Calling Out to Builders: Why?

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by John Hurtt, Aug 22, 2008.

  1. John Hurtt

    John Hurtt Supporting Member

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    Basic curiosity here....Why should any builder want to share knowledge on how they do something? To help others develop the craft? Wouldn't that just eventually add to the competition? Speaking of, why would any luthier share anything new, cool, or easier to someone they are in competition with to survive in the business?

    It just makes no sense to me, especially as I see builder A come out with something cool and builder B completely rip off the idea shortly thereafter.
     
  2. mbrown3

    mbrown3 Member

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    I think you'll find that most of the luthiers (especially the ones that hang out around here) are very collaborative kinds of guys, and it's not so much about "ripping off" one another's ideas as much as it is about sharing insight, different approaches to the same problem/issue, various techniques, etc. I think it's pretty darn cool that most of these guys seem willing to share their knowledge. I don't see it so much that many of them are sharing their "trade secrets" or anything, as much as just some general knowledge they've gleaned over the years, and sure makes for interesting reading...even for someone like me who is not a luthier (and never will be...I don't have the patience for it!). But I still find it fascinating to read about the guitars that I love to play, and (sometimes even moreso) the wonderful people who are building these great instruments.
     
  3. BIGGERSTAFF

    BIGGERSTAFF Member

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    You can teach the basics-(i.e. here's how you do _________). There's much more than carpentry skills involved in being a good luthier though. It's through experience you learn the why, what, when aspects of building an instrument. The builder needs to be able to conceptualize how the various raw materials will get them to the end result that they(the customer) desires. This is where creativity intersects with quality and attention to detail.
     
  4. Jon Silberman

    Jon Silberman 10Q Jerry & Dickey Gold Supporting Member

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    Back in law school, everyone hoarded his or her course outlines ... everyone but me. I was open source before open source was cool, sharing mine with anyone who asked about it, allowing unlimited further sharing and copying. Some thought I was insane ... until I kicked their asses on the exams. You see, by sharing the info., literally a good hundred additional people reviewed my work, found errors, offered their own better ideas, and generally engaged me in followup conversations and study. Plus they became more than competitors - they became my friends.

    So, for me, the "why" is obvious.
     
  5. Guitarpentry

    Guitarpentry Member

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    Sharing knowledge...hopefully, is a basic human condition. Education comes in many forms. Hoarding secrets can be lucrative I suppose, but will it really make you happy in the end? Maybe yes for some, but I for one enjoy being educated.
     
  6. John Hurtt

    John Hurtt Supporting Member

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    I understand the points being raised here, but it's still a business. I can understand wanting to get educated, learning to get better, etc. But, if I was on the cutting edge of the business or did things better than someone else why share? Sharing that information could very well shut you down in the long run. Hey, education is great and all that but I doubt many luthiers are getting rich turning out their craft. Why make it harder to put bread on the table?
     
  7. BIGGERSTAFF

    BIGGERSTAFF Member

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    I doubt seriously that any builders are giving away trade secrets. Think of it more like teaching someone the principles of sculpture, except you're using wood instead of clay or granite. It still comes down to whether or not the end user likes sculpture A or B. It's not akin to a group of folks in the semi-conductor business telling would be competitors how to make smaller or more reliable chips.
     
  8. John Page

    John Page Member

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    John,
    There's plenty of business out there for us little guys. Most of us have enough orders to build each year and we're not trying to "rule the guitar world". Virtually every small builder I've ever known has been willing to share their knowledge openly. In fact, the only companies that I have ever known to be selfish with their ideas and act as though everything is a "trade secret" are the big "F" and the big "G". They are trying to rule the guitar world.

    I've said this before and I think it's very appropriate to help you understand this "sharing"... guitar building is an art. As an art, each artist has his or her own take on the medium. Each artist has his or her own style. So shared techniques will still be interpreted and executed differently by each artist/builder.

    We all learned by other sharing with us, it's only right to pass it forward!
     
  9. David Myka

    David Myka Gold Supporting Member

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    I can totally understand the question. Remember how many archtop builders there were before Benedetto's book came out? Now look at all of them flooding the market.

    But there is still only one Benedetto. His name is still the first thing uttered when people come across his designs. He made his name a benchtop word by the simple act of sharing.

    I am one of those open source builders. I realize that 'trade secrets' are not really transferable because it is the years of putting in hour after hour getting your skills to the point where you can realize your visions that is the only secret. For a truly crafted instrument there is no way that I could possibly give away what it takes to get this done no matter what I tell people. Again and again I get asked by beginning luthiers what is the secret. When I tell them it is simply patience most of them get discouraged. They are waiting for that magic silver bullet of lutherie so they can get started building master instruments today! Sorry, doesn't exist.

