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I'm an aspiring luthier but don't know what the best path is


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Hey y'all, I am new to this forum and was directed here from the PRS forums for luthier and guitar building questions and I would want to explain what my situation with luthiery and wanting to build guitars when I am older is.

I am currently 15 years old and have been playing guitar for 3 years now. I am in tenth grade and I am considering college, specifically in engineering or finance.

It all started with a visit to the PRS factory in Stevensville Maryland. My mom had mentioned PRS guitars in the past and at the time, I had only been playing for two years (this was last August 2019) and I thought hey this would be a cool trip. I knew some stuff about PRS but never really saw them in guitar stores, or never paid attention to them when the store did have them. So we go, and I was excited to see how a guitar was built. I expected to see some cool stuff but nothing too fancy. I was very much wrong. The attention to detail, the care, the craftsmenship, the dedication PRS puts into their instruments is unbelievable. I learned that it takes a whole month for them just to build a neck. Most of it is drying the wood. By the end of the tour I had the PRS kool aid and was hooked. From that point I wanted a PRS.

About a month later I heard about an event a local store that is now a authorized PRS dealer was holding a release event of 6 private stocks with a special "Chessie fade" finish, which is in reference to the Chesapeake bay and how it looks from satellite. Me and my dad went and thought it would be cool. Paul Miles was there, Skitchy from PTC, and so many more PRS people were there as well. We get there and Paul Reed Smith is there, the man, the myth, the legend in the flesh. And get this, he came up to me and just started talking to me about guitars. I was wearing my PRS merch and he noticed my shirt and he said "I like this kid's style" and I said he missed the hat and he had a good laugh from that. We then sat down and the store owner talked about the event and what the inspiration was and Paul told stories about Santana and how he started with him. He then opened the floor to QnA. He was such an open person, being the head of a company and was such a nice guy and so genuine. He wanted to stay in contact with people who had wood and he threw out his 5 credit cards into the crowd for a joke and debated tonewood with a heckler and had a laugh about the lefty that was there. I then asked him a question about whether PRS would ever consider going into a SS amp market and a pedal market and he explained that tubes were just better, and he said something else that resonated with me. He told me he could see a bright future in me. That made me so happy. From that point on I wanted to build guitars.

Now I would love to work at PRS and build for them, but I would also like to have a job where I can live comfortably. I want to do something I love but be able to live comfortably. I don't know how much a luthier or repairmen or a tech make, but I would love to pursue a career in luthiery. 

I have time to consider but I don't know what the best path for me is.

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Young man, you definitely have found a dream to follow!

I've heard two facts of life and work which I believe are worth considering:

  1.  No matter what you do, if you're the best you'll get paid well enough and more.
  2.  What you do as your job should be something you love and get well paid for, in that very order.

 

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3 minutes ago, Bizman62 said:

Young man, you definitely have found a dream to follow!

I've heard two facts of life and work which I believe are worth considering:

  1.  No matter what you do, if you're the best you'll get paid well enough and more.
  2.  What you do as your job should be something you love and get well paid for, in that very order.

 

My dad has told my sisters that when looking for a job, especially something you want to do, always negotiate your salary because you should be getting paid the right amount for what you love to do.

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50 minutes ago, Bizman62 said:

That too. However, even if the job is something you'd love but the bosses were a-holes, you won't love working there no matter how well you'd get paid.

That's why I want to work for PRS, Paul is such a great guy and so down to earth and kind to his employee's

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If it's a career in luthiery you want to pursue I'd recommend you start making inroads now. Most people here are doing this on a hobbyist basis and it is not their primary source of income; their day jobs subsidise their hobby. A (very) small number of members here make guitars professionally and as a means to eke out a living from it. It's a long road up from absolute beginner to a full time successful job, and it covers a lot of varied and different skillsets - design, mathematics, electronics, fine woodworking, mechanics, tool maintenance, finishing. Not forgetting the business side of things as well.

One thing I would say after watching the PRS factory tour on Youtube, is that there appear to be a lot of workers in the factory that only do a handful of key tasks - a guy that does truss rod installation, someone to fret the neck, another person responsible for running the CNC machine, someone whose job it is to glue and clamp bodies. It's a production line, so while there may be some nostalgia in wanting to work at a guitar factory, you should also be prepared to do some pretty repetitive and menial tasks, particularly as a junior employee. Maybe they rotate some of the guys around different tasks, but I'd be very suprised if any of the people on the shop floor will be personally responsible for making a guitar from start to finish.

