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Warren01 03-31-2020 04:27 PM

Luthiers- what's the deal
Hi everyone

Just wanted to relate a couple of stories. I started my guitar journey about 7 years ago and soon found this forum. What a wealth of information! I've been a frequently visitor since. One little tidbit I took to heart was the importance of getting a new/old guitar setup. When I picked up my first "good" guitar, a used Taylor 314ce, I decided to take it to the only luthier in my area, a gentlemen that's been building guitars for 30 plus years. When I arrived at his shop, I stressed that I wanted the guitar setup properly, so he promptly opened the case, sighted down the neck, pressed the strings down with a capo and finger, did a quick 1/4 turn of the truss rod, sighted down again, and said that should do it. Put the guitar back in the case and charged me $20. Fast forward to about a year ago. I now own an Emerald X-20 carbon fiber guitar, with an annoying, intermittent buzz. I tried tweaking the truss rod, lowering and raising the saddle and adjusted the nut. It's much better, but still I can hear it occasionally. There are flat spots along most of my frets, and in my mind this is the culprit. So off to a different "recommended" luthier about 1-1/2 hour drive away. This time I spent some time with him, explaining what I did, what I wanted him to look at and so on. I pointed out that I think the nut could have some work, frets appear flat to me (which he did agree), and that with all my playing around, I probably should have the action a raised a bit. He seemed to be more concerned with my having some nickel strings on as he mentioned it more that twice. (I was experimenting). Well, a week later, back again but this time only to find his assistant working. So I query him, asking what they did. Well, new strings for sure - can't have nickel ones, and they replaced the saddle with one I had brought. What about the frets, what about the nut? He stuttered out that they were fine and gave me the bill. His reaction assured me they didn't even look at them. So, two luthiers that I was more than happy to pay to do a thorough setup, and two luthiers that did not seem to want to do the work. I don't get it.

mirwa 03-31-2020 06:18 PM

You are assuming they did not want your work.

By your story, first guy charged you very little and the guitar was good, second story years later you spoke to tan assistant after the job was finished so you assumed they did not touch the saddle or nut from your conversation with him.

Neither story did you say whether the guitar was better or not after they had done said work.

That being said, as an unregulated industry, you can get good or bad techs.


Alan Carruth 03-31-2020 06:52 PM

Part of the problem is that any fool can call themselves a 'luthier'. Some are trained, many are not. Some are 'training' themselves on your instruments.

Keep in mind, too, that 'luthier' and 'repairman' are not synonymous terms. I've been building stringed instruments for over 45 years, but it's been decades since I did much repair. I used to be pretty good at it, but maybe not so much now. A full time builder might get to set up 50 guitars in a year; a full time repairman would do that many setups in slow month. Practice, as they say...

It does seem to me that the first guy you went to was probably OK. The guitar didn't need much, so he didn't do much. He might have spent a bit more time explaining that, but maybe he had other things on his mind at that moment. $20 does seem a bit steep for what he did, but then, I always under charged for repairs. Keep in mind the old saying that 'nothing takes less than an hour to do'; how much of his time did you really take up, and what to you make an hour? He shops in the same stores you do.

It's hard to say about the second shop, aside from having a 'thing' about nickle strings. You left the guitar for a week, so you can't say for sure what they did or did not do in the interim. The assistant you talked with may not have done the work, or even been there when it was done. He may not have looked at the frets or the nut, but that doesn't mean his boss didn't. Are the flat spots in the frets still there? You didn't say.

Ultimately, this is the proverbial 'unregulated free market': you can decide for yourself whether that's producing an optimal outcome. One last thing that I'll point out is that good repair people are generally swamped with work.

pjmacd 03-31-2020 07:31 PM


Originally Posted by Warren01 (Post 6334708)
So, two luthiers that I was more than happy to pay to do a thorough setup, and two luthiers that did not seem to want to do the work. I don't get it.

It's clear you are unhappy with the most recent work done. Alan Carruth has given a great response to your concerns, IMO. If you care to share with us where you live (an approximation is fine), someone here may be able to recommend a trusted repair person in your area.

Dbone 03-31-2020 09:57 PM

There are duds in every field. I have your luck with most things it seems. Lol

Bob Womack 04-01-2020 05:30 AM

Luthier isn't an exalted position where attaining the title endows you with all virtue. By the way, assistant already knew hi boss had had his hands on the guitar. He might not have wanted to second-guess the master.

But... Before I had my best guitar (at the time) worked on, I went around to the guys in the local studio guitarist community and asked them who they went to. I've been using that guy for twenty-fie years. He's a real luthier, not just a tech: he actually builds guitars (I've got his T-shirt) and for years worked at a small-shop guitar maker's shop before he moved home to take care of his ageing parents and put out his own shingle. When working as a tech he calls himself a "playability specialist," and his work bears that out.

