Tell me about your Luthier apprenticeship

Discussion in 'Luthiery, Modifications & Customizations' started by wheresthefbomb, Jun 28, 2021.

  1. wheresthefbomb

    wheresthefbomb SS.org Regular

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    Hello friends,

    I have been considering off and on the idea of pursuing a luthier apprenticeship, first and foremost because I would like to gain more skills for working on my own equipment. I don't see myself going into business, at least not as anything more than a side-hustle, but I'd very much like the opportunity to learn from someone with knowledge informed by real world experience. I'm also planning on moving to contiguous amerika for grad school in the next couple years so I have a lot of potential flexibility in relocation.

    Anyway, I'm curious about a few things.

    What did it take to get into your luthier apprenticeship?
    Is it competitive, and how skilled do you need to be to start?
    Is it like an internship or are you paid?
    Who did you learn from, and what did you like and dislike about them?
    How long did it take/how difficult was it? (comparable to tech school? Bachelor's? Grad school?)
    Did you feel like it was worth it?
    What else would you share with someone who was considering following in your footsteps?

    And anything else you feel is relevant. None of these are dealbreakers, if I decide this is the way then I'll do what needs doing. Just trying to get a good idea of what I'm looking at.
     
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  2. MaxOfMetal

    MaxOfMetal Likes trem wankery. Super Moderator

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    In 2021 there are enough resources online to get you to the point of just being skilled enough to work on your own already made guitars and such.

    I apprenticed under an independent builder in the 90's, it was not paid, and aside from being able to use their tools and shop while I amassed my own, there weren't any benefits outside the training and experience.

    Building guitars and repairing them are two different skill sets. Decide what you want to do first.
     
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  3. migstopheles

    migstopheles SS.org Regular

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    surely the entire benefit _is_ the training and experience? I'm a few months into learning woodworking, have "successfully" built my first guitar, and i am fairly sure that everything I've learned on my own since November could have been taught to me by an experienced luthier in 2-3 weeks :rofl:
     
  4. MaxOfMetal

    MaxOfMetal Likes trem wankery. Super Moderator

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    Well, of course, but unless you're independently wealthy, willing to work two jobs, or have a ton of cash ready to throw at tools and supplies. It's not like most other trade apprenticeships from what I've seen first hand and heard. It's more old school.

    Though, it really depends on who you're working with and how much business they get.

    There's no magic to luthiery. So if you're self motivated, and have the means, you can pretty much teach yourself. Now, getting "good" that takes time (i.e. "experience") and reps.

    I'm very happy, and greatful, for the time I had working with Bill Otwen (spent a decade at Martin, another at Gibson, and just about as long independently), the guy I worked under, I learned a ton. But, that was in the "before times" when the internet was in it's infancy. If I was starting again, I'd probably look into a local co-op or maker space and do it on my own.
     
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  5. skullfxr

    skullfxr SS.org Regular

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    I apprenticed two days a week for a year. I Learned a ton and it was a great experience.

    I already had some experience from my own stuff, but it was great. I worked on customers guitars under guidance if needed. I already knew electronics well, but I got a lot of experience with nut and saddle cutting and fretwork. It was non paid. But I honestly felt that I earned my keep because I could bang out setups fast as I have worked on my own stuff for 15 years.

    I think that the one thing that you CAN'T learn online is the business side and the some of the ins and outs of different instruments and the customers that you deal with.

    I will be going into business in the next year or so.
     
  6. TonyFlyingSquirrel

    TonyFlyingSquirrel Cherokee Warrior

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    I learned directly from Ken Warmoth and Neal Moser, the latter over many years, priceless info and tips.
     
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  7. wheresthefbomb

    wheresthefbomb SS.org Regular

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    Really appreciate the feedback so far. Truly, thank you all so much.

    Building guitars is of basically zero interest to me, which in hindsight I should've been clear about, especially using the word "luthier." I know what my skills are and that ain't it. The business aspect I am passingly interested in, I could see myself going into business in a very limited fashion doing setups and maintenance/repairs for people in my social network. This will never be my primary income.

    Unfortunately there isn't much available to me here in the way of co-op or maker spaces, but I will keep that suggestion in mind for when I move.

    I will say this, I have found that my setups are consistently better than the local shop I've taken guitars to, where their "techs" have magic pieces of paper from some slick guitar tech school that apparently taught them the bare minimum while charging untold amounts of tuition. No hate, no beef, but the results speak for themselves (or don't). Also my last guitar sale was to a djentyboi who told me I set my guitars up really nicely.

    That is all to say that perhaps what I'm experiencing is a lack of confidence from not having someone who "knows" tell me I did a given thing right, and flawed expectations regarding how "perfect" action and intonation can/should be on a given instrument. It sounds like a full on apprenticeship maybe isn't what I need.

    Once again I really appreciate y'all's feedback.
     
  8. skullfxr

    skullfxr SS.org Regular

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    It really depends on your goals.

    Setups are easy and fast. Especially on your own instruments. Setting up a guitar for someone else with their specs does make it longer. Setups bring quick money in and are important for establishing a customer.

    Fretting and nut/saddle work takes some time to get it to a professional level. A level and crown is easy, but my first few refret jobs were honestly kind of painstaking. Cutting nuts takes some practice too,but it really is not difficult.

    Also keep in mind that you will need tools and some parts/supplies on hand.

    Also if I learned one thing, is that even something basic and remedial can turn into a headache in a second. You have to know how to fix those headaches. That IMO is what experience teaches you.
     
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  9. wheresthefbomb

    wheresthefbomb SS.org Regular

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    I have a decent collection of tools, and I buy stuff as I go depending on what is needed for the next project (ie what's currently wrong with my guitar).

    I'm actually doing my first fret level and crown next weekend, watched a few youtube vids and am putting supplies together this week. I've played it hard over the years and it's time.

    I have learned a lot from being willing to make mistakes on this guitar (agile LP), continually re-doing/improving my work as my skills increase, being satisfied with its slowly-decreasing jankiness in the meantime.

    I am going to start keeping an eye out for janky trash guitars that I can score cheaply and work on, as well. I can only redo my nut so many times.
     
  10. skullfxr

    skullfxr SS.org Regular

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    Half of everything is just doing it, but having something that you can make mistakes on is important.

    I bought up Squier Strats for $50 and go to town. Those are the cheapest mistakes. Once you have it setup well and experience from it, list it on CL for $100. My first three or four refrets were on Squier necks. Great experience.

    Have you cut a nut before? That is one thing that I really benefited from the hands on experience in the apprenticeship.
     
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  11. wheresthefbomb

    wheresthefbomb SS.org Regular

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    I have fitted pre-slotted nuts onto a tele and LP style and have some slotted files for nut and bridge work (one of the few tools I've splurged on from stewmac). The LP nut took some shaping too. I'm "okay" at it, my LP nut actually needs to be shimmed and redone because it was cut too low (I can thank the shop for this one, also the fact that I was able to diagnose this being itself a sign of my improving skills). I have never cut one from a blank, but these are skills I'm willing to acquire. I have watched Dan Erlewine do it in youtube at least a dozen times haha.

    I'll cruise the pawn shops again this week with a new eye for cheap guitars.
     

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