Talk about musical instrument construction, setup and repair.

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Post by mooshalah » Mon Aug 24, 2020 11:43 am

Hi forum members.

I only started making musical instruments after I retired, some 17 years ago. I've almost always only made instruments for myself, and my home is slowly filling up with guitars and ukuleles that, often as not, I string up and strum a few times before consigning to a case, and then a deep cupboard.

Although I sometimes metaphorically stop, stand and stare at myself, and wonder at the reasons I have for doing this, I'm not unhappy about it. I have a feeling of accomplishment that I have fashioned these instruments, but I'm sometimes annoyed with my hoarding of these; I tell myself that there ought to be no purpose in attempting to make a musical instrument, other than to let its voice be heard, or in some way give pleasure.

I guess that we all have our reasons, and I cannot think but that they are all valid - from professional luthiers who live near the bread-line, but can't imagine ever doing anything else, to those first-timers who just want to make a single instrument for themselves, or a member of their family.

Occasionally, I'll help and teach a young person to make an instrument for themselves, and this revitalises me, but Covid-19 has essentially put paid to that!

I wonder how others - with diverse reasons for making instruments - cope, find motivations, or keep themselves engaged in the process. I imagine that for some, it's an absolutely ideal time to work at home, on the instrument that they've been telling themselves for years that they wanted to make, while for others, motivation might have stalled; and I dunno what to think about a statement I've been hearing that guitar and ukulele sales have gone through the roof since the advent of Covid-19. Has this really been a bonanza for luthiers?

For me, as time goes slowly by in lock-down, I sometimes lose sense of its purpose or passing. One day is much the same as the next. I sporadically make instruments, starting one, then leaving it for many months (and in some cases, years!) before returning to it. I presently have six guitars and six ukuleles of various configurations, in this limbo-land.

I've decided that in order to keep my interest a little closer to front-of-mind, and contribute to the forum, I'm going to post photographs of both some of my work-in-progress, and some recently completed instruments, in the hope that it will engender in me - if no-one else! - a sense of activity, and renew my interest in completing these instruments.

These photographs are posted in the The Gallery section of the forum.


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Re: Motivation

Post by RodC » Mon Aug 24, 2020 1:16 pm

Hi Frank,

I think you are right in that if you asked everyone here to give their motivation, you would get a very diverse set of responses. I still work M-F full time and build guitars for 4 hours a week at a guitar school. My motivation is around the process - I just like making stuff. Before I have the current one finished, I am planning the next one and have a "wish list" in my head for the next 10.

While I have all of that going on in my head, my primary motivation is the current process (what ever that happens to be). How am I going about this? is it the best method? Can I do better? What is the overall effect on the sound? Is the result pleasing and attractive? Am I fully engaged or am I falling into mere repetition?

One thing that keeps my motivation up is regular contact with other builders (mostly though the school) and occasionally with musicians. Talking about building, being around people building and getting a feel for what musicians are looking for in a guitar really gets my imagination going and provides more ideas and concepts than I could build in a lifetime.

I had a look at your post in the gallery and that looks like some fine work. I look forward to seeing more.


