Is it worth going to luthier school?

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by lcsguitar, Feb 16, 2010.


  1. lcsguitar

    lcsguitar Member

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    Hi, I'm thinking about going to luthier school in Red Wing, MN and i wanna hear from you guys as far as if its worthwhile choosing this career path. I currently build fire trucks and am sick of it. I have always wanted to work on guitars and have a love for them.

    Can you make decent money to support a family being a luthier and is it as fun and rewarding as it seems to be? I am totally fine being a repair man and building my own guitars on the side.

    I have heard that working for guitar companies like Gibson and Fender is pretty lame and probably much like the factory work im currently doing. Also, is it fairly easy to find a music store to work at and keep busy doing luthier work or do most of you have another job.

    Let me know if any of you have any thoughts on the Red Wing school as well. Sorry for all the questions but i am thinking about a huge life change and need some advice. Thanks!
    Leo
     
  2. verhoevenc

    verhoevenc Member

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    IMO, for the money it costs to go to some of these schools. Buy a decently outfitted woodshop with the right tools and a bunch of cheaper (african mahogany and lightly flamed maple) woods to try stuff out on. Then, just spend the time reading and watching stuff on youtube. It's a great way to learn, and that way you can continue your current job until you're confident you can make the guitar idea work.
    There are a BUNCH of great resources out there! Several of which are mine (it's not a shameless plug if the resources are all free lol).
    My $.02
    Chris
     
  3. Mike Dresch

    Mike Dresch Silver Supporting Member

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    Around the Sioux Falls area? No, I don't think you can make enough to live off of unless you really develop an online business and the vast majority of your clients are coming from there. Also, you'd have to put out a good number of guitars per year and charge at least two or three thousand for them a piece to get to the point you could live off of it. That means a lot of hours in the shop (probably way more than you'd think, which does not equal a good amount of time with your family and is the reason I don't pursue it myself).

    I've heard Red Wing is one of the top schools in the country along with Roberto Venn (sp?).
     
  4. jdh

    jdh Supporting Member

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    Leo,

    Going to school to learn a craft is an excellent idea. I have been involved with junior college and trade school education for many years, and I have seen an almost infinite number of positive benefits as a result of the learning experience. Yes, school is difficult, time consuming, costly, and a pain in the ass, yet it is your future and you have to work at something you enjoy. I will say that working as a craftsman will be difficult at first as there is no getting around this. Make sure your family is with you on this, set your mind to the fact that building instruments is your future, and you will prevail.

    Dennis
     
  5. Husky

    Husky Member

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    Unless you are 18 I wouldn't change careers unless you have backup support from your wife. As far as Luthier school..... I have hired a quite a few from these places and they never work out. They always have lofty expectations on what the work is really like and seem to approach it like a hobby. I could have taught them everything they learned in 1 week.

    You would be better off either
    A) finding a small music store and getting them to trust you as you build up your clientele, read a lot of Don Teeter books , the Benedetto book, and study as much as you can with a shitload of hands on experience before you start working on other peoples guitars. Do NOT ignore electronics, soldering skills and basic theory, VERY important . Make sure you really know your stuff before working there unless you are working under someone.

    B) Working for a larger company, yeah it is boring but you will learn a lot if you go in without much knowledge. You will also get a feel for production techniques.

    You will have to make a considerable investment on tools
    Dont forget there are some major liability issues as well, when you work on someone else instrument it is their pride and joy. **** happens and you better have the skill set to deal with any problem you run in to whether your fault or not.

    Builders are like musicians, there are some great people out there but not all that many can actually make a decent living.
    When I was 17, I wanted to apprentice for Bob Benedetto, he said no, but I was welcome to watch him make my neck. He said if you want to do this you will figure it out on your own.
    So I did, then in a few years I dropped out of college, started working in 3 music stores and did a shitload of repair work before I talked my way into Rudy's in the mid 80's. Before this time I also supported myself playing in clubs and working as a cook. It wasn't an easy life. My son is going this path but he works in my shop and starts engineering school next year as well as learning electronics.
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2010
  6. narad

    narad Supporting Member

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    Sign me up!
     
  7. Malinoski

    Malinoski everything wrong possible

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    Spend the money on tools
    and have someone wiser than you show you how to not cut your fingers off.
    Keep your eyes and ears open,
    and practice and practice.


    You only get into this business because you love it,
    not because it is a good career choice.
     
  8. Pfeister

    Pfeister Member

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    :agree
    Exactly.

    Schools are good for some people, but not everybody. It all depends on the person. I ended up in art school instead of a luthier school an I think I'm better off for it (except for the student loans:facepalm).
     
