I first started making instruments in the summer of 1984. I was studying classical guitar performance in the extension program of the New England Conservatory of Music. I rapidly came to the realization that there were a lot of other classical guitarists who were much better than I was, so I decided to switch instruments and learn to play the renaissance lute. Not having a lute, and definitely not being able to afford one at this time, I purchased a "make it yourself lute kit" from the Early Music Shop of Bradford England.
Well, the lute turned out OK...sort of (and now in hindsight I say that with great reservations, but, in all fairness, it was my first instrument). A friend of mine however, was very impressed with my work. So much so that she insisted on showing it off to everyone she knew. One of the people she showed it to is a professional luthier, who at that time had made well over a hundred guitars and violins, and he graciously offered to help me fix my mistakes.
Well obviously he must have thought better of my first instrument than I did because he indicated that I had some potential as a future luthier. The next week I called him and asked if he could use an apprentice. He thought about it for a while, and eventually decided to take me on as a student.
I apprenticed for several years and have been making instruments ever since.
Having made “hand made” instruments for some time now, and knowing what passes for “hand made” in some shops I have to ask the following. How do you define a "hand made" instrument?
Some of the larger instrument manufacturers, selling their special "hand made" instrument lines, will try to tell you, if a real person touches the instrument at any time during the construction process (and this could be nothing more than simply moving it from one machine to another), then it is hand made. ...Is this your idea of hand made?
Some medium size "hand made" luthier shops may have 10 or 20 people working for them, one person carving the neck, one person making the sound board, every piece of the instrument being made by a separate person with possibly little or no communication between them. ...Is this your idea of hand made?
Still other "hand made" luthierie shops use computer controlled machines to shape dozens and dozens of instrument parts to some preset computer controlled dimensions which may, or may not, bring out the best qualities of the wood. ...Is this your idea of hand made?
The Luthier's Bench is a small shop producing instruments slowly and meticulously by hand. In my shop, there is one luthier...me. That way I can honestly assure my customers that I have control over every piece of the instrument from beginning to end. Close attention to details, such as tuning the top and back plates and careful neck setup, often missing in production guitars, is fundamental in each and every instrument (whether that instrument is intended for a professional musician or a beginning student). The advantage to building a few instruments at a time from start to finish is being able to control the response and tonal characteristics as each instrument progresses. This process takes time, and a commitment to achieving the fullest tonality and vibrance the wood has to offer. I have studied wood for years and have learned to work with the wood, not to fight against it. I let the wood tell me where to place the braces and how thick the soundboard and back should be. Now...is this your idea of hand made? If it is, then call me, and let’s talk