Hi all, I've been browsing the forum for about a month now. I started with the first threads in 2008 and am reading my way through as many threads as possible. It's amazing how much info is here and how much I've learned already. Incredible to have so many talented craftsmen that are willing to share their knowledge, thank you for that.

I've been doing basic setups on my own and band member's electric guitars and basses for the last twenty years as well as installing pickups, pots, jacks, switches and other minor repairs.Since quitting my last band five years ago, I've been playing acoustic only and for the last couple of years I have been doing setups, making nuts and saddles from blanks, I have done some LCP and re-frets, cut sounds ports and even refinished one guitar that came out decent for a first try. I've been buying tools on a need to have basis and made a neck jig similar to Dan Erlewines. I've bought a couple of project guitars to work on an I am learning by trial and error. I read anything I can get my hands on but I still am not confident in a lot of my skills. I think I need some validation from a professional that I am going about things in the correct manor. I am hoping to take Charles Fox's setup and maintenance seven day class sometime in the next six months. The class is in Portland OR and I am in New York so not exactly convenient or cheap but I am sure it will be worth it. 

My goal after I have some confidence and more knowledge and skills is to start doing set ups and fretwork for local musicians to try to earn some extra cash. After a few years if all goes well and the business is there, I would love to be able to do it full time.

Besides what I have been doing and taking the class is there anything else I should be doing to further my knowledge and skills to get me closer to my goals?

Sorry for the long winded introduction and any help is appreciated.


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Are you upstate or in nyc?  Evan Gluck does some repair teaching, he is in the city:

I'm 20 minutes north of the city but Evan isn't giving the classes these days.

I've was in touch with him not too long ago. Maybe i'll try him again.

Thanks Nathan.

 It certainly was not a long winded post. It's great that you found us, and I'm happy always to see new folks poking about. I hope you can start doing all that you need to make the instrument repair thing work for you! Please feel free to ask all the questions you want, and I'm sure  you will get the help you need...

I appreciate that Kerry! Just reading threads has answered a lot of questions so far but I will be sure to post my questions as they arise.

Hi Kurt,

Welcome to the forum, what Kerry said.   In the past a lot of us had mentors or colleagues who provided a "got to" function - these days a lot of it is now done on line.  The senior group here is reliable, skilled, friendly and polite and are here to help best they can.   As with all things, it's easier to offer advice before the cake is cooked so don' t hesitate to ask.  But, as we have all found, there are things that go wrong fast and will need the best remedy.

If I had to concentrate on one area of repair and maintenance starting out,  it would be trouble shooting and enhancing playability - from understanding and diagnosing the condition and geometry of what you are looking at to doing the things which remedy and enhance the players ability to love the instrument he has because it feels good in hand.   Which is a nice way of saying don't do setups with a ruler - each instrument is different and each player is different so every setup will be different.  

Good luck with your plan and see you around,


Hey Rusty, thanks for the welcome. I am particularly nervous that once I start doing business I will quickly come across something I can't handle or don't know how to diagnose, so that is the area I want to concentrate on the most. It's also why I wan't some hands on experience working with a skilled repair person. I do measure everything when doing setups and understand everyone plays differently so it's important to have the player play for you before working on their instruments. What works for me as a   fingerstyle player will of course not work for a heavy handed strummer.

On another note, I really like what you had to say in a past thread about pricing for luthiers and repair people. I manage a high end carpet workroom where we do some fantastic work and have a huge shop and are fully insured with a tremendous overhead. We see a lot of fly by night installers that work out of their van with no insurance and it's hard to compete with their prices. The good thing is we don't have to, our client's come to us because they know we are the best and worth what we charge. I believe your customers feel the same way and that's why they come back. So in a perfect world it would be a level playing field with pricing but when you are good at what you do, it doesn't matter and you can still make a good living. 


Welcome to the forum. If set ups are your main focus, Id definitely recommend Dan Erlewines Guitar Players Repair Guide as good reference material for set up information. And of course youll want to read through religiously :). When hands on learning is hard to come by, reading things repeatedly can give you a big leg up.

Part of any modern day business model is a SWOT analysis - and it acknowledges  the threats posed by the 'cowboys' on a "what if" basis.   Luthiery is one of the few jobs I know of where totally unqualified and inept people will do a really bad job for next to nothing. 

