The term Luthier has been thrown around a lot in forums and blog posts, but most people are not really familiar with this part technician part artist of an occupation.
By definition a Luthier is someone who builds and repairs stringed instruments such as violins and guitars. The word originates from a middle ages popular instrument called Luth (in French) or Lute. It resembles the Oud still common in the middle east. There are two main type of stringed instruments, Plucked or strummed and Bowed (although some of the bowed instruments can be plucked as well). Luthiers do not make Pianos and Harps.
How does one become a Luthier?
Being an occupation that dates back to the middle ages, as with many other professions, apprenticeship used to be the most common way to learn a trade. One would learn from the Master Luthier for a few years and would either inherit to shop or open his own. Today there are plenty of small schools and programs and even some larger institutions and colleges offering a “Musical Instrument Fabrication and Repair” degree or certificate. Jump to the full list at the bottom of the page.
As with other crafts that border art, it is rarely the certificate or degree that makes the difference.
If you are determined and an autodidact there is plenty of information out there (and in here) to get you started building guitars. Maybe start with a Kit guitar, just to get your feet wet. Maybe even find an apprenticeship. Chances are after you have created a few kick ass guitars and have made your share of mistakes, you will know where you stand. If you enjoyed it you may want to proceed to a more professional route or be content to remain a hobbyist. If you didn’t like it, you should probably not be a Luthier..
What does it take to be a Luthier?
A luthier has to be a skilled carpenter, a good technician, and have an ear of a musician. If you are dealing with any amplification other than acoustic, you will also need to commend electrotonic components.
For most people, looking at an acoustic guitar or violin, the mere thought of turning slabs of wood into these precision instruments looks unfathomable. The shape, the type of woods, the thickness, the support all have a great affect on the final instrument. Technically a Luthier has to have the highest carpentry skills to produce something that plays. A slight change of angle, a smoother neck and mirror like frets would make the difference between a great guitar to an OK guitar. Then there are the acoustics. Every 1/16” in thickness, the amount of glue and layer of lacquer is significant.
How long does it take to become a Luthier?
There is a popular theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at any craft.
Strictly academic, the programs for “Musical Instrument Fabrication and Repair Degree” in the USA, span from two to four years. And there are plenty of courses and apprenticeships that in a wide range of lengths. There is much more information on schools and places for apprenticeship in the “Is there a school for Lutherie near you?” list, at the bottom of the page.
Who can call himself/ herself a Luthier?
To some, a mere formality, a sensitive subject for others. It is understandable if someone who has been crafting musical instruments their whole life is outraged by anyone who had just build his first kit guitar and calls himself a Luthier. On the other hand no credentials are needed, there is no graduation, certification or exam to indicate it. Is it the number of years or instruments? Is it the quality of work, the fine tuning of the instrument. Are there no mediocre Luthiers (like there are in any other craft and profession)? Do you have to do it professionally? Considering the ‘Guild of American Luthiers’ is open to anyone.
It seems anyone can ‘Call’ himself a Luthier, whether he or she is worthy of the title or not.
Personal disclaimer: The writer of this post is not a professional Luthier. If anything, I would say ‘I dabble in Lutherie’. ‘The Electric Luthier’ is concept, not a title, and if offends anyone’ I do apologize.
Do Luthiers use power tools?
There are few if any makers of instruments that do not use power tools and in most cases a CNC machine. The practical advantages as far as speed, accuracy and mostly consistency for any type of production is undeniable. Having said that there is still a lot of manual work that still needs to go into an instrument to give it that final touch. That is what separates boutique and Custom Shops from your ‘Standards’.
However, there are still ‘purists’ who claim and practice Lutherie ‘old school’ and prefer (mostly or exclusively) manual tools and techniques.
What types of tools does a Luthier need to get started?
For a complete overview of Luthiers’ Tools and where we use them see my “Ultimate Guide To Guitar Building Tools”
Is there a school for Lutherie near you?
Schools in the USA
American School of Lutherie
ARC Guitar Building School
The Art Of Lutherie
Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College
Berkshire Stringed Instruments School of Lutherie
North Adams, MA
Bruce Roper, Chicago Luthiers Workshop
Fort Bragg, CA
Beyond the Trees
Santa Cruz, CA
Cascade School of Lutherie
Chicago School of Guitar Making
Chicago School of Violin Making
Colorado School of Lutherie
The Curbow School of Lutherie
Custom Vibrations School of Lutherie
Lexington SC 29072
Eastern School of Fretted Instrument Repair
Eric Schaefer Guitars
European Lutherie School
St. Louis, MO
Fretted Strings Lutherie School
Galloup School of Lutherie
Big Rapids, MI
Geiger School of Lutherie
The Guitar Services Workshop
Harry Fleishman’s Luthiers School International
Virginia Beach, VA
J.S. Bogdanovich Guitars
Swannanoa, NC 28778
Asheville, North Carolina
Jason Wolverton School of Lutherie
Laguna Beach, CA
Jeffrey Elliott and Cyndy Burton
Leeds Guitarmakers’ School
La Gitana Instruments
Marlee Guitar Company
MI Guitar Craft Academy Nashville
Midwest Guitar School
St. Louis, MO 63118
Nazareth Guitar Institute
North Bennet Street School
Orange Coast College
Costa Mesa, CA
Main, Lyons, CO
Red Rocks Community College School of Fine Woodworking and Lutherie
Roberto Venn School of Luthiery
Rock ‘n’ Roll Guitar Building School
Siminoff Luthierie Camp
San Francisco, CA
Sound Guitar Workshop
Southeast Technical College
Red Wing, MN
Utah School of Guitar Making
Director & Luthier: Justin Leslie
Vermont Instruments School of Lutherie
Post Mills, VT
Violin Making School of America
Salt Lake City, Utah
Wells School of Lutherie
Daytona Beach, FL
Whetstone School of Lutherie
Woodcraft of Houston Southwest
Schools in Canada
Burghardt Luthiery, Géza Burghardt
The Canadian School of Lutherie
Ecole Nationale de Lutherie
Quebec City, Qc
Fret Works Guitar Repair School
Geary Guitar Works
Guitarwood Luthery School
Hamm-tone Guitars & School of Lutherie
Loucin Guitar Co.
Pembina Valley Luthiers
La Riviere, Manitoba
Robert Anderson Guitars
Victoria BC, Canada
Summit School of Guitar Building and Repair
North Vancouver, BC
William Okos Music
Laughing Tree Guitars
Schools in France
European Technological Institution for Music Professionals (ITEMM)