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Professional Guitar Making As A Career

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Hey chaps. This is my second post (after the one about balancing) and this is more of intrigue based question. Being new to guitar making and luthiery i'm looking to build up experience and skill over the next few years with the eventual aim of making guitars fulltime.

Now, is there room/market for custom guitars or would you say most people buy their guitars from traditional names. Also, as a luthier, would you make the bulk of your income in making guitars or instead offering support services, such as repairs, setups and modifications?

Final question - I'm based in the southeast of the UK, do any of you know of luthier courses that I could go to, i've searched the .net and havn't really found anything (i'm more interested in solid body electrics as opposed to classical acoustics).

Any info, insight, weblinks or general discussion welcomed.

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Merton College offer a course in classical guitar construction, which includes some study of repair and setup work.

I was seriously considering going, went down to have a look etc. Nice guys, great facilities, but unfortunately the course is changing, since City & Guilds are dropping the 'Musical Instrument technolgoy' course. It's being replaced with ASAT's 'Classical Instrument Technologoy' which focuses entirely on classical guitars - not my area of interest, especially since the course would no longer include much repair instruction.

I took down my LP with me, and the tutors all made very positive comments - in the vein of 'why do you want to come here if you can do this already?' They were of the opinion that I could still get a lot out of doing the course, but I didn't consider it worth a year of my life when it wasn't specifically addressing the areas I wanted to study - steel string accoustic construction and repairs.

Anyway, I bring this up, because the head guy there (course leader) said that probaly less than 10% of graduates go on to make a living in guitar work, and that the bread and butter of luthiery is repairs & setups. He, and the other tutor I spoke to, echoed the opinion I've heard many, many times, which is that you can make a living doing this stuff, but it is *very* hard, requires *long* hours, and even if you make a name for yourself, you'll be earning pretty much minimum wage.

Obviously Perry, LGM etc are more qualified to give answers, but my advice would be:

-Get a few builds under your belt.

-Try doing builds/repairs for additional income, not as your primary income.

-See where it goes; worst case you have a hobby which is still enjoyable bringing in extra money, without the stress of having to make a living wage. If it takes off, you can always ditch the day job, but you won't have to live hand-to-mouth if it's slow to get going...

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Head over to the MIMF, read the library section there; this topic comes up again and again (in the Jam Session section generally), and has been answered many a time.

My impressions, albeit ones from an amateur with no aspirations to go pro: there's always some sort of market, but you need to find your customers before you give up your day job. Figure out if your guitars fill a gap in the market at all. Get your instruments reviewed, get them played, listen to feedback, and figure out what people are willing to pay for them, what it costs you to build them, and whether the difference is something you can live on. Look at the literally hundreds of custom builders out there, and the level of work they're producing. Can you match and/or beat that?

I'm fairly certain there are a couple of instrument building courses (at colleges, generally. I think) in various locations in the UK as well.

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Great info, cheers!

I'm probably similar to you in that i've not really got an interest in classical guitars. I'm relatively handy in the design and project mangement (I currently run a web-development firm) and looking at guitar repair/building as an escape from the computers and demanding clients, and to get back to some 'hands-on' work. I just need to fill in some theory basics and some woodworking skills.

However, i've recently purchased all the standard books (Hiscock, Koch et al) and intend on learning by book and practice, but would have liked to have had the input at course level - there definitly seems to be a gap in the market (Hey luthiers - start a tuition guild!!)

I'm definitly viewing it as a hobby as I would much rather build my dream explorer than paying over the odds at a custom shop, and if along the way I can sell a few guitars, i'll view that as a bonus. But in a few years - who knows, if it could sustain an income, I would much rather do that than sit at a computer for 12 hours day typing code..

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I've been looking around most colleges in the uk but most seem to be classical guitar building, or short courses by luthiers too far for me to travel.

Armed with the right books, this forum and other existing online resources, in lieu of a guitar building course, do you think a general woodworking evening course would be worth the time, or do you think i'll pick up the basics easily enough by diving in?

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Hey Byron,

I'm in the UK too..Newcastle. There are other courses available in the UK and France.

This company Craft Supplies run 5 day courses on both Electric and Acoustic guitar making...at the end of the course you come away with the instrument you build.

The website is: www.craft-supplies.co.uk

They have an on-line catalogue for musical instruments supplies: SUpplies Catalogue

Tel: 01298 85636 or Fax: 01298 85612 or email: sales@craft-supplies.co.uk for info on the courses.

BTW, no I don't work for them...

I'm pretty much like you - I work in computing (IT Manager)..and it's a life long dream to want to make instruments full time...but I have to be practical about it...

I am fortunate enough to have been offered a workshop at a friends art studio in Morpeth...to use rent free, which, when time permitting I can get setup to make instruments purely as a hobby/cottage industry...

Good luck..

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Cheers for the link, much appreciated, i'll give them a call.

IT Sucks don't it ! :-)

Cool for you about the studio space, that is a very valuable commodity, at the moment i'm working of the garden shed (ahem - converted workshop!! )

My current project(s) is to strip the four el-cheapo guitars that i've got, give them a new finish, and a pro-setup. I've got to a make a new neck for one, refret another, put a new finish on a Jackon Rhodes performer, and do some rather drastic body repairs on an old westbury, these guitars are all wrecks, and if I can them make them atleast playable after it, that will give me the confidence to start a new build - or go on one of those 5 day courses..

In the early stages, I think I might offer my services to the local music scene (Thurrock) for setups and repairs, every other person round here seems to be a guitar player :-)

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Yes IT sucks...

Offering your services to the local music scene would be a good start. Try and find out if there are any music collectives in your area and get involved...

