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.
Ned is right on - I am a hobbyist/amateur, but I try to charge for work so that I don't displace the fine craftsmen that do make their living locally. I will barter some work out, but only if it is a truly insane job that nobody would want to take on, or would want to charge to take on. Where the local guys would have to charge $600 to repair a $200 cuatro, I can barter for some homemade jam.
Well my friend; welcome to the forum. Much info to be had here. If you have a question to ask there are plenty of informed people here to help you. Many of them are very famous in the world of luthiery. Enjoy your time here,Lonnie
Thanks Lonnie, I appreciate the welcome and will be posting questions as they come up.
Hi Kurt-- welcome to the web site- Its a gr8 place to get any kind of info on this wonderful craft that you need---
Don't be afraid to ask any question that you may have , because asking a stupid question and getting a stupid answer is a lot better than making a stupid mistake....
best to you in the craft...
Kurt, one of the things that I did in my beginning years, was to actually pay my Mentors for time given to me for questions. I had three guys, all super busy full time repair guys, and after two or three times calling each of them over the first 8 months for help, I reached an agreement with them for $20 a phone call or visit to their shops. The three of them were super happy for this new arrangement, and I got the Pro Luthierie help I needed.
The last thing I needed was to feel that I was being a pain in the ass to these guys, and though none of them cringed when I phoned, I could easily have seen it happening under the circumstances. And I also spread out who I was calling also, so everyone got some cash, and I did not bother any of them more than a few times a year.
I knew from Day One that my Mentors time is worth money,right, and I was taking daylight work hours away from them so they definitely needed to be compensated..
I have never minded paying cold hard cash for the Luthierie edumacation that I was so badly needing have and that education has certainly not come cheap.
It has not been an easy road, and many of us here who have well equipped shops now started out with a $500 buck loan from a family member and parlayed that into what we now have. Many of us are into this for over 50k, and , for me, there really is no end in site, for there are always tools and materials to buy. Even now, if you gave me 10k, I could spent that in a few days on easily justifiable stuff.
The thing about having spent all the cash on this though, (for many of us) is there are tools close to hand that make the jobs soooooo much easier. Trying to make a part and having the wrong tools to make that part make things incredibly difficult, time consuming and frustrating. The safety stuff is super important too, and all of us have most of the things we need to feel like we are working safely.
Many of us have massive dust collection systems, air filtration (some of us), and Electrician approved and checked out electrical for all our tools.
A well thought out (and quite expensive) electrical layout can be a wack o' dough, but to whomever own the building, (and the insurance people) it is well worth it. Even the large oversized fire extinguishers cost cash. None of this is meant to scare you away, but instead just let you know how easy it is to burn through cash at this game.
You have already started, and know what you want to do. It's just the same start as we had, with just a few good quality tools.
1 Don't Buy The Cheap Tools! Their long term cost will be way more trying to keep them tuned up! TRUST me on that!!!
2 Find mentors who are not only willing to help, but are INTO it! The Mentors with enthusiasm are the ones that keep us going in the early days.
3 Don't get too frustrated when things go south 3 times doing the same job! The learning curve when you are working by yourself is sometimes quite steep. BUT there is now the Internet to ask all your questions on.
I hope you stick around, and let us know how things are going. Me, I am 19 years into doing this part time now (never was full time), and there is not a week goes by that I don't still learn something.
Thanks for the welcome Donald. Quite a few of my questions have been answered from reading past threads but I will certainly post new ones as they come up.
Hi Kerry, very informative and much appreciated. I have reached out to a few luthiers and finally have someone interested in helping me with some repair classes. I have no problem paying for an education and I believe it to be another tool that has a cost. I already see from the basic tool setup that I have now that this is going to be an expensive endeavor all around but I really want to do this. I've always loved working on my own guitars and the more I learn the more I want to learn. For the last twenty years I worked a day job as I struggled to make it as a musician. I really wish I would have thought to get in to this instead of toiling away at less than fulfilling jobs. Oh well, not to late and this is something I hope to be able to do for a long time to come. Thanks again.
I totally agree, I should have said cheap power tools Andrew. I have spent lots on disposable small stuff over the years., and have a drawer full of stuff I customized for a single use, and will never use again.
Hi Kurt, Welcome to the forum.
I do this as a hobby so my take is a bit different. I have the luxury of much more time than money to spend on this hobby and it's taking me years to build a tools set that a profession would need to get together fairly quickly. For me, part of the fun is trying to find a way around the expensive tool but that takes time and often has questionable results. That said, I also have a lot of "one use tools" that often get used again as a slightly different "one use tool". (Somewhere around here, I have a brace "spring" that is made of some dental monomer plastic on the end of a length of steel hanger wire. It's been modified and shortened many times to hold different braces in different instruments until it's almost too short to use any more but I've kept it because of the "almost" in the last statement.) It's nice to have the good stuff and over the years, I've gather many such tools as I learn that my work around didn't work so well. It's also handy to have cheap stuff that you don't mind messing up and I find that I still use a LOT of cheap stuff that just works. The trick is to figure out when cheap is good enough and the only way I've found to do that it to just try it.
One of the nice changes over the last several years is that there's a lot of information available now that can allow you to make tools without so much R&DiV (R&D in a Vacuum, also know as trying to figure it out on my own.) It's pretty easy to find plans and ideas for tools and jigs that others have already designed and refined into something that really works. As someone starting out, it would be to your benefit to spend some time looking for this sort of information too. IF you have the paying work to do, of course you should to that but when you don't have paying work, you can put some effort toward improving your lot by reproducing some of the tools that others have already developed. It can build your tools set as well as your confidence in your craftsmanship.
Thanks Ned, I have made a few things myself so far, a neck jig similar to Stew Mac's and a bridge and fingerboard iron. I tried to make some radius sanding blocks but quickly realized they are worth buying.
Mark, do the old Harmony's have dovetail neck joints? If so are they easy enough to remove or are they cemented in with epoxy?
What power tools do you consider absolutely necessary?
I have hand drills, a Dremel, a belt sander, orbital buffer and an angle grinder.
Is a bench grinder, drill press and band saw on the must have list?
Old Harmony guitars (US made ones) have dovetail joints and all hide glue construction. They also often have poplar wood for the neck block, which is not as much fun to work with but not horrible either. Many of the better ones have solid tops and can be rebraced for rather excellent tone. The H162 and H165 are real bargains in this regard. You can often find an old Sovereign as well, which sold for about the same price as a comparable Martin or Gibson at the time, but produced a less saleable sound due to the ladder bracing. I just picked up a beater Sovereign for $50, which is a steal, given the solid spruce top, solid one piece mahogany back, Brazilian rosewood fretboard (of somewhat lacking grain selection and sanding) and generally excellent wood all around. All of these have atrocious neck angles though, and really respond well to a reset. With a fretboard job and refret, and when x braced, these are killer guitars, and can compare quite favorably to almost anything in the Guitar Center expensive acoustic room.
No power tool is truly necessary, they can just make things easier. I would say that great chisels and knives are really the key, and the ability to sharpen them to be truly sharp. I use my grinder a whole lot less that a set of diamond sharpening stones and a flat chunk of countertop material with sandpaper glued to it. I've never burned the almost-perfect edge of a chisel with sandpaper, but have done so (more often than I would like to admit in any public forum) with a grinder. :) That said, a drill press and band saw can be really useful.
Lots of people don't bother with the radius blocks - they are cool, but the time it takes to use one properly while keeping it aligned perfectly with the fretboard seems equal to the time used in just running a jack plane or old level with sandpaper adhered to it across the fretboard.