Rod C

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Re: Motivation

Post by blackalex1952 » Mon Aug 24, 2020 2:19 pm

Hi Frank..I can only speak of my own motivation. As the Indian Sufi poet Kabir wrote "If you haven't lived it, it isn't real". So there is a difference between living and thinking, and a huge difference between thinking and knowing. Knowing is experiential. Whereas, imagining is dreaming, conceptualising. Yes, I lay awake at night, imagining my ideas re anything I dream up, but, as an example, dreaming of making a jig, carving a brace, positioning one, conceptualising a measuring tool any of those things are just my thoughts and not my actions. Through my actions, eg the perfect jig for a repetitive job, I can experience the efficacy of the conceptualised design..To put it simply, do it! Live it! As a cancer patient, I can only enjoy instrument making, or my musicianship when I am on top of my health for a takes effort. But the reward in making an effort, to me, is a tangible experience. I began my luthiers journey because I have been a pro and semi pro musician for years, an audio guy and a woodworker, and I felt that, because sounds turn me on so much, it would be fun to be able to make beautiful sounding and playing instrument. I had always intended to make guitars in my senior years, especially if my physical guitar playing chops faded with issues like arthritis or injury to my hands. I also wanted to make the kind of guitars that money just can't buy. Yes, I have a few guitars sitting around, some are early experiments so they sit in cupboards or just lying about as trip hazards! But the successful ones are out there being played and enjoyed, the occasionally come back and I get to hear them again! Wow! Did I make that???
But I don't always enjoy luthierie, or playing music, or listening to music or any thing in this world where my mind is entertained. However, I never fail to enjoy the sunshine, the trees, that one special feeling of gratitude for this life when I am simple...not dreaming, but conscious of each breath, of the stillness of every moment,with gratitude for simply being alive now. Now is all we really have, and there will be a now when I expell my final far so good! I'm still here in this life and I can make my dreams come true, no matter how humble those dreams are. With effort..not feeling what I call "The Gottas!"
I often go out to the shed, talk about hoarding, and look at some of my more figured timbers, or tap pieces of quality Spruce and just enjoy those sounds, feeling that I am not advanced enough a builder to fully utilise wood that good, or maybe "keep that for the best one I ever make"-one day!!!!. I have pieces of wood that are just beautiful to look at and not spoil making something out of!
Motivation is to enjoy life with a heart full of gratitude! In the words of a country rock song who's author I've forgotten "I ain't never had too much fun!"
As to "lockdown", well the world is leaving me alone! It seems to me that the people complaining have in many cases, never had to be alone for any extended period of time with their own minds. But we are also lovers and can love the eternal stillness of the highest feeling that we are capable of through just putting thoughts and judgement aside ....what a gift to have that while we still draw breath. Cheers! Ross
"Everything I say on the topic is based solely upon inexperience and assumption!"

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Re: Motivation

Post by davidafterwork » Mon Aug 24, 2020 5:50 pm

Hello there
This is a subject I think about a lot (too much no doubt!!)
I build as a hobby first of all.
I have built approx 20 guitars...some good some not so good, since 2015.
As they have got better I have begun to donate them to various causes.
Some went to the local music college who gave them to students who were doing very well but had little money to buy themselves a guitar.
Some went to various Childrens charities where they will either be raffled to raise cash or else just used in their daily activities.
My latest is going to a Homeless Shelter where they have a group of street performers who busk to raise cash.
Anyway, it solved the problem for me of having guitars stacking up around the house and each one costing approx 250/300 for materials alone.
I have been bitten by the bug and cannot walk away from guitar making until I manage to produce a consistently good sounding guitar so the donation thing is only partly done for charitable reasons and partly to satisfy my nagging doubts about spending so much time/effort and money on guitar building without profit!!
I have now started no.21 and it is my first attempt to put the TG method into practice so that has me motivated again as I am finding it a major challenge just to grasp the technical stuff....thanks again to the forum for some great help.
The mixture of the challenge to improve and the fact that they go to good homes when finished is my motivation for now anyway and I agree that you certainly need to have good reasons for doing it or else it can become a very expensive hobby!!
I will avoid the idea of selling them as I find that the moment a hobby becomes a business then the mindset has to change as well and you become more results orientated and that can be the end of a good hobby.
If I can raise the standard on my guitars to a point where they raise a decent few bob for different causes I will take that as a success!
Hope that throws up a few ideas for you as you continue to build.

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Re: Motivation

Post by peter.coombe » Tue Aug 25, 2020 10:47 am

What keeps me motivated - sales. I get a huge kick from a good sale. That might sound mercenary, but it was never the money. A good sale means there is someone out there who appreciates what you are doing, enough to stump up the cash for your work. They give positive feedback and sometimes hints as to how you can make improvements. You make new friends from customers. Some of my best friends were originally a good customer. I make a sale and immediately I am motivated to make another one of the same instrument I just sold, only better. There is also the practical aspect. You can't accumulate instruments forever. There is always limited storage and limited funds to make new instruments. It gets to be a very expensive hobby, and pretty much non viable in the long term if you never sell anything.

Having said that, getting the first sale is not easy. It took me 9 months, and I was on the verge of giving the whole thing up because the cash ran out and storage space was also becoming an issue. Getting those vital sales does involve some considerable effort and time and I can understand why some people are not prepared to put the effort in, but you don't need to turn it into a business. Keeping it as a hobby that covers the costs with the occasional sale is fine if that is what you prefer to do. A hobby does not have to be a zero income earning activity, and you should not feel guilty about accepting cash for your work. You have earned it. I know some will never accept that their work is up to snuff with the "professionals", but if you don't look around at what others are doing (e.g. by exhibiting) and get feedback from customers and other Luthiers you will never know, and it gets harder and harder to improve without feedback. I guess it boils down to how serious you are and how long do you want to keep making music instruments. No sales and it gets difficult to keep the motivation going and looks like that is where you are at.
