What do you look for in a small business luthier?

NovaLion

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It seems that new "custom guitar shops" are popping up all over the web, for better or worse. What draws you to a particular luthier over another? What features do you look for in a given guitar product?
 

NovaLion

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A reputation for actually being competent.

Fair, but what about new businesses or up-and-comers? Here's a scenario ;

Luthier X wants to start his own guitar-making business/shop. He's trained at a reputable luthier school, Roberto-Venn for example, or apprenticed under an already-established luthier/shop and has worked for a major brand as Position X (guy that glues necks or handles fret dressing, etc.) while working as a local small music shop's on call tech for 2-5 years. Lutheir X gets his tools together and/or gets a loan and has a reasonable stock of woods and parts. He has a couple "stock" designs and wants to offer customs.

What are some things he can do to draw your attention and business, over Luthier Y?
 

Renkenstein

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If you're really on the fence, and the luthier in question really wants to make a sale, I don't see any reason a request for references would be out of line.

Also, look at their most recent builds. Is the attention to detail there? Can they stick to a deadline, or within a couple weeks of that deadline? Building a guitar isn't difficult, it's the attention paid to the finer details, and the ability to deliver on your promises that sets the good builders above the rest.

Also...I don't know how to enforce this, but it's critical to be sure that when you throw down that deposit you get proof that woods, hardware, and pickups are all purchased with those funds. Sketchy luthiers will put this off, even use YOUR deposit to finish someone else's build, and that's a downward spiral that hurts everyone involved.
 

Purelojik

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look at the way they present themselves, their ambition and make sure its realistic. The problem here is buyers are so enamored with the thought of their dream guitar they'll throw their money at anyone offering a good price.

look at whats worked here and whats failed. im not gonna list it out, its all here in dealers and in the luthier sections.

also not just the fanciness of timbers, but the critical areas, the neck pocket, the cavities, alignment with the centerline, quality of fretwork, nut preparation. Sanding and finish. All of these need to be seen a few times before you pull the trigger. HQ pics of these critical areas where from a far, people might miss. Wood selection and construction methods also are hard to judge through pictures. sound demos also arent very telling unless HQ.

if the luthier seems too ambitious, you're probably gonna have a bad time. In this business problems come up that will add delays and thats normal most of the times for minor setbacks. We've seen setbacks that lose years on builds. if the luthier makes lots of mockups, or is super ubiquitous without much product then thats also something to be wary about. I feel like it just boils down to common sense, but still people get burned.


just my two cents
 

Necromagnon

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I think that it should be only in two ways:
1) the dealer has a very decent reputation, with many guitars pulled out, and good reviews from people that ARE NOT involved in the company in any way (endorsed or any other things).
2) The luthier is beginning, thus not so much reputation. Then he should be near you so that you can have a contact in person, try a few of his builds (every luthier have some at home or in the workshop), see by yourself the guitars and the attention to details mentionned above.

If you are not in one of those two cases, beware. Sure there're some beginner luthier that are incredible and you could go with without a doubt and without being in direct contact, but story taught that it's not the most common case. And if a beginning luthier is solid enough, he will earn very fast is reputation from people around him (geographically), and then he will move from the second category to the 1st.

Just my :2c:
 

Deegatron

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Im not sure I tell you what i would be looking for... but i can tell you a few things I would not be impressed by.
-Their stock of fancy tonewood. These days anyone can get a loan and buy a couple of 7A flamed maple caps... that doesnt mean he's got skillz. there is a particular bass build that comes to mind on this forum where the luthier used beautifull woods... but the laminates in the neck were crooked and the headstock was also crooked... among other issues... epic fail in my opinion.
-their fancy equipment. some of my favorite builds that i've seen were done on very low tech equipment. the high tech large machinery helps with time and mass production but does not neccicarily improve quality.

The most important thing to look for seems to be good communication. the guy's with this are the ones that are commited to supplying a quality product and arent afraid to show you their work... where as the guy's that dont respond to emails tend to dissapear after they receive your money.
 

bostjan

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Hi.

Search this very site for a slew of different experiences people have had with new builders.

I would say that most new builders have ended up screwing customers over, but the few who have not have generated a lot of excitement.

I won't mention the negatives, you should be able to find those easily.

I could say that I got super lucky with my Onis, but it wasn't really luck - I spoke with dpm quite a bit, and could tell right away that he was (A) super talented and (B) a super cool guy. I would venture to say that many of the people who went with other builders and got taken, may have been overly eager to make a deal.

Generally, if a custom guitar promises a lot for a little money, the risk is greater. If the builder is in contact with you, it is a little more reassuring. Mainly, if the builder can show you some of his prior work, that's important, especially photos where you can see if the workmanship is there or not.

I remember a user here who went with an unknown builder that promised a really fancy-sounding ERG with crazy spec's. I don't think the price was disclosed, but the idea I got was that it was going to be for a price congruent with a mid-level production guitar or a little higher. The guitar had multiple problems on delivery, including incorrectly spaced frets.

