What Is a Guitar Luthier: A Modern Definition

A luthier is an artisan who makes and repairs stringed-instruments, like violins, banjos, and guitars. Usually a luthier specializes in a single instrument, like in the case of guitar luthiers. They also serve as repairmen for existing guitars, doing the kinds of repairs that other places and craftsmen may not be able to, like fixing physical damage to the body. Guitars made of wood will naturally change over time in reaction to their environment, and luthiers can make sure that the guitars stay adjusted to the clients personal preference. They are also capable of taking old, unused guitars and getting them back into playable shape. 

Typically, guitar luthiers become apprentices under a master and work like that for several years, slowly building the skills and experience necessary to open their own business. Apprentice luthiers usually already have experience in woodworking and at least partial skill in guitar playing. They also have to have good listening skills in order to understand what changes need to be made to a guitar in order for it to fit the parameters set by the client.

There are several luthiers who have made it into the history books, remembered fondly for the contributions they made to the shape and sound of the guitar itself. Antonio de Torres Jurado was a Spanish luthier in the 19th century who is credited with the first recognizably modern classical guitar. Many of his guitars are in the possession of collectors, like the Segovia and Romero families, or sitting safely in museums across the world. 

Christian Frederick Martin and Orville Gibson, of whom the Martin and Gibson guitar companies took their name, took Antonio de Torres Jurado’s guitar and made their own significant changes, creating the modern flat top acoustic and the archtop, respectively. Both were lovers of the instrument themselves who used their unique skills to solve problems they encountered in sound and design. Gibson’s archtop is favored amongst jazz and blues artists, while Martin’s flat top remains the top choice amongst acoustic artists. Both have their benefits, but the sounds they produce serve different purposes.

When time came to make the guitar electric – transforming the instrument to fit the needs of big band and swing musicians – Leo Fender and Les Paul took up the gauntlet. Their names still inspire visions of 80’s hair metal and booming speakers to this day. Though Fender wasn’t a luthier in the traditional sense, definitions change with the times, and his work on the electric guitar has earned him the title. Les Paul, on the other hand, was a musician and traditional luthier who decided to try his hand at electricity. Both models have been the favorites of rock icons like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page.

If you’re thinking about delving into the world of guitar making, there are a few routes that you can take. In the internet age, self education is easier than ever. You can easily use online resources to begin teaching yourself the basics of woodworking and guitar making. There is no lack of information about the design elements and materials that go into a good guitar. You’ll need some hands on experience, though, if you intend to go pro. While that’s certainly possible with your own workshop, you’ll be missing out on a lot of valuable learning experience without a mentor. There are formal education opportunities or apprenticeships that you can pursue once you have a handle on the basics, but both come with their own unique sets of challenges. Either way, the path of a guitar luthier may not be easy, but it’s perhaps one of the most interesting and rewarding career paths you can choose. Good luck, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

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Mark Meets
Mark Meets
MarkMeets Media is British-based online news magazine covering showbiz, music, tv and movies
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