I'm trying to get back into this area after quite a few years...I went down to the local music collective at the arts centre near me...and the old guys (that were around when I used to play) are still there - it's still a hive of activity.

I'm even more like you...in that at home I'm working in my shed (I have a fridge in there for beer also :D )...

The workshop in Morpeth is pretty cool. The artist is Charles Evans a friend of the family (he is the resident artist for Tyne Tees TV (ITV)) - he lives in the middle of a field...and has lot's of studio space. He offered me the space (at's about 20ftx 20ft) to work in if I need it....he wuld like to see it used in the manner I want to use it. A lot of the benches, etc are already in place...just need some fixed tools - like bandsaw, planer/jointer etc.

The other advantage is that he is very well linked with people and he did tell me a story of a local artist (musician) that he told I was about to embark on this work...he says, there is a market for quality handmade instruments - but as Mattia rightly says...look at custom builders - can you match or better them...

Me, no way i'm nowhere near good enough...but I look at them as inspiration...if you have a dream, go for it...

<<edit>> btw, I made my first guitar (after an abscence (I made some previously in the past)) - which is somewhere in the in prog board about Christmas time - a strat...I'm now working on an ES335...

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Aye, it is a dream, and these are my first steps. Once I master the tools and techniques, i'm hoping I'll be able to utilise my design skills, and hopefully come up with something unique and cool and get a bit of brand-buzz about it, kinda like how Parker Fly came on the scene..

Keep us upto date on your ES335, they are wonderful guitars!

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Here's the strat: http://projectguitar.ibforums.com/index.ph...topic=14894&hl=

Here's the ES335: http://projectguitar.ibforums.com/index.php?showtopic=17945

What I'm planning on doing when I can fully utilise my time in the workshop, is to make a dozen or so guitars and bass (electric and acoustic)...then when charles has his viewings at his place which are pretty regular, he suggested I put the finished guitars on display at the same time...it's getting them in front of people and letting them see and feel them...then talk to others...

You never know...as they say, a journey starts with the first step...good luck Byron..

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Well, I'm not too sure guitarbuilding for customers is necessarily a great way to get away from demanding clients. You have met guitar players, right? Now, look at guitar players who want custom guitars. Worse.

One of my 'fears' about going pro, full time (other than the financial side of things, the 'I can't make a living at it' fear, and the fact I do have other interests) is that it might take the fun out of building. I do this stuff for fun, because I love the instruments, and I'm starting to sell things to friends because I've kind of run out of a) space and :D excuses to build more for myself.

As for courses, I jumped in with practically zero woodworking skills; they're great to have, but remember that guitarbuilding is a much more precise, meticulous business than cabinetmaking. It's more akin to machining, building to very exacting specs, with a side order of artistic woodcarving. It's a different mindset. I've had cabinemakers tell me I was loopy because I wanted to thin a soundboard to a fraction of a mm. I mean, I'm aware of the fact the size will change with temp and humidity, but still, given stable conditions, I'm gonna be working very, very precisely, and under half a mm is not outta line where precision is concerned.

Another 'vacation with a guitar' option is Mark Bailey guitars, up in Scotland. Go for a week, build yourself an instrument. Looks like fun.

Ultimately, you're the best judge of your skills, and building several isntruments and getting feedback from pro and semi pro players (honest feedback is best, although it can be hard to take) is the best way to learn. Oh, and start practicing fretjobs and finishes (in my book the toughest things to get absolutely flawlessly perfect).

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IJC - Your skills are smooth, that 335 body looks very smart, and good work on your strat! Seeing guitars that you guy's build makes more eager to start my explorer - but I need to practice a little first :-)

Mattia - I know what you mean about guitarists, but music being my first love means that I would be happier dealing with demanding muso's than demanding 'businessmen' with big ideas and short pockets :-)

I'm slightly worried about the finishing to be honest, with all the reading i've done lately the fretwork doesn't scare me that much as i'm a pretty acurrate guy and have a long attention span (due to coding) so I think i'll be more comfortable with that than trying to get a finish right.

I'm about to strip a Randy Rhodes today, and thats due to have a natural finish, i'm going to use beeswax, and some oil - keeping it simple. But i've got a nasty brown westbury (mahogany) that i'm going to use as a guinea pig for a paintjob, i'm going for a combination of cream with black binding - i'm sure i'll mash it up, but I guess i've got to start somewhere..

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Hi Byron, I'm also in the Uk (Oxford)

I built my first guitar a couple of years ago on a short part time course with a guy called Mark Bailey.

Check out his Web Site :- baileyguitars.co.uk

He had an article about his course published in Guitarist magazine a few years ago, I think there is still a link to it on his web site.

It was a great expirence building my first guitar and he is a great guy to show you the basics and what can be achived with realativly simple tools and limited experiance.

I have continued to build guitars in my spare time usualy commissioned by people in the local music sene and hope to some day do it full time.

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My first Guitar was a PRS single Cut copy with a set neck & flame maple cap finished in double stained midnight blue burst.

The construction of the guitar was competed in 8 full days on one of Mark's courses and he shot the laqure spray job for me at a later date.

Since then I have made a number of Les Paul replicas, several PRS style double cut aways an SG and a music man style Bass. And I also do the odd repair job.

I am currently working on 2 modified les paul style instruments and a flying V.

I build around 6 guitars a year spending aprox 20 hours a week in my converted garage (now a fully equipt workshop).


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I've been looking at his course, and the type of guitar I would want to build is going to come to a lot because they're hardware seems a bit pricey, would you mind if I asked what the full course cost you, and whether you feel it's value for money, (you can private message me if you don't want to advertise the price).


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