Fortunately, you get to fix the really bad stuff (and there is a lot of it),  charge an appropriate price and the customer is also then able to discriminate between good and bad work.   We tend to develop "customers for life" for the difficult stuff and don't sweat it if they do their own set-ups or have a "my mate knows all about this stuff" moment every now and again.  

Other random things that matter:

   Build up your customers one at a time and always give customers two business cards so they can refer you to their colleagues.

   Buy tools which speed up your work - that way you can make more money for the same amount of time - providing you charge set rates for services, rather than sell you labor by the hour.

   At the beginning of getting work be very quick with turnarounds (which will be easier as you will have less work during start-up phase) which will impress your customers and initially bring them back - as you get better and become more in demand your customers will tolerate and expect a longer wait time because they know you are doing quality work.

   Don't ever work for a loss - you will resent it and it it will haunt you.  Turn down jobs that are marginal money makers or outside your skill set - they will eat you alive 9 times out of 10.   Don't quote short to get a job - it just makes your business smaller and damages the industry as a whole.

   If you can't work out how to do something, do not "have a go"......somebody knows how somewhere - make it part of your skill set to include "finding out and/or searching the web" as important parts of your luthier skills.   

Andrew is a fan of Dan Erliwines Guitar Player Repair Guide - so am I.



Thanks Andrew I do have Dan's repair book and his fretwork book as well as Don Teeter's books. They have all been very helpful.

Lots of great advice there Rusty, I appreciate that. I would be nervous though in the beginning to turn down jobs for not being money makers. I think the time equals money scenario won't apply because everything takes me longer than it should right now. I wouldn't want to say no to someone and possibly lose their future business. Turning something down because I can't handle it skill wise is a different story.  Thanks again!

Dan's videos are worthwhile too. Seeing how something is done really helps.

Keep an eye out for cheap old Harmony guitars. They have great wood and lousy playability, and are easy to work on while having the same challenges as a much more expensive guitar.

 Don't ever work for a loss - you will resent it and it it will haunt you.  Turn down jobs that are marginal money makers or outside your skill set - they will eat you alive 9 times out of 10.   Don't quote short to get a job - it just makes your business smaller and damages the industry as a whole.

That one seems so obvious, and yet, I know I learned it the hard way. It's too easy to rationalize it by telling yourself that you're doing it for the experience or practice or whatever. Never again.

I have friends or friends of friends that sometimes approach me with a problem because they know I like to work on instruments and, as a hobbyist, I tend to work for free. I figured out some time ago that it's usually best to give them my "free" evaluation and send them in the direction of someone that does this for a living. Part of my "free" evaluation is to highlight the idea that it's worth paying someone well  for good work.  

Frankly, I  believe that  "...the laborer is worth his wage."  If someone does good work then they are worthy of being paid for that work. The idea that I might take care of their problem for free is probably the worst reason they could have to bring an instrument to me. I try to get across to them in a kind way that they should be willing to pay for the best service they can find if they prize their instrument. Many of the people I've talked to have never thought about it this way.  Most wouldn't consider using an unlicensed plumber or electrician and want a mechanic that is good and reasonable. They wouldn't consider trying to find a "free" mechanic to fix their car.    

People need to be educated about the cost / value of repair services. The last thing I want to do is instill the idea that instrument repair has little or no value, thus I seldom take on repairs for other people.  ( When I do, it's usually for someone that I know can't afford it and don't have anything else to play, mostly kids with no money. )

If a tradesman doesn't charge what they are worth, I think they will probably continue to attract the sort of customers that place price before quality. That seem to me to be a quick way to a failing business. There is always a cheaper price somewhere. I understand "needing the work" and" wanting the experience" but I don't think it would be in their best interest to establish a reputation like this. If they want/need experience, maybe it would be better to seek it in places and with people who really need help and really can't afford it. In this way they can get experience with a more philanthropic explanation.  It might be better to be able to explain that  "yes, I gave them that price, but they were a special case."

Any way, my two cents.. or maybe 10 cents since I went on so long. 

Ps. I really hate paying plumber rates for their work but it's funny how I don't think about the cost, the next morning when the toilet flushes cleanly and the shower drains easily. When what your fix works well, people tend to forget the cost.  

 If your work can make their instrument play well, they will not be thinking about the cost when they play it, they will be thinking about how nice it is to play it... thanks to you.


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