Does PRS offer some kind of apprenticeship or traineeship program? Maybe make some enquiries along those lines. Bear in mind that as particular people in the factory appear to do one or two key tasks, they more than likely were trained in an associated industry before coming to work at PRS - the person who works the spray booth was probably trained in the automotive repair trade, the CNC person probably did an apprenticeship at a machine shop.

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looking above... at some of the inspirational talk... I can't help but want to put in a few of my own:

"find a job you love and  you'll never work another day... " (and this is my part) "make something you love your job... and it'll become WORK!"

also

"once, my uncle told me 'mike, you can be anything you want, as long as you just believe'... he believed himself into a job as an insurance salesman"

 

I guess these are pretty dark... but they come from my heart... because it broke learning them!

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Start now while you can nag your parents for tools. I wish I had a go when I was 15, then perhaps I'd be doing it for a living too - I don't know anyone that didn't become hooked after their first build.

All the info you need to get you started is free on youtube and ProjectGuitar is your support network. This is the first episode of Ben Crowes first series that got me hooked.
 

 

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45 minutes ago, ADFinlayson said:

Start now while you can nag your parents for tools. I wish I had a go when I was 15, then perhaps I'd be doing it for a living too - I don't know anyone that didn't become hooked after their first build.

All the info you need to get you started is free on youtube and ProjectGuitar is your support network. This is the first episode of Ben Crowes first series that got me hooked.
 

 

I mean I spent my study hall today writing out at least two pages of how I was going to dry, plane, cut and shape the wood, just a few pages but I can tell this is gonna be a multi month project due to most of it will be drying. I obviously don't have these big old drying systems like PRS and humidity control. So I will just keep the wood elevated and not stacked on top of each other and let it air out.

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1 minute ago, PRSpoggers said:

I mean I spent my study hall today writing out at least two pages of how I was going to dry, plane, cut and shape the wood, just a few pages but I can tell this is gonna be a multi month project due to most of it will be drying. I obviously don't have these big old drying systems like PRS and humidity control. So I will just keep the wood elevated and not stacked on top of each other and let it air out.

you can buy dried wood, drying your own wood is it's own art form, you can buy already bookmatched tops too, there are stacks of luthier suppliers and tonewood suppliers online including on ebay, etsy etc. 

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7 minutes ago, ADFinlayson said:

you can buy dried wood, drying your own wood is it's own art form, you can buy already bookmatched tops too, there are stacks of luthier suppliers and tonewood suppliers online including on ebay, etsy etc. 

So if I buy the white limba and Honduran rosewood from the wood dealer (its exotic wood dealer in Annapolis Maryland) I wouldn't have to dry it? Or should I dry it?

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2 minutes ago, PRSpoggers said:

So if I buy the white limba and Honduran rosewood from the wood dealer (its exotic wood dealer in Annapolis Maryland) I wouldn't have to dry it? Or should I dry it?

I would expect so, as long as the wood has been kiln dried, it would be suitable for building your first guitar. I wouldn't worry too much about what the likes of PRS say about wood having to by 5% moisture content etc, most people aren't able to get wood that dry outside a humidity controlled factory environment. The wood for my first guitar came from a builders timber yard in rainy UK and that guitar still works :) 

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2 minutes ago, ADFinlayson said:

I would expect so, as long as the wood has been kiln dried, it would be suitable for building your first guitar. I wouldn't worry too much about what the likes of PRS say about wood having to by 5% moisture content etc, most people aren't able to get wood that dry outside a humidity controlled factory environment. The wood for my first guitar came from a builders timber yard in rainy UK and that guitar still works :) 

Im pretty sure it was kiln dried but hey I could dry it a bit more if I need too

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6 hours ago, PRSpoggers said:

I can tell this is gonna be a multi month project due to most of it will be drying.

In any case building a guitar from scratch is a multi month project. Even for professionals like Ben Crowe mentioned above it takes months or even years to get a guitar delivered. He's made building challenge videos where he builds a guitar from scratch in 24 hours. I know a guy who used to work there and he revealed that it takes weeks to actually finish the builds or rather rebuild them partially. You can make a playable thing pretty fast but it'll take quite some time hanging on the wall until you can be sure it stays in the condition you've built it.

As for drying wood, I once read about Fender Custom Shop agents driving around the driest states of America, trying to buy wood storages from the widows of late cabinet makers. A pile of decades old wood stacked under the roof on the shady side of the workshop was their Holy Grail.

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