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Need advise on Guitar building


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Hi...my name is ryan and im in high school....i love working with wood and specifically making guitars...and i was wondering if any of you are professionals or know the answers to my questions. Is custom guitar making a career type job or just a hobby? how can i become one(what schooling etc)? and just any tips on how to do this...being a custom guitar builder is my dream and i dont really know where to start looking...so any info is greatly appreciated...thanks

sorry if this is in the wrong forum i didnt really know where to put it!

thanks :D

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well i am sure some people will tell you "don't do it,it's really hard to make a living at it"

but if that is what you want to do...just do it.the thing about dream careers is that if you love it you won't mind putting in the overtime to make it happen...and there are more important things than money.

i don't know about schooling...i just wanted to counter the negativity you may hear elsewhere :D

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indeed there are school all over north america, some official, others more of a 2 week work shop that vary in topics, try searching for "luthier schools" in google..... or something like that... luthierinternation.com i think...... ton's of schools out there....... not the easiest thing to make a living at, but i'm not speaking from experience either.... so i too will leave the floor open...

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Guest Litchfield Custom Gutars

I say do it. But dont get ahead of yourself (like I did) and quit your job. Get your name out locally. Build a couple, put them on consignment at local music stores (or just one, if you think its your best idea), Thenwhen things pick up, you can retire into it. I am now going back to step 1 (dont quit the job).

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Within twelve months of deciding to start selling guitars, ive sold six. But, i also work two jobs, as well as do some of the more difficult repairs for a local music store, so i dont need to rely on making in income from guitars.

I guess you cant expect it to become a career within your own luthier shop until:

a ) you've developped a name for yourself

b ) your quality is consistant

c ) your prices are reasonable, and you can still make a profit (living).

d ) you have a backlog of orders, or people that will buy everything you make.

e ) you get your manufacturing techniques near perfect, and can pop out guitars easily (eg: jigs and machinery for everything, because people cant/wont pay your hourly rate to stuff about)

f ) you have a dealer network (that could be numerous stores, or numerous happy customs that are well regarded within the music scene).

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you should consider it a hobby until you're making enough money from it to quit your job. really, if you love building guitars, do it on weekends or after work. don't try to make a living from it before you're 100% sure it will work. if you're good enough at both making guitars and marketing them, you'll be able to make a business of it.

money is very important btw. if you don't have money, you can't buy the material needed. if you don't have the material, you can't build a guitar, no matter how good you are. if you don't have a guitar, you can't sell it. if you can't sell it, you're not making any money from it.

so get a normal job, build guitars in your spare time and keep your fingers crossed.

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if you don't have money, you can't buy the material needed. if you don't have the material, you can't build a guitar, no matter how good you are. if you don't have a guitar, you can't sell it. if you can't sell it, you're not making any money from it.

Though you can of course ask for material costs when some one decides to to buy, and then get the profit and work time part of the payment when the guitar is delivered.

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i say go for it! im starting out doing it, but its going slow, i have two small local stores that get big names in them and they want to sell my guitars and i havent even really tried to push them yet! but like rhoads said you need to have perfection! and a lot of jigs so that all the guitars are the same quality. and i have been doing what GurrA said i do a three part payment 1st covers woods,frets,bridge 2nd covers,hardware,finishing, case, and 3rd is my profits. wich if yoiu dont have jigs and the right tools your profits will be like 2$ and hour unless you can speed up the process! thats why im looking into getting a duplicarver, cant afford a cnc. but good luck and if its what you love to do you will enjoy it much more! but remember dont let it become a "job" or elese it will be like every other job out there!

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2 words: marketing. (wait!! thats one!!) being able to build guitars is just half of it. I'm one who would say this: build 4 or 5 prototype guitars. Take them to teh namm show. spam off your guitars as much as possible, and eventually musicians friend or sam ash or guitar center will order from you. It may start out at only 20, or 50, and then work up from there. Step 2: get someone to play your instruments. Obviously, joe satriani won't play your guitars, but look into the up and commers, if that dude from Good charlotte endorsed your guitar, you would have a few (maybe even quite a few) 15 year old kids buying em. This is what Dean Zelinsky of Dean guitars did. And that's my plan. (i'm 15).

Oh yeah, here's something else I noticed works: Make a cheaper version of the sig model your endorsee plays, like squiers tom delonges, cause those sold like hot cakes!!!!!

And try to get a job at a local music shop, and if you can't, get a job at your supermarket, and spend all the money on building guitars. Build a new one every month or two, and eventually you will become pro. This is also my plan. (looking for a job right now...)

