After being seduced into music by Jimi Hendrix and the blues and later jazz, country and pop, I wanted to make my guitar feel and sound better. My curiosity about music and guitars led to much tinkering and experimenting on my own instruments.
While pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Music at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ, I apprenticed under luthier Jerry Korkki at JK Guitars. Jerry has over 20 years in lutherie, and has made custom pieces for Jeff Skunk Baxter and Bert Campbell of Toucan Eddie, among others. During this time I also played a lot of gigs (somewhere around 500…) doing modern and jump blues, hard and post bop, big band jazz, classic and modern rock and made a full length CD with Sancho Clemente, a college dance latin funk rock band.
Upon completion of my BA, I attended Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery where I built an OM style acoustic, a set neck semi-hollow Tele style electric and my first custom order, a 5 string bass in addition to refining some repair techniques.
After Roberto-Venn, I went to work for Paul Reed Smith Guitars, Ltd. While learning more about production, design and finishing, I befriended John Ingram, PRS’ warranty/repairman. John has been with Paul Smith since the West Street loft days (1980?) and has a hand in the R & D as well as Private Stock and artist instruments.
While at PRS, I started repairing instruments for Master Musicians. This grew into a full time shop at this location. As of January 2002, I am achieving my dream of operating my own independant repair shop. As part of my continuing education in lutherie, I am a member of both the Guild of American Luthiers and the Association of String Instrument Artisans.
Luthierie Internship and School Considerations
Sometimes I am asked if I am hiring, if I need help around the shop in any capacity, if I will take an apprentice, if I teach what I know to others, how to start a repair business and generate work. Just like playing guitars, modding, repairing and building them is very interesting as well and folks want to learn about these topics. This is most of a reply to a mom inquiring on behalf of her son with some additional information included as well. I have had many similar inquiries over the years, but I am currently not in a position to accept an apprentice. It is flattering that folks ask though, so thank you!
I do not know of anyone offering apprenticeships in luthierie; that is a tough thing to come by. I do not have the space or time with my current shop workload and population, plus there are liability considerations. I do not do shop tours; my shop is small, thankfully busy and frequently dustier than I would like and while I do quite a bit of set up and fast repairs while clients wait, there really isn’t a hang out area. I do not teach luthierie, although I do explain things thoroughly to clients and have consulted on many repair and building questions. I am a self employed craftsman serving the needs of my clients and family as best I can.
There are a great many resources available today for aspiring luthiers:
Two trade associations in the US; please check their sites for their respective bi/annual gatherings as they are very informative and lots of fun:
There are many schools offering luthierie courses, but I can only really recommend the three listed below. It is not that I dislike other schools/institutes, but that I do not have enough positive direct knowledge to endorse them.
But some say luthierie schools are not necessarily the best way to go; here is a forum thread with some good advice from those that are in the business.
Honestly, luthierie is a tough business to break into and make a good living within. Those that succeed do so because they find a way to harness their passion and craft with good business sense. Students learn more thru experience and recovering from mistakes than probably any other learning modality.
For anyone seeking to begin an endeavor of this scale, I suggest learning about running a small business and basic economic considerations as well as local government business regulations. Good musical knowledge is necessary too - having played bass and also many guitar styles, including classical and jazz, allows me to understand what those players are asking for and help them get it; a builder/repairer without knowledge of the nuances of application will have a harder time interpreting and delivering what players want and need.
Books are great learning tools as well. Dan Erlewine's 3rd edition of the Guitar Player Repair Guide is a great general knowledge text and can be found even at places like Barnes and Nobles (I still have and refer to an old 2nd edition). Dan is affiliated with Stewart McDonald, a big trade supplier (they have lots of books and DVDs as well). This is a great tome for not only aspiring luthiers, but players as well so that they can have a greater understanding of how the instrument works and what it may require to function as desired.
A great website from another respected and highly experienced repairman is Frank Ford's www.frets.com. I've had the opportunity to meet Frank and learn from him in both trade school and at luthierie conventions.
A great book for aspiring electric guitar builders is Englishman Melvyn Hiscock's Build Your Own Electric Guitar.
My dad always bought any books I asked for and this and a few choice others were cherished (got them in high school).
A really good internet forum is the Musical Instrument Makers Forum. Some of the threads may seem very specific/esoteric to a casual or new observer, but there is a wealth of information here. Talk Bass is a forum for all types of bass enthusiasts and is frequented by many builders, another good source for tech info.
There is a lot of stuff on YouTube these days, but honestly I am too busy between family and work to really watch much. As with anything on the internet, it may not be properly vetted, so approach the application of anything presented with caution and common sense.
Something else that never hurts and was a big inspiration for me was woodshop classes in both middle and high school. I don’t know if many schools still offer these, but you could also check with community colleges. Stores like Woodcraft (locally in Towson, MD) offer classes and there are woodworking shows like this - a big traveling wood/trade show (held here locally at the MD state fairgrounds in Timonium just after New Years every year) worth seeing for wood working tools and demonstrations. There may also be local woodworking guilds and groups like this one in Annapolis, MD worth checking out. Woodworking can open the door into luthierie – look at what high-end/custom furniture maker Peter Dudley is up to in Easton, MD. Luthierie is based in woodworking; a significant aspect is high end, functional woodworking.
Lastly - it’s great to see larger guitar facilities. In my area I suggest: CF Martin & Co, located in PA and has factory tours. Occasionally, Paul Reed Smith Guitars Ltd (on Kent Island just over the Bay Bridge) has factory tours as well as their annual Experience PRS event. It is worth contacting and inquiring as these storied, modern facilities are very interesting, state-of-the-art production.
Best of luck, be careful and always safe with tools!