Frequently Asked Questions

Helpful Treatise

The most asked question we receive at GAL Headquarters is: “How do I get started building instruments?” I’ll answer the best I can for guitars. I believe much of my answer can be applied to other stringed instruments as well.

Because of the excellent resources available now — magazines, books, videos, and the internet — it is quite possible to make a good quality guitar, with a little strategic help. Whether you're just curious and want to know more about guitar making, or actually want to make a guitar, or are even thinking about a future career, these resources will get you started.

Joining the Guild of American Luthiers (GAL), an international organization of stringed-instrument makers, is a very basic way to access the kind of information a potential guitar maker is looking for. (Click Here to join online) Our quarterly journal, American Lutherie is full of an incredible variety of high quality information. As a member you'll instantly be in touch with all kinds of luthiers (not just guitar makers), you'll have access to a wealth of information related to guitar making, access to plans for some of the most outstanding guitars of our century (not to mention plans for historic lutes, an Irish Bouzouki, the Hardanger fiddle, and so on), and at our next convention/exhibition which will be held in Tacoma, WA, you can meet many other makers and attend workshops and lectures on topics of interest to you.

Sometimes informal apprenticeships can be set up. These are usually highly individual arrangements and probably best found by reading American Lutherie where an occasional ad appears or by seeking out a guitar maker and simply asking. He or she will probably say “No,” because it's usually not practical for them. In other words, it costs them more to train someone than they get back in work or money. A far more common solution to the problem of learning how to make guitars is to attend one of the many schools or short courses offered in this country and Canada (Click here to see our Schools list).

I recommend starting a library of your own, and after you join the GAL, the first two books I'd buy are Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology by William Cumpiano and Jonathan Natelson (available in paper at large book stores and through lutherie supply houses listed below) and Lutherie Tools: Making Hand and Power Tools for String Instrument Building by GAL members and staff (available from the GAL and the sources listed below). Guitarmaking will show you step-by-step how to make a classical or steel string guitar. Lutherie Tools will help you determine which tools you need and which you can make yourself. There are several other books from the GAL, and all are invaluable resources for aspiring and experienced luthiers as well. Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars (out of print) is the sister volume to our Tools book. The Big Red Book of American Lutherie (volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6), each include articles from three years of American Lutherie magazine in one handy volume. Robert Lundberg's Historical Lute Construction shows the entire process of building a lute in minute detail.

The the two best known and largest suppliers of lutherie materials and tools (including books and videotapes) in the United States are Luthier's Mercantile International (7975 Cameron Drive Bldg 1600, Windsor, CA 95492; (800) 477-4437; and Stewart-MacDonald's Guitar Shop Supply (21 N. Shafer St., Box 900, Athens, OH 45701; (800) 848-2273; Stewart-MacDonald has an excellent, informative catalog. Luthier's Mercantile's emphasis is on woods and tools for making instruments, while Stewart-MacDonald has a greater emphasis on tools used in repair work, guitar hardware, partially made components and kits, and videotapes. If you're someone who really likes to figure out stuff for yourself, these resource materials will go a long way towards getting you started.

Suppose you're working on your first instrument and get stuck or have several questions; or maybe you've finished your first guitar and would like a critique; or maybe you'd just like to talk shop with an experienced craftsperson. I recommend you contact someone whose work you respect and see what you can arrange. For example, many guitar makers would be glad to share information, especially if you pay them a consulting fee. An hour or two with someone who really knows what they're doing can save you literally hours and hours of banging your head against a wall! If you offer to pay someone for their time and effort you have a much better chance of getting what you need. Many of us are happy to help someone out if the amount of time required is brief, and we are not losing income while doing it. Fees range from $50/hr to $120/hr.

By Cyndy Burton. Adapted from American Lutherie #34, p. 60. This article reflects my own opinions and biases and is not official GAL policy.

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