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Most missed the point that he is still in High School. IMO the best time to make a career choice for you is now because you're broke already, still single (maybe) and Mom and Dad can help you along (free room and board for another year or two).

Search the net like mentioned. There are some good schools and there is this forum (and others). This is a funny profession as I see it because you don't need a degree from a school you just need to be good and produce consistent quality. The investment is minor compared to other businesses and if you love doing it that's a bonus.

I knew I wanted to work in the electronics industry since I was 6 and took my new reel to reel (remember those!) apart and put it back together. I almost got an a$$ whippin until my parents realized it still worked! :D I have made a bunch of job changes since I left high school but they are all in the electronics field. I also wanted to do woodworking or cabinet making since h.s. My mom had an antiques business and I spent most of my life around old, well built furniture doing repairs and refinishing, etc. I had to choose one and I'm happy with my choice, but now that I'm older (39) and financially stable I can delve into the woodworking dream via guitar building.

My rambling point is: you're young, live your dream now and if it doesn't work out you will still be young and can find other means to provide an income for you and your family.

Sorry for the long, rambling post! B)

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Obviously, joe satriani won't play your guitars, but look into the up and commers, if that dude from Good charlotte endorsed your guitar, you would have a few (maybe even quite a few) 15 year old kids buying em. This is what Dean Zelinsky of Dean guitars did. And that's my plan. (i'm 15).

Your only problem is, being a newcomer, means you cant afford to give away guitars. Its a catch 22 situation. You cant give away free guitars without first being able to cover their costs, and you cant get the coverage you want until you do give them away...

And if your relying on freebies to "stars" that may or may not even use or like those guitars, you could find yourself making a bunch of instruments that dont even get used.

Also, Dean guitars broke into a lot small manufacturing field. How many guitar makers were around back in the seventies? How many custom luthiers are around now?? Look at mimf and here for a few thousand trying to get all the business they can...

If you can build reliable, consistant, quality guitars, at the right price, you will sell them. The only problem you'll have, is you wont have "a name". Ive found that is the biggest drawback... but it can be overcome. Give them something the "names" cant, or do it better, and cheaper....

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Most missed the point that he is still in High School. IMO the best time to make a career choice for you is now because you're broke already, still single (maybe) and Mom and Dad can help you along (free room and board for another year or two).

Search the net like mentioned. There are some good schools and there is this forum (and others). This is a funny profession as I see it because you don't need a degree from a school you just need to be good and produce consistent quality. The investment is minor compared to other businesses and if you love doing it that's a bonus.

I knew I wanted to work in the electronics industry since I was 6 and took my new reel to reel (remember those!) apart and put it back together. I almost got an a$$ whippin until my parents realized it still worked! :D

I did the same thing to a seatbelt when I was young, but I didn't put it back together for them... B)

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Definitely a tough business to break into. As for me, I look at it as a retirement dream for when I can't shovel sh*t anymore. I do a few repairs for money here and there on the side. Been doing that for a while now and only for friends.

Building and selling is a totally different animal. Its too bad that the whole marketing scheme is jaded by the big companies like Fender and Gibson. A lot of beginner guitarists figure a guitar isn't worth owning or playing if it doesn't say Gibson or Fender on the headstock.

If you wanted to make money by selling volume then you have to work mighty hard at churning out guitars and competing with the name brands. You have to buy hardware at wholesale costs and design some sort of assembly line procedure just to stay ahead. That totally hinges on whether or not you have someone who will carry your merchandise. I've heard that most small businesses don't show a profit for the first 2 or 3 years. Thats a tough road.

Another alternative is to get good enough at making a custom work of art. Exotic woods, inlays and high quality hardware going into a guitar will drive up the unit price. You have to be versatile and flexible. There ARE people out there who want a guitar that nobody else has.

Another alternative is to design something unique and patent it. I think this would be your best chance at making a business out of building something that nobody else can provide. Novax fretboards come to mind as an example. You just need that "hook", but its also sort of like trying to reinvent the wheel.

PBM, if you really want to make a career out of this then I would suggest going to school. Get whatever Luthier's certification there is out there. Try to get into some sort of apprenticeship with a prospective employer. Find someone who has a name established for themselves and is willing to be your mentor and latch onto him.

