I started off my working life as a precision engineer, and I was lucky enough to be trained by a couple of people whose skill (and attitude) I'm still in awe of.

Then, after realising there are never going to be women in the workshop (& the industrial accidents were mounting up due to boredom), i went to uni to study audio electronics.
In my 2nd year i wound up working on guitars every saturday at a great local music store and I'm still here all these years later.

I was wondering - how many repair guys here were trained in engineering first?
I can see a difference between those that are and those that came to it through another route, luthier school etc

hard to say which I think is better, but I have to say if i was going to do it all again I'd still go with the steel prec eng route.

Anyone have any opinion on the best route?

Part of the reason I ask is that I'll be needing to take an apprentice soon and I think i'd prefer an guitar playing prec engineer over a luthier fresh out of a school...I feel the foundations are more solid for the long term, and the schools around here don't seem that good to be honest.

..but it obviously also depends on the person. Its just that I use my eng backround everyday - and it does me ok... so far!!


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my two cents is only worth a penny but here goes.......
i think that having an engineering background definitely helps, but it goes a little deeper than that. engineering comes from the point of "here is the problem or task, how do we make it happen?", which leads you to set about PROBLEM SOLVING. usually that would lead to me thinking out the problem and coming up with multiple ways to solve it. then i take my list of "fixes" and go through it a couple of times thinking each over. which is fastest, slowest, easiest, strongest etc. and rate them according to merit. then i take the one with the most merit and proceed with the repair. however, with that being said, this is pretty much how i deal with things outside of luthiery as well. it works for fixing the car, decision making, building furniture etc., etc.
when you take a specific course, usually you are taught that this is the way the neck is made, this is how it is connected to the body, this is how you brace a flat top etc. nothing wrong with that at all, it is a very traditional way to approach building a guitar. however, it doesn't really inspire you to come up with something new.
to return to engineering for a moment, i think that your training has allowed you to think in a more creative problem solving kind of way. it allows you to test the traditional methods AND come up interesting NEW and improved ways to solve problems.
engineering happens to be the topic here, but to me it is more of a way of thinking and you don't need an engineering background to think like that. some people think like this naturally, i got it from a background of working in small custom wood shops where sometimes we just had to make it happen and the next guy will get it from somewhere else.
now, in closing, i don't want to upset anyone with this post and i want to make it perfectly clear that there is NOTHING wrong with building a guitar in a traditional way, they look great, some sound beautiful and they bring much joy to many. but everything has NOT been done and just because there is a traditional way of doing it doesn't make it the best way. there is always room for improvement in EVERYTHING and i am glad people are looking for it.
sorry for the rambling, i would just hate to think of some bright young person being passed over for lack of an engineering degree.
Being an engineer myself (mind You, just a "hobby repairman") I certainly think it helps sometime when it comes to troubleshooting and fixing. Part of engineering is to analyse & fix, and also to predict & prevent.

It is certainly an advantage to understand relations between forces in a design and the strengths of materials and joints, but I would be surpriced if this is not touched upon also in luthier school.

I don´t think that You need to build guitars to be a good repairman, but it shure helps to know some fundamentals of instrument design. What have been proven to be good sounding and lasting designs in the past, which ideas haven´t worked before. (Do not invent the bad wheel again...)

And it is fundamental to like intruments and playing them, even though You do not need to be a Segovia.

I have heard of some large scale intrument makers who searches for workers that actually don´t know how to play, to avoid to much playing on the instruments in the assembly process, but I personally think this seems to be bad ideas. Instrument making is not like any assembly line, You need to know at least the first thing on how to use the product.

I think this goes for repairwork also.
amen to that,
its also how to work thats vital in my opinion. knowing when tools are good and are going to give you a good cut, a straight line, flat surface, working through margins of error etc (and yes i have just discovered the italics button)...

even using a screwdriver properly is something that so few people seem to know!

maybe i'm just getting to that age ;)
I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express one time.....
Can't speak for the UK, but here in the States there does appear to be quite a few lutherie schools popping of as of late.