  9. Jerrod

    Jerrod Silver Supporting Member

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    I see an opportunity for Suhr to host 1-week classes. Buy a guitar, pay $2000 extra, and you can help build it. ;)
     
  10. khromo231

    khromo231 Guest

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    I think this bears repeating in these difficult times. Most of the guys walking into your prospective shop are spending discretionary income, and in lean times, it gets short, at best.
     
  11. Michael Hunter

    Michael Hunter Supporting Member

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    As an attendee of the program in Red Wing, I can definitely say that I'm better for the experience. I went into it with no training, formal or informal, in woodworking or instrument repair. I came out with a lot of good basic skills.

    That said, unless you already have an aptitude for that sort of work, you don't come out of the gate from a place like that with much in the way of practical experience. (The instructors will more or less tell you that from day one.) That experience only comes from doing the work, over and over and over again. I went right to work fixing guitars after graduation, and I struggled because even though I had a good eye and relatively good skills I didn't have the speed that it took to make a living at doing the work. At this point in my life, I do repair work for a local music store as a part time endeavor. It keeps my skills honed, and I don't have the pressure of relying on that work alone to put bread on the table. Someday I hope that it can become more of a full-time occupation, but given the area I live in and the existing competition I know I wouldn't be able to do it without supplementing my income with teaching and gigging. (Thank god I love doing both those things!)

    I've said this in previous posts, but without some sort of background in personal and business finance it's an even tougher row to hoe. Doing the repair work is one thing; running a business - even with just you as the sole employee - is another. That's an element that most repair/building schools don't really prepare you for. Make sure you can balance a checkbook, create and file invoices, and keep your tax records in order.
     
  12. Michael Hunter

    Michael Hunter Supporting Member

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    And if you'd like another perspective on the Red Wing program, there's a guy from my class named Josh Rieck who owns a shop called String Theory Music somewhere in South Dakota. Don't have his contact info, but you can find him on Facebook.
     
  13. Mike Dresch

    Mike Dresch Silver Supporting Member

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    Josh Rieck is here in Sioux Falls. I gave him a couple hunks of Honduran mahogany that he said he was going to turn into mandolin necks. Nice guy.
     
  14. Michael Hunter

    Michael Hunter Supporting Member

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    Hah! Small world. Please give him a "howdy" from me if you happen to see him.
     
  15. Mike Dresch

    Mike Dresch Silver Supporting Member

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  16. Husky

    Husky Member

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    The liability, OSHA and insurance issues would make this impossible unless it was purely a class and not hands on.
     
  17. Jerrod

    Jerrod Silver Supporting Member

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    Hey, I'm just the idea guy. Someone else is in charge of implementation.
     
  18. Husky

    Husky Member

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    All the taxes , payroll, corporation matters, protecting your lives and assets is one thing...
    I'm going to add here that dealing with OSHA, safety training, keeping the shop safe, AQMD, hazard waste management, workmans comp insurance, liability insurance, health insurance. Having a proper business license, Dealing with the proper firing and hiring of people are all major considerations. We have many hazards in our business. OSHA can walk in and fine you $100K in fines without batting an eye just for things like drill press not bolted down. It only takes one disgruntled employee or a surprise visit after visiting a neighbors shop to shut yours down. We do all this stuff, hire consultants that we have on call and the whole package, it is a freaking major expense but necessary part of doing business. If they get hurt at your place then everything snowballs into a royal nightmare unless you have every single T crossed and have an airtight shop. Things like a serious injury in the shop need to get reported to OSHA that day or you can be fined $5K right off the bat. You know that if a burglar falls thru your skylight because it doesnt have proper safety measures protecting him he can still sue you ! And people wonder why small buisiness are having a hard time. You cant even check on a Social Security number before you hire someone and only have 3 days to check on it after you hire them.

    So either be prepared to handle these costs or stay a garage builder under the radar living in the boonies with no employees.
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2010
  19. Husky

    Husky Member

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    We have thought of it before but risks are way to great.
     
  20. Pfeister

    Pfeister Member

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    To be fair, though, if you're the only employee, the costs are much much less. The only issue like that I've ran into yet was because of another artist who has a studio here. He didn't have a proper license for his foundry and the fire department decided it'd be a good idea to rampage first and ask questions later.

    If you have employees, then you have a lot more to worry about. I've had people offer to work for me, for little or nothing, but I can't do it because of the risk. If someone got hurt, the business would be over. Unless someone really knows their stuff, things like routers can be pretty dangerous.
     

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