It seems to me that he had it right from the beginning.
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Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Post by Alan Carruth » Wed Apr 12, 2017 6:56 pm

It's interesting that Strad's best work was done when he was in his 60s or 70s. He probably started making instruments in his teens, and made his last ones when he was 93 or 94, and the arc of quality represents a rise in understanding balanced against falling ability in his later years, as his eyes failed him. These days there's a lot that can be done about that, of course, and makers can keep getting better longer. I sure hope so....

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Re: Are luthiers getting better with every guitar?

Post by rojarosguitar » Wed Apr 12, 2017 7:37 pm

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