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Becoming A Luthier

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Shelly Renzelman, Oct 14, 2005.


  1. If a person were interested in becoming a luthier, where would you get the training? Is there a school that focuses on Double Bass along with violins/cellos? Do you find someone to apprentice with?

    The reason I ask is this: the part of the country I live in (North-Central Idaho) is about 100 miles from nowhere. We are the largest population center in the country located over 100 miles from the nearest freeway. The closest luthier is about 200 miles away. There is a real need in this area. I have a pretty firm background in woodworking (I'm a certified shop teacher) and have been playing music for 30 years and think it may be time to combine the 2. But I would like to have some formal training and not just "dive in".

    Thanks for the advice!

    Shelly
     
  2. A quick Google revealed a The American School of Violin-aking in SLC, your general neck 'o the woods.

    If I'm not mistaken, our own Sam Sherry has a sister who went there.

    www.prierviolins.com
     
  3. Eric Rene Roy

    Eric Rene Roy Supporting Member

    Mar 19, 2002
    Mystic, CT
    President: Upton Bass String Instrument Co.
  4. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Based on where you live, it makes sense you learn how to repair all kinds of stringed instruments. Stewart-MacDonald, the guitar parts catalog company, has lots of books and videos on set-up and repair work pertaining to guitars, mandolins, banjos, violins, etc. Perhaps you could purchase a bunch of cheapo instruments and see what you can do on your own first. (The luthiers here, including me, will gladly give you some direction with regard to bass work.) That could lead to a job in a string shop somewhere, where you could hone your skills. Not that going to school is a bad idea, but real-world learning experiences are very powerful.
     
  5. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    I'll just get my two cents out of the way: I've been to both the Chimneys shop and the Salt Lake School. They are a waste of time and money.

    Now then...

    There is a efficient setup and repair course at the Redwing School in Minnesota. (I don't the url in front of me, google it.) You can get quite a bit of information in several months. However, it requires you to leave Idaho for a period of time. They teach violin-family repair and setup; the principles transfer to upright bass.

    Admittedly, getting practical and honest bass-luthiery information is difficult. The techniques and methods in the Hans Weishaar book are a very good starting point. You could also (conceivably) contact and possibly arrange several one week intensives with different bass luthiers across the country. Sounds crazy, but you would get hands-on instruction with bass setup and repair.
     
  6. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Yep, my sister Trudy Egan and her husband Tom are both SLC graduates. If you're curious, you can scope Nick, my sister (through me) and others respectfully reviewing the merits, or lack, thereof of the SLC program in this thread.
     
  7. Thank you for all of the input, it really helps! Now I just have to sell my husband on the idea. Non-music people (like my husband) just don't understand...now, if I could make the idea have something to do with football, I might be able to get somewhere *sigh*

    Thanks again!

    Shelly :)
     
  8. luthierbass

    luthierbass

    Jan 2, 2005
     
  9. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Lisa Gass attended the SLC school many, many years ago. It was much better then.

    I believe Jon Peterson would still be a great luthier with/without Ed Campbell. It's good to hear that he had a productive experience with Ed; however, I still would not suggest that Idahobass attend his school.

    It's not unfair; it's my just opinion based on very recent experiences.
     
  10. flint

    flint

    Aug 24, 2004
    GA
    so what are the opinions of the other schools- Chicago and Bennet St.
     
  11. Eric Rene Roy

    Eric Rene Roy Supporting Member

    Mar 19, 2002
    Mystic, CT
    President: Upton Bass String Instrument Co.
    I went to NBSS and it was a pretty good program at the time. They worked very hard to get a large number of guest teachers in the shop, sometimes just for the day, sometimes for a full week. This was good because you heard different opinions and processes. Also, it was good for networking once you are out of school. NBSS also has some great tech advisors, namely Chris Reuning, David Wiebe & Rodney Mohr, just to name a few.

    Now, with that said, I do know the school has had several staff changes over the past few years...and it seems the main teaching position has been a bit of a revolving door lately, so I cannot say first hand if the experience I had is the same today.
     
  12. I have a lot of questions on this subject, but here's a big one: I've looked into all all of these schools and NBSS seems like a good choice for me. The only problem is it's considerable expense; do you guys think it's practical for someone to go into the kind of debt it would take to complete a program like that? In my case I'm not looking to get rich or anything, I'm just a young guy looking to get myself into the game and make a living doing something I love...
     
