How or where did some of you learn to build guitars?

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by jko, Aug 24, 2006.

  1. jko

    jko Member

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    This is my 1st post and I've always been curious....I would like to begin to learn how to build guitars from scratch, not kits. I was just wondering what some of your suggestions might be on how to start ie: schools, apprenticeship, dvd, or books....I don't really intend to ever make a living as a luthier or tech so I'm a bit reluctant to spend a lot of money at a place like Roberto Venn...I'm also really interested about the different paths that some of you smaller luthiers took on your way to learning how to build instruments. Thanks..
     
  2. JeffG.

    JeffG. Member

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    Just as an FYI, you will find some good info and people over on the MIMF forum relating to this subject as well.

    www.mimf.com
     
  3. Crazyquilt

    Crazyquilt Guitar Dad Silver Supporting Member

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    I seem to recall that there was a thread here where a number of the small-shop luthiers talked about how they got started. Of course, the search function and I are not in synergy, so I can't find it now. But it did have some very uesful info (and interesting stories, too.)
     
  4. KevinF

    KevinF Member

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    Definetly check out the MIMF forum.

    I also recommend the following books:
    Electrics: "Make your own electric guitar" by Melvin Hiscock
    Archtop: "Making an archtop guitar" by Robert Benedetto
    Acoustic: "Guitarmaking: Tradition and technology: A complete reference for the design and construction of the steel-string folk guitar and the classical guitar" by William Cumpiano
     
  5. Mike M

    Mike M Supporting Member

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    Stew Mac, Books, Internet, basic understanding of tools, lots of money for tools, and time.

    Thats it!
     
  6. John Page

    John Page Member

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    I learned by doing. I took old Tiesco del Rays apart to see how they were built and then I tried to figure out why they did what they did. I can only remember one book out about guitar building when I started... I think it was by Irving Sloan "How to Build a Classical Guitar", or something like that. It gave a lot of basic knowledge that helped. I know this sounds like total BS, but I built my first guitar when I was about 14. I used and old Sears scroll saw of my dad's, a Bowie kife to shape the contours, and a file. I did these really lousy bird inlays on the fretboard with abalone I cut from shells in my parents garden. It looked like total ****, and I couldn't figure out how to cut the fret slots right... so I threw it away, but at least I did it.

    I know there are a lot of folks that go to school to learn guitar building, just like there are a lot that go to art school. I'm sure it all helps, but it still boils down to doing it, over and over again. Most of the best appretices I've had were self taught. If you just want to build a guitar or two, buy some books and start cutting wood... have fun.

    Dont' forget to learn from every mistake... trust me, you'll make a few!
     
  7. JPERRYROCKS

    JPERRYROCKS Member

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    jko,

    I went to a lutherie program back in 2000. It was quite dissappointing in what I learned and very expensive. If I had to do it all over again, I might have made a different choice. But I did score a great apprenticeship and worked with one of the best electric guitars makers in the country, so my hard work payed off in the end. It was probably just a bad choice of schools and should have picked a better place. If you do it, just make sure you're serious about it. Most places charge 5000-7000 for a 3 month program. It's almost just like going away to college and it's not cheap.

    What I would do first is spend $200-300 on videos. Places like stew mac and lmi have lots of vidoes you can buy. But it's tough to learn by watching. You need to use your own hands and make your own mistakes by experience.

    Depending on where you live, some guitars makers will take on inexperienced people and train you. But you have to have a good attitude and be willing to work for a small amount of money. They're not going to just hire anybody.

    Building guitars is a lot harder to find. But every town usually has somebody that does basic repair and set-up work. That's usually the easiest thing to break into.
     
  8. jko

    jko Member

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    Thanks guys, that's exactly what i wanted to know...and I'll definitely check out the MIMF forum!...'Kind of OT, but currently I'm working on an MFA degree (master of fine arts) in ceramics and there are some interesting parallels in the two respective fields (luthiery and clay/pottery) regarding opinions on formal education vs. apprenticeships vs. self taught artists...I guess it just depends on finding the right approach for each individual person, as well as a commitment to learning and hard work.....I'm always interested in the background and learning process that a respected master in any discipline went through, especially in the beginning phase....Thank you all again for your responses
     
  9. Chris Rice

    Chris Rice Member

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    Take apart every guitar that you can and put it back together. Do it a few times and you'll begin to understand how everything works together. Buy cheap trashed guitars and try to make them work. Have fun doing it!
     
  10. george4908

    george4908 Member

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    I've only built two so far, so I'm no expert, but Melvyn Hiscock's book "Make Your Own Electric Guitar" was a good starting point. But more important, I built alongside a friend of mine who had deeper woodworking chops than me, and a more complete shop. He didn't know anything about guitars -- that was my department -- but between the two of us, we cobbled together some pretty fair scratch built Teles. He's since built many more, including a full-blown jazz archtop.
     