I am an engineer (electrical) by profession, but have always tinkered with guitars and amps. I spent about two years researching before attempting my first "from scratch" build (about a year and a half ago).

I once had a friend ask me about going to audio engineering school. I told him to take the money, put together a studio, and go for it. He how supports himself, recording and producing music in his own studio.

I think it all boils down to a person's drive, attitude, and love for the art, as opposed to any specific training or lack thereof.

Just one engineer's opinion....
I've been a communications engineer for almost 20 years and am just getting into luthrie, collecting my tools, doing a lot of reading. I think that the engineering background is very helpful from applying decipline to the process of learning, studying a skill, obsorbing the lessons learned from others. I have always worked with machinery, fixed my own vehicles, pretty much anything mechanical, but never had the chance to do any woodworking, soooo my first task is finding a local school where I can learn some woodworking skills before I sink my teeth into building guitars, something I've always wanted to do. I have been slowly making some improvements to both my acoustic and electrics, basic setups, intonation corrections and just took the plunge into thining a bridge on my takemine with a far to thick bridge/too low saddle height and I have to say, I love spending time doing this kind of stuff! Cant wait to actually put my first full instrument together!
I'm an EE and I'm a hobby luthier. I got into the repair business as a banjo player needing some instrument repairs. Nobody seemed to be able to meet my workmanship standards so I did the repairs myself. One thing lead to another and now I build and repair acoustic instruments. Good thing I don't have to make a living as a luthier - the general public expects you to work for chump change.
I'm curious about the "engineer" usage in your case. In the U.S. that would mean a university degree and you would not usually be working on a shop floor. It sounds to me like you might have been what we'd call a "machinist" or a "stationary engineer." The former uses machine tools to make things; the latter is a trained and licensed operator of certain machinery.
hi Bill,
Thanks for pointing that out - yes i do mean machinist. Over here its kind of the same in a formal sense, but I've known plenty of degree qualified engineers that wouldnt know the difference between a philips and a cross head screwdriver...which i kind of find infuriating in my old age!
I guess nowadays people would formerly be called a Technician if they werent degree qualified in their subject.
I've been lucky enough to train as a machinist before getting a degree in audio electronics later on in life. I'd say the training on the shop floor has been at least as important to me as the degree, possibly more so.
It was the attitude that i picked up from those shop floor guys that i really value. There's been plenty of jobs I would have struggled to finish if i hadn't had that.
Hi Steve,
Umm, I'm not sure how to approach this one - I've been a full time luthier for 10 years and have achieved a solid professional standing servicing major shops and local and interstate customers. I am also a custom guitar builder and have a commercial guitar presently in production.
My background was as a mechanical engineering apprentice at the Royal School of Technical Training where I graduated as a scientific instrument maker - in those days we did allied trades such as machine shop, general fitting, blacksmithing and welding (nothing too scientific there)....I then had a career change and studied among other things acoustic spectral analysis and sound transmission and advanced electronics - and finally followed up with a business Grad Dip. after quitting that line of work I went and did some cabinet making, lacquer spraying and wood technology study before starting luthiery (well, starting a business doing repairs really).

So much for the brag sheet but having gone this way and having held my peers up to comparison I would say that a background in hands-on engineering is an excellent place to start and this, in conjunction with an introduction to wood and guitar building is probably what I would describe as a good plan. I find that luthiers that do not have a technical background, hand/eye skill training or a comprehensive understanding of wood and machining tend to waste a lot of time and money getting up to speed. OK if you're not in business but not so good if your livelyhood depends on making money from the get go.

Additionally, I am often confronted with poor building practices and methods which have been taken from countless well intentioned books and forums and luthier folk law. Laws of physics and material science are the first things out the window in these cases. A technical background goes a long way to understanding and anchoring the basic and more complicated principles of our art and trade.

Similarly, I draw heavily on effective business skills and practices to make the job effecient and profitable and would contend that business skills are very important is such a low margin business.

I appologize if this sounds a bit dogmatic or arrogant but the need to make every hour and dollar count in this business is critical to long term survival and prosperity. Training is a big cost item and being able to start somewhere other than tech training 101 is a good thing. Regards, Rusty.


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