  13. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    You need to get experience from professional luthiers i.e. working in a shop.

    However, few shops will take on apprentices, much less hire someone without basic hand tool skills.

    So, getting enough information/skill to be employable is the key. The Red Wing school can give you this basic background, with a minimal amount of tuition. It is surprising that some violin school grads don't know how to be an employee.

    Going to violin making school does not guarantee you will make it on your own as a professional luthier. You need practical, modern setup and repair experience, as well as knowledge of how to run a small business and keep your books in order. It takes years to get that up and running.
     
  14. Eric Rene Roy

    Eric Rene Roy Supporting Member

    Mar 19, 2002
    Mystic, CT
    President: Upton Bass String Instrument Co.
    "Going to violin making school does not guarantee you will make it on your own as a professional luthier. You need practical, modern setup and repair experience, as well as knowledge of how to run a small business and keep your books in order. It takes years to get that up and running."

    I agree with the business aspect of this. Most luthiers are horrible business people. They make just enough to survive...often living from one windfall to the next. I saw this all to often when I worked for a distributor.

    "You need to get experience from professional luthiers i.e. working in a shop.

    However, few shops will take on apprentices, much less hire someone without basic hand tool skills."

    This is were going to violinmaking school IS a leg up. You are employable, and sought after. NBSS constantly has shops around the country putting bench-opening notices up. This list is accessible to graduates. Most of my classmates were employed before even graduating. I went the route of wholesale distribution as I valued the fact that I would set up more instruments in one year than most luthiers will see in a lifetime...I learned how to do setup fast and accurate...something I value to this day. Another classmate of mine went to work immediately for Curtin & Alf. Another for Reuning & Son. Another for Guild. Point being...going to school, IMHO, jump-starts your career ten fold. Not to mention the fact that NBSS had a great number of guest teachers and advisors. You make connections...friend’s...and maybe future employers.

    This is not to say you cannot become a successful luthier without going to school for it. If you are persistent, hungry, and business minded you will find away. Nick is a great example of success without established schooling, going the route of apprenticeship.

    You have to determine what is the best course for you. Trading money for time in school or making money in a shop while you are trained.

    Personally, I think more doors are open to you at the end of three years of school. But, this is just my experience...
     
  15. Forgive my ignorance but what makes a luthier like David Gage or the Lisa Glass and Jon Peterson such sought after luthiers? I'm hoping to start an apprenticeship at a local shop and am really looking forward to it. I'm just completely fascinated by the art of violin luthiery. So what sets these people apart from the not so great luthiers? Is it more based on complex repair or is it even as simple as seam repair?
     
  16. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    "Established schooling" means paying too much for your education? My main goal was (and is) finding practical, jive-free information. Hard to find in the violin luthiery world... especially when it comes to the doublebass.

    What sets the better luthiers out there is workmanship, honesty, and consistency. In some cases marketing can overshadow talent, but that's another story that isn't appropriate for this particular forum.
     
  17. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    This is a really good question. I think what sets apart the sought-after luthiers is this: They are able to understand their client's needs and then fill those needs. Many clients use different terminology to describe the same problem. One bassist's "tight" is another one's "woofy". A good luthier is skilled not only in the technical arts of making and repairing, but in the art of communicating and becoming the player's advocate. It also helps if the player feels he/she has gotten good value. This rarely means "cheap", but rather "good". Luthiers who espouse a know-it-all attitude sometimes become popular, but rarely have long-term success, because their focus is on convincing players to do things the luthier's way, rather than teasing out the player's real wants and needs and fulfilling them.
     
  18. Uncletoad

    Uncletoad

    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    +1 Exactly!
     
  19. Shmelbee

    Shmelbee

    Mar 28, 2005
    Sioux Falls, SD
    I officially bump this thread because I am entirely too interested in this career path, and it's actually kind of obsessed me. I saw that Southeast Tech in Red Wing, MN was mentioned. I'm in South Dakota, about 5 hours away from the Cities, and just want to get the hell out and start doing this in the fall.

    Any words of encouragement/advice would be greatly appreciated.
     
  20. mpm

    mpm

    May 10, 2001
    Los Angeles
    I'm a big fan of "empirical enlightenment", so go get a string family 'beater', take it apart, then put it back together. Sounds easy don't it? It ain't. Buy all the books on bass building, then read 'em all. Check out all the 'build' posts here. Then get another beater and repeat above as needed.