  11. Dana Olsen

    Dana Olsen Gold Supporting Member

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    Hey George - have any pictures you'd care to share of your handbuilt Teles? Oh, are you still playing through your Tone King? I have a Meteor II now - great amp!

    Thanks, Dana O.
     
  12. george4908

    george4908 Member

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    Dana, I'm still playing through the Tone King Continental and loving it. Bought it new in 1997 and haven't looked back. I guess I'm more faithful to amps than guitars!

    Some pics of the Teles. Hope the links work -- they do for me, but sometimes others have trouble getting into Webshots.

    The Goldtop with minibuckers:

    http://snipurl.com/mulx

    http://snipurl.com/vfl7

    The Koacaster with etched Hawaiian pickguard -- also known as the Ho-caster (for Don Ho, of course, what did you think I meant?):

    http://snipurl.com/vfl8

    http://snipurl.com/mtj6
     
  13. chicknpickn2

    chicknpickn2 Member

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    I was lucky enought to walk into an apprenticeship with Bill Moll of Moll custom instruments. Because of my lack of wood working experience he was able to get me a job at a local custom wood working shop, so by day I did custom case work and at night and the weekends I learned to build guitars. I spent four years doing that before I mived on and started doing repair work and building of my own.

    If you don't have a background in woodworking, make friends with a local cabinet shop. Offer to work in exchange for tool time, and learn as much as possible. Buy some wood and start cutting. TheMIMF is a great forum, and check out LMI and StewMac as well as any material by ASIA, Guild of American Luthiers, etc

    Good Luck!
     
  14. Dana Olsen

    Dana Olsen Gold Supporting Member

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    Hey George - the Koa one looks AMAZING! What a beauty.

    BTW, I'm pretty sure that I can still play (and sing!) "Little Brown Gal" and "Hukilau" from choir in grammar school - we had a "Ho" down. (GRIN)


    thanks, and great job on the guitars, Dana O.
     
  15. Scott French

    Scott French Member

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    I went to Roberto-Venn then apprenticed shortly at First Act's "Studio for Artists" in Boston. All the info is out there to learn on your own; I am just impatient and didn't have access to tools. In the past I've been a pretty good self starter but in this case I went in completely blind and needed the confidence with power tools that a school or one-on-one mentor can help with.
     
  16. Lex Luthier

    Lex Luthier Member

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    Almost 20 years ago my buddy Mike started building set neck electrics, and I watched him build them and learned a lot. Since then I've wanted to do some building, but never got around to it. In the mean time I have fixed many guitars for the locals and restored quite a few butchered vintage guitars, which helped me develop my skills, and gave me a perspective in how they were built and a good understanding of what to do if I were to build a guitar. Also, I tried to find any bit of info on guitar building, books, internet, watching and learning. When I finally got around to building my first guitar, the process just clicked right along, almost like I had done it before.
    http://img214.imageshack.us/img214/6927/paint223vj.jpg
     
  17. enharmonic

    enharmonic Old Growth Gold Supporting Member

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    Scott, IMO, the First Act studio doesn't get enough love in these parts. Think you might care to start another thread (either here or in the general forum) to dispell some of the myths about thier custom shop? I own a Delia, and it is one of the nicest instruments I have ever owned or played. :AOK
     
  18. jko

    jko Member

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    Man, Chris and George,you guys have made some pretty sweet guitars!....(no disrespect to anyone else, i just haven't had time to open all the links yet..) This is great stuff to hear about....like i said, i plan to take it really slow and am prepared to make mistakes....but it's inspiring to see the skill and talent that's out there in the world of handmade instruments1...and all the figured wood!!
     
  19. PB Wilson

    PB Wilson Member

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    I got into building by repairing my guitars and friend's guitars. I also have a nice collection of most of the lutherie books out there and belong to the Guild of American Luthiers which has an excellent quarterly journal.

    After reading tons of information online and in books, figure out what techniques will work for the guitar you are building. Also, take advantage of services like fingerboard slotting and radiusing. Starting with a precise fingerboard will save you tons of worry and frustration.

    Anyway, I'm currently building a solidbody out of walnut that I harvested a number of years ago from a tree in my yard. It's been air drying for the past five years and works great. It's my first completely custom guitar. I'm a bit nervous, but at the same time excited to make some shavings.

    Best of luck.
     
  20. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Member

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    My lutherie education is similar to yours, PB. Started repairing and building bolt-necks in the 1970's, bought books and videos and just dove into my own projects head first! Many well respected builders are self-taught, so don't believe that you need to pay big bucks for luthier's school if you have the time to work out your ideas and hone your skills in your spare time.:AOK
     

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