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Luthier school vs. apprenticeship

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by mmoehring, Aug 14, 2012.

  1. mmoehring


    Jun 25, 2012
    East Texas
    Was recently accepted into the Chicago school of violin making. I have been working on instruments for a few years now and I want to get real training. My only conflict is luthier school of apprenticing under a master luthier. I have been speaking with a couple of our countries top bass makers. They both have been wonderful mentors in this journey so far. I was hoping to open a discussion to see if anyone else has thought about these two different paths. Did you take one path? If you could do it over again would you go a different direction? I look forward to hearing from any who want to talk.

  2. This a a great idea!

    I am currently apprenticing a master violin maker here in new Mexico, and plan attending North Bennett Street School in Boston for the luthier program once I graduate high school. For me, as of right now, school seems to be the right choice.

    Would love to listen to opinions as well
  3. It's possible the master luthiers who take apprentices only want apprentices who can already do some decent basic work. Seems like school training will give you a solid skill set that you can later take to a master luthier and actually offer him something for his efforts. No conflict is necessary, especially if you are willing to learn new ideas at each stage, even if they conflict with old ideas, without being overly attached to either.
  4. powerbass

    powerbass Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    I went to furniture making school then got a job working for a builder - an apprenticeship of sorts. school training gives you some basic skills and training, the real education comes from doing the work day after day. if you do go to school find a luthier after you finish you can work for/with, mentoring and exposure to a veteran luthier is really valuable IMHO
  5. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Success in any field happens at the intersection of opportunity and skill and hard work. If you are determined and single-minded you have a shot at succeeding. I personally wish I'd had the formal education, as it would have steepened and shortened my learning curve. That said, I think a person learns a lot from figuring things out himself.
  6. Cody Sisk

    Cody Sisk

    Jan 26, 2009
    Lilburn, GA
    Ronald Sachs Violins
    When I graduated with my bachelor's in music education, I had somewhat of a clue as to how to manage a classroom, but I didn't really learn how to do it well until I was actually doing it. The mistake I made in my youth in my first couple years of teaching was that I assumed that all I needed was what I learned to get my degree to succeed. I didn't observe veteran teachers or ask enough questions. Perhaps that's why I left the profession. When I entered into luthiery, I apprenticed for 2 years. I got to rub elbows with master luthiers in a real shop doing real customer work. I took advantage of their wisdom and asked lots of questions. I also tried new approaches with their guidance. I'm a far better luthier now than I ever was or hoped to have been as a teacher.

    So in summary, I have a formal education (and phat student loans) that I have no use for. A college degree (any major) shows that you're capable of setting goals and achieving them. This fancy piece of paper will open doors for you, but it might not be necessary for success.

    If you are lucky enough to find someone to apprentice with, that's what I recommend 100%. I feel that you'll learn more faster and it'll be cheaper for you. Having something to offer in return is a plus (if not a must), even if you offer to organize the shop, maintain tools or even just sweep the floor.
  7. What-ever your path...don't get sucked into the commercial world of set/up, repair.
    Since you have both youth and desire,your skills and strengths (or lack there-of) will become evident to both yourself and whomever is providing guidance.
    What do you expect from luthiery?
    Do you want to work for the man?
    Hang your own shingle?
    Lot of questions but,unlike some of us...time is on your side.
    I wish you the best in your endeavor.
  8. Phendyr_Loon


    Sep 4, 2010
    Unfortunately, that's where the fast, steady money is.

    Wait for someone to order a $1000+ build or guaranteed months of doing setups.
    I'd rather have the latter, but neither option is going to make you money if you don't have a name in the business first.
  9. mmoehring


    Jun 25, 2012
    East Texas
    Thanks everyone for your responses so far. To give you a background on me:

    I have a BA in music education. I am currently an orchestra director for middle school and high school. I LOVE what I do. It is a great fun job. I've been repairing, restoring, doing set ups on instruments for 2-3 years now. I am really enjoying it. I feel that I could have a strong future in luthiery. I now trying to decide if I want to study luthiery and go back to teaching while doing repairs and building on the side OR become a full time luthier after I receive training.

    My decision between formal training and a learner paid apprenticeship is a tough decision too. Two of the countries top bass luthiers have given me conflicting views on my education. Again thanks everyone, keep it up. And let's keep it civil :)

  10. Cody Sisk

    Cody Sisk

    Jan 26, 2009
    Lilburn, GA
    Ronald Sachs Violins
    I'm assuming (perhaps arrogantly) that you're talking about Arnold and I? Dude, I am not on the same league as Schnitzel, not even the same friggin sport. And no, I'm not brown-nosing him, I am totally serious. Next to him, I'm an enthusiastic amateur..
  11. With all do respect forester your first sentence leaves me a little bewildered :confused: I have been in biz for 16 years...longer than any double bass shop in Boston and although I am self taught and not a maker I take pride enough in my my work to call my biz " The Set-Up Shop ".
    There is an art to set up and although in some schools of thought you are viewed mainly as a tech. I have put as much soul as I can in taking it to as high an art form as I can. One factor that keeps me in tune w. this is I continue to play from 175 to 200 dates a year as a freelance jazz bassist. How can you know how a pickup or an amp are really working w. a bass set up if you are not in the trenches checking it out first hand ? This is why word of mouth for 13 of my 16 years kept my phone ringing off the hook...then I got a web site.
    So as I was going to chime in on this thread I would say make as many friends as you can in the biz, never say you are the expert [ stay humble ] and like keep an open mind... Hell, there's even art in commercial photography if you have a vision....:eyebrow:
    PBrown likes this.
  12. mmoehring


    Jun 25, 2012
    East Texas
    I do enjoy doing set ups. I understand the art in it. It is one of those things I am always trying to get better at.

    I am always looking to speak with bass luthier, well all luthiers about their training. Maybe I should contact arnold schnitzer.

    A question for you all: out of all of the formal training schools which one has more bass training? I know they do not specialize in bass construction and repair and sometime look down upon the double bass. But I obviously want to specialize in double bass eventually.
  13. I would say any of the good violin/string schools could be good start... My mentor and co-biz partner Carl Mesrobian is an arch top builder supreme....He went to N.Bennett St. here in Boston, has tons of experience in woodworking, 40 years, cabinet making, furniture repair, CNC and machine shop, etc.
    We work hand and hand, talking , him showing me stuff, me making suggestions from a players point of view, you get the picture.... I was lucky to hook up w. Carl.
    As far as studying bass luthiery I would save to go to the next Oberlin hang in 2 years w. Arnold, Gage, and crew. I just couldn't swing it this year, but I have talked to Arnold and he said it was killin...
  14. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
  15. See what I mean....
  16. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    As a person who has had to do a lot of figuring things out myself, I often wish I'd had access to a more formal training. Or, ANY training. Or, just someone to ask from time to time, and not feel silly asking.

    But, I've run out of time and opportunity for that formal training option. If you're young and still have the time, take it. Otherwise just get on and work it out.

    I don't like generalising, but I THINK one could say that people who learn at a school (or apprentice) tend to learn one way of doing things, a tried and tested way that works. If you have to work it out for yourself, you try a bunch of ways, some work and some don't so well, and settle on your favourite. Not saying any one is better than the other. Its a bit like learning classical and learning jazz.

    This forum has been great, Oberlin '12 was fantastic, and I STILL have a bunch of questions ... so who am I going to ask about the one that came up again today??
  17. powerbass

    powerbass Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    one thing to consider is a teacher in an educational program generally has good communication skills and likes people. there are great craftsmen/luthier's who may not have great interpersonal skills. What environment do you need to grow? As I posted earlier I went to furniture making school, it was a patient supportive environment and I learned a lot. My first job out of school was working for an incredible builder who barely spoke to me all day, everyday - I was his only employee, every minute I was on the clock had to be productive.. I was handed drawings and given a stack of wood, the expectation was I would build a complicated piece on time, in budget and not make any mistakes. it was the most demanding experience I've had and I wasn't happy working for this guy. if I had another job offer I would have quit. looking back I grew and learned the most from this experience. IMHO formal training is a a good start, then find the best situation working with/for people doing exceptional work. immerse yourself in the craft, watch, listen and learn by doing.
  18. Mark,
    My apologies,i didn't mean to offend you, or anyone for that matter.
    Where i work it is all about the numbers...the numbers. IPH (instruments per hour) it defines my life inside of the stringshop,has me chained to the bench,and like my compadres, on edge with one another for "cherry pickin",or "whore-in' up" the ducks.(thats all stringshop talk by the way).The print out goes like this..Moe is at 4.06 IPH,Larry is at 4.19 IPH Curly is at 4.44 IPH. Moe and Larry are now shamed into picking up the pace...etc.Further: In comes the tri-pod, the video camera, and experts on motion studies,a collaborative effort to streamline wasted moves, but they mistakenly record the two lefty's in the group...Mark, this is what i meant by commercial,and true,every word.
  19. No Problem... Sorry your experience is the opposite of mine. I hope one day you may break out on your own if that is your desire. I find it fascinating how everyone comes in from a different angle...
    I like Matthew's post... kinda hit the nail on the head. I just like hanging w. the great luthiers when it's available and learning from them, maybe passing on an idea, and then continuing to hone my craft. I guess I fixated w, set up...still learned tons from every new bass that passes through.
    Forester, do you get to work on many basses ? Sounds as if you crank out a lot of rentals....
  20. mirwa


    Aug 4, 2012
    Australia - Perth
    My recommendation,

    Continue schooling and start doing repairs on the side, when you have established your name as a repairer, then you can do it full time, I did repairs as a side line to supplement my income for 10 years and then, been making a sole living from it for the last 15 years, now I also employ three others.

    Being a builder is different to a repairer, I think building them is easy, repairing is an art

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