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I cant even begin to express thanks to you all...but ill try..thanks! haha i feel inspired now because i was half expecting to get shot down like most people that dont know do...i was looking into schooling and want to take this route so i can be the best i can be...i realize one way to get out there is to have a totally new design...like PRS did...this is hard to do but i always keep my mind thinking of new designs...i have yet to have a job so now is the time really for me to chose a career...while having little side jobs till i find it...one way i was thinking about doing this was going to school and then getting a job at one of the big name custom shops...like ESP like my avatar says...so then i dont have to make a name for myself and can just work for an already respected company..and maybe get a bit of a following then leave and do my own work...and as for having my own shop i was thinking of having a team..because alot of my friends are guitar builders too..and are seeing the same dreams i do....so if we all had a team we could all specialize and get things done faster...like an assembly line...and maybe offer cheaper more machine made models..and then more expensive hand made models...but thanks for the advise guys...i will see whats out there and check my options..thanks

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i believe theres one in japan which sells cheaper guitars...and theres also a USA one which sell high end expensive guitars...but im not 100 percent sure...but i mean i could work at any big name like gibson etc. ESP would just be my first choice

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i am myself trying to start a carreer(a little late)in the guitar industry.

personally my dream would be to,like you ,build guitars and make a living doing only that.

but i am willing to do anything from selling guitars to working in a custom shop in order to be around them.

once i get my bills more manageable i will be finding a job(any job)which allows me more time to make it happen.

i don't know who said that you are lucky you know what you want to do now,before you got trapped in a career you didn't like,but they are right

i did just that..took a job right out of high school that i didn't like just to make money for bills,then i started getting raises and started buying things and making a way of life,and now it is 10 years or so later and the bills at one time were up so high that in order to make them i was counting on overtime.then i finally got my priorities right and started to do something about it.now i can take any job,as long as it pays $10 or so an hour(about 1/2 of what i make now),but i am sticking it out a little longer to gain money for a cushion.

do it now,before you define a style of living you can't afford as a guitar builder

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all good points you made there wes...im going to research the hell out of this so i know exactly what im getting into...(well ill have an idea anways) and i dunno about the esp custom shop....ill check that out too...but thanks for all the advise...ugh life...

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Another option is to open a guitar store, where you sell a variety of brands, models etc. as well as your own. From here you should be able to get an idea of the number of people interested in your guitars. If business is good, you should be able to talk other stores in your area into selling your guitars. I'm sure most stores would be more than willing if the demand is great enough.

^I know of 2 luthiers in my area who have started off this way. From what I can tell, they seem to be doing alright.

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The best advice I can give you from someone who does build guitars for a living is this:

1. Buy the BEST tools you can afford, when it comes to certain ones like files, and your really accurate tools, inlay stuff mostly, but the best you can find, if you can't afford it, wait until you can. Nothing has hindered my progress in the beginning like not having the right tool for the job. Also, there are some tools that you just HAVE to have, CLAMPS!!!!! I cannot stress enough that you can NEVER have to many clamps. Don't try doing the job of 4 with one clamp. I find my most used tools in the shop are my bandsaw, drill press, and dremels.

2. Be patient, it takes time to establish a good customer base, if you don't have good people skills, don't do this type of work, accidents happen, deadlines get missed. The best skill you can have is communication skills, don't leave customers wondering and waiting, keep them updated.

3. Don't be scared of trying new things. If you are, you will never advance, having said that, don't be stupid about trying new things either, if you've only ever done dot inlays, don't try charging a customer $5000 to do a huge shell dragon. If you have a customer who wants that, and you're not comfortable, tell them, perhaps tell them you'll do it for a way cut rate for the experience. Sometimes people are looking for a bargain and don't mind being a test dummy, I don't like this approach, but I've had customers ask many times if I wanted to use their guitars for guinea pigs, I don't. I'd rather try it on a scrap first or one of my guitars.

4. Knowledge is your best friend, if you don't know, ask. there is no shame in asking questions, only shame in making mistakes from not asking them.

Jeremy

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Everyone has great suggestions for you so far... each valid and things you should consider when tying to break into the guitar industry.

I think you have a great opportunity to get started, but it depends on how you use your time. If you can learn alot quick and work really hard, and do quality work I'm sure you'll sell some guitars. It all depends on your detemination to do good at guitar building. First thing is that you will need alot of tools and power tools. How are you gonna afford them without a job? Second, how much time will it take you to learn how to build a guitar consistantly good. Do you have time to get good while making no money? Those are some of the key questions I'd ask myself. If you can't get the money to buy all the stuff, and your still determined. Go ahead and get a job and start buying all the equipment you need, since you probably won't have any bills to worry about you can really buy alot fast. Then you can learn the trade at night, and with alot of hard work you can eventually quit your other job if you are making enough money to get by. If your willing to make the sacrifices you will speed up your process alot. Good Luck on your guitar company.

MaTT

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