There is also a bass builder who offers full on custom basses for the price of an entry-level Squire. He's pretty well-known (read infamous) now, but the first few builds had people pretty up in arms over the internet. He has a cult following now, but the idea is that he builds you a custom bass, then you receive it, take it apart, cut and sand the wood, fret it yourself, finish it yourself, add your own electronics and hardware, and then you have a custom instrument that is playable.

I've played thousands of guitars, maybe tens of thousands, and I can say that my Oni guitars arrived from being shipped half way around the world and right out of the box, played and sounded better than I had imagined possible. My only regret is not having an amplifier nor the chops to do them justice.

TL;DR = YMMV
 

Pilgrim of the Dark

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OP: please, please, please heed the advice of these people. I didn't and ended up waiting a year just to lose $2k. Even be wary of reputable, established builders; seems like you can never tell when they're going to disappear or just stop giving a shit about producing a quality product.
 

NovaLion

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I feel like I should clarify - I'm not seeking to purchase a custom guitar right now (when I was, some emergencies happened that took a chunk of my saved income and I'm not willing to utilize more savings for a bit). It's more of a thought exercise than anything on what you look for from the outset, particularly what a "new builder" can do to gain your business.

I've seen enough here to notice when a given shop is one of the "bads", it got me curious.
 

Dayn

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Fair, but what about new businesses or up-and-comers? Here's a scenario ;

Luthier X wants to start his own guitar-making business/shop. He's trained at a reputable luthier school, Roberto-Venn for example, or apprenticed under an already-established luthier/shop and has worked for a major brand as Position X (guy that glues necks or handles fret dressing, etc.) while working as a local small music shop's on call tech for 2-5 years. Lutheir X gets his tools together and/or gets a loan and has a reasonable stock of woods and parts. He has a couple "stock" designs and wants to offer customs.

What are some things he can do to draw your attention and business, over Luthier Y?
I think the best thing one can do is to show the prototypes and exhibit sample builds. It'll cost to set that up without immediate return, but I think the promotion (and actually demonstrating competence) would be worth it in the long run.

In short, don't pop up out of nowhere and start taking orders. Showing people exactly what they'll be getting first would build a good reputation.
 

Nag

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What I expect from a small builder is to accept that the customer doubts him (because he's not an established name yet).

1) He must deliver a good product. I guess this one is self-explanatory.
2) He must communicate regularly : tell you where the build is at, send pics, ask questions if he needs more info for a certain step in the build, not hide anything from you etc. I've had enough of people saying "the communication was horrible/nonexistent". If the builder doesn't communicate, the customer will just be anxious all the time because he has no guarantee that an unestablished builder with no reputation yet will actually deliver anything.
3) He must accept a small deposit instead of asking the customer to pay 100% of the price before the build has even started. When the customer has to pay the entire thing right away, it's been proven enough times that it's just an invitation to get screwed over. especially combined with point number 2. "let me take 2-3 grand, you'll never see/hear me again until the guitar pops up at your doorstep... if it actually does".
 

MaxOfMetal

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Here's my little guide to evaluating builders:

1) Have they actually built guitars? If all they have are renders, RUN. Don't go any further. If they don't have tangible evidence of their previous and current works there's probably a reason.

2) Do the guitars look clean? I'm not talking about the specs or colors or anything subjective. I'm talking about the way the wood is joined, the condition of the hardware and how well it was installed, do the little things like tuners, nut, and knobs look "right"? Does the finish look professional? If the hardware looks cheap and/or wonky and the finish looks basic (no shine like a pro job), RUN. Even the best woodworker in the world can shit out a crappy guitar.

3) Are they catering to an oddly specific niche? Why is this important? Well, if you're embarking on a custom build you're going to want your builder to have steady work besides your guitar. Guys who don't have many customers are usually hurting pretty bad cash wise and a diminished cash flow over the course of the build can have all kinds of repercussions. If the luthier only makes guitars for fans of blackened Somalian tech grind-step, RUN.

4) Does the brand new company/builder have a ton of endorsed artists? If so, RUN. If a new builder has been working on their artist roster more than the guitars you've got a problem. Especially if the artists are known brand jumpers.

5) Is the pricing in-line with the instruments you're looking at? If they're offered fanned fret carbon fiber wrapped 9 strings with LED inlays for $1000, RUN. People will always pay whatever price for quality work. When a builder has to run on price as a major selling point something is wrong with the guitars.

6) Do they have an actual website or just a Facebook? It's 2015, if they didn't pluck down the peanuts to get a real website made, RUN. To be a competitive, professional business you need your own website. There are few rare exceptions, but this works out about 99% of the time.

That's pretty much it for me. After those points things start to get much more specific to the individual builder.

So to recap, if they have a proven track record, the guitars look great, there aren't weird hang ups, a few trusted artists use them or at least scoring big names doesn't seem like a priority, the pricing works, and they have a decent website you'll probably get a decent guitar all said and done.

As always, just have some common sense.
 


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