    Back to the open source concept. I agree that this makes great relationships with people who would otherwise just be another competitor. I have shared my jigs and progress with people here and on ProjectGuitar.com and I get a steady flow of info back including CAD files of new and improved jigs from engineering majors in school, cool design ideas from other builders, and great advice when I need to work out something I haven't come across before. People are helping each other out in ways that I never imagined.

    John Page hit the nail squarely on the head: we all have our own sense of style and people seek us out individually to build their instruments based on whether or not they dig it. I tried to have an assistant once and when I mentioned this to my clients the overwhelming majority said "Cool, just so long as he doesn't touch my guitar." So I am still going solo and my clients are 100% supportive of that even though the timelines are much longer this way.

    One very cool example I have is when I met Bruce Petros and played one of his acoustic guitars (which was so far beyond most acoustics I have ever played). So I asked him what makes them tick? He spent the better part of an hour explaining to me in detail his innovations in bracing, bridge systems and plates, and various other nuances. When he was done I asked him why he shared this much information? His response was that I could never build a Petros no matter how hard I tried.

    Now if we are talking another 'new' Tele design, well the competition is unfathomably huge already, so...

    ~David
     
  10. John Hurtt

    John Hurtt Supporting Member

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    I'm with you, I find it fascinating to see how some of these really talented guys do what they do.
     
  11. John Hurtt

    John Hurtt Supporting Member

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    John, thanks for the insight.
     
  12. John Hurtt

    John Hurtt Supporting Member

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    Thanks David, makes sense.
     
  13. Jahn

    Jahn Listens to Johnny Marr, plays like John Denver Supporting Member

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    If anything, I bet it would be darn exciting to share something that eventually became the standard in your craft. Imagine all guitars were non-vibrato. You make a vibrato unit, and instead of hoarding it, you spread it around. Yes, you don't get the profits on all vibratos ever made, but you get to see your innovation break into a market that is extremely mired in tradition. Like the bolt on neck when everything used to be set neck/etc. Great stuff!
     
  14. Dave Orban

    Dave Orban Gold Supporting Member

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    Some folks really enjoy sharing knowledge. Teaching is, to me, probably the second-most honorable profession in the world (after parenting). And the reward comes from seeing someone learn something new...!

    And even if 5 cooks start with the exact same recipe, there are usually enough differences in the final product to keep it interesting. I think the same can be said for most guitar builders.
     
  15. Ian Anderson

    Ian Anderson Supporting Member

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    I think people would be amazed at the connection between Taylor and their competition as well as some of the smaller builders. Some of them here on the forum. I have met Bill Collings and Steve Olsen in the shop among other well known builders. They have a total spirit of sharing.
     
  16. Tubes and Strings

    Tubes and Strings Supporting Member

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    Rock on! I love your outlook...
     
  17. BettyFjord

    BettyFjord Member

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    I used to be in banking and was a conference. ING, the Dutch bank, gave a talk where they told us their strategy in quite surprising detail. At the end someone in the audience stood up and asked if they hadn't given away too much?

    The Dutch guy - in very Dutch fashion - said that he didn't mind tell us any of this because none of us were ING, and none of us could implement those ideas in anything like they way they could. We were welcome to try, but what would be the point?

    And he was right. The parts working together create the whole, not a single approach. Just because you share your specific solution to a problem, it doesn't mean it'll produce the same result as a whole.
     
  18. John Mayes

    John Mayes Member

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    It's vastly harder to make it in this business than most people imagine. I know lots of people who think they will just open up shop and build the guitars and life will be perfect. Not only is it hard to make a guitar that is very close to perfection (that's what people demand), but you also have to sell them, deal with customers, do the finances, be the janitor/matinence man, ect.... And the guys who are already established usually don't want to rip off an idea. They make take some inspiration from it, but they will put there own spin. that's just flattery.
     
  19. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

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    That is a great post, John.

    One thing that I have learned...it is that "being the best" is FAR from enough. I'm not claiming to be the "best" (there can never be such a thing anyway) but world-class excellence in design and craftsmanship is Far from enough to make a go of it in this business.
     
  20. Festus

    Festus Supporting Member

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    While you have to be competitive in order to stay afloat, it's so much better to develop friends while doing business rather than adversaries. There will always be those who compete in order to gain a perceived advantage over someone, and there will always be those who share knowledge in order to advance the art they are involved in creating, whether it's luthiery, music, etc.
     

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