How different people learn to build a guitar

Guitar Built for Flancer's Silent Auction by Hamilton Stringed Instruments.

Guitar built by Hamilton Stringed Instruments and donated to Flancer’s restaurant for a silent auction to benefit three charities.

I recently came across an article on a website called: The Art of Manliness. It seems like an odd sight to browse, but it came up in a Google search for the term “Luthier”. I often get the question, “How did you learn to do this?” in reference to my work as a luthier. The article interviews a working luthier and asks about his profession. While my route was different, and I am doing more repair work than building at the moment, it does give some insight into the craft and, is a pleasant read.

My story involves a need for a career change and a decision to take a chance. I started my career as a journalist, writing for, and running, newspapers and magazines around the country. I took some time off after ghost writing and editing a couple of books and worked as a market research consultant. When the recession took a turn and my boss and I (I was the second person in a two person firm) decided the economy had slowed so much it would be hard to support two of us in the firm, I offered to make a change. I looked at wooden boat building and guitar building. After some quick analysis (maybe a day’s worth of lazy thinking) I decided the fact that I already played several musical instruments but hadn’t sailed a boat in 20 years, coupled with the fact that guitars take up a lot less space than sailing yachts, I decided luthiery was for me.

I did some research and chose the Galloup School of Guitar Building for my coursework. I spent two months in Big Rapids, MI learning the very basics of my craft and building two guitars. Upon graduation I packed my two guitars, some clothes and with certificate of completion clamped in hand I moved from Tucson, where I lived at the time, back to Chicago, where I grew up, to take advantage of free shop space. I made a great friend in the shop owner, Teddy Gordon, who now owns Make’n Music, and I eventually landed a job with Guitar Works, LTD in Evanston, IL. I learned my repair craft from Terry Straker at Guitar Works, a finer human and repairman being you won’t find.

After a leaving the luthiery world I took a couple of steps back into the world of publishing and journalism before returning to luthiery and I’m happy I’m back.

Not everyone is in a place in their life where they can take months and many thousands of dollars to learn to build guitars. If you, or someone you know, is interested in building an electric guitar, I do offer a short course. This could make the perfect Father’s Day or birthday gift. If you have questions about learning to build instruments, feel free to contact me or stop by the shop. Just call before you visit in case I am out running an errand.