This guy is fun to watch. I go in with a guitar and it starts out more like a conversation: we talk about interesting cases he's had in the door lately or mutual friends who've been there or famous guitarists who flew in for work. But all the time Kenny (his name) is sizing up the instrument I've placed in his hands. He sights down the neck to check for relief and angle. He slides his fingers over the frets to see how they are crowned and to check the fret ends for smoothness. He casually pulls out a straight edge and sizes up any suspected high frets, looking for whether they are high or raised out of the slot. All the while we are talking about guitars and players. He examines the bridge and the nut. Eventually he turns to the subject of this guitar and he gives me his diagnosis, prognosis, and the charges.

We talk of how long it will take, he says he can slot it in after the one he'll be finishing on this date. I can leave it or bring it by the day before that date so I'm not without it. Then he does the work and delivers, on time. I go to pick it up and the conversation begins again. I play it up and down the neck. I bend notes. He sees the smile on my face and it brings a smile to his. Eventually I break into the conversation and say, "Oh, yeah. This is perfect. Did you get any surprises?" "Oh, the eighth fret was sort of funky and raised out of the slot. I wicked some glue under it and clamped it down and was able to level it after that." His standard setup that he calls the "modern setup" isn't crazy low and doesn't need to be. It is medium low and very consistent with really smooth fret ends. It feels like an old friend. More on his work, HERE.

So, you get the idea. Just watching him you can tell that he's totally in command of his craft and has an amazing feel for the instrument. That's what you want in a tech.


redir 04-01-2020 07:21 AM

I guess I don't get it either. Are you saying that you were unhappy with both experiences? I don't think $20 is too much to charge for interrupting a luthiers time at the bench to make a truss rod adjustment. If you walk in my shop it's going to cost a minimum of $20. I charge $60/hour that goes into my time at the bench, the electricity bill, band saw blades and for when the HVAC system might need to be repaired 10 years from now.

Flat frets are not always a problem. Some people even like them. How would the tech/luthier know unless you specifically asked? He was probably trying to save you money. On the other hand he could have made up a story that you need a fret job and charged you $250 bucks too. Many times I tell people not to worry about certain issues with their guitars because while they might need a repair to be spot on perfect it's not really all that necessary at the moment and they can wait till later to spend more money on the guitar.

The bit about the nickle strings is odd, I'll give you that. You should use what ever strings you want to use on your own instrument.

Warren01 04-01-2020 01:00 PM

I guess I was just expecting more. I had asked for a complete setup both times and the first guy spent maybe ten minutes on it. Not sure how that fits the complete setup definition. Second guy I spent more time with him addressing my concerns. Asked he look at the nut, the frets, check the action and whatever else they do for a complete setup. Discussed the buzzing issue as well. My bill made reference to a new set of strings and installation of the saddle. Nothing else, so that's why I questioned what they did. In both cases, the guitar did not play any differently than before. I've asked around, and apparently, luthiers are not a common occurrence in South Eastern British Columbia. Heck, we only have one tiny music store in a 350km radius.

redir 04-01-2020 01:27 PM

It's pretty common for some people to come to my shop wanting a setup and generally nothing needs to be done on their guitar. They just think it does. Usually I can at least tune the nut up better and that typically makes a big difference. But my guess is that when you took it to that first guy and asked for a set up he sized up your guitar and realized the only thing that it needed was proper relief and that was that. And most of us probably clean and polish the guitar too as part of a set up.

charles Tauber 04-01-2020 02:35 PM


Originally Posted by Warren01 (Post 6335517)
I had asked for a complete setup both times...

The first thing I do when someone brings in a guitar for a setup is ask them what they would like it to do differently. Do you want it to be easier to play? Does it buzz somewhere?

"Setup" is a personalized thing. One person wants his or her instrument to play one way, another person another way. The starting point is what you don't like about how it plays now. If you have no idea what a good setup is - for you - or don't really have anything you want different, I'll certainly look it over and suggest any areas for improvement. However, if nothing needs to be done, there is nothing that needs to be done. It doesn't take more than a few minutes to look an instrument over and identify anything that could be improved.

rick-slo 04-01-2020 06:44 PM

When I have gone in to a tech (rarely) I know exactly what I want done (say a refret) or I have a specific issue or two I want an opinion about. If it's some noise
issue or getting an action height setup that suits how I play I will demonstrate it by playing the guitar. If it is some cosmetic thing I will point at it.

It's more vague when you just want it "better". You can then count on more variable opinions from the techs. Did not sound like anyone was trying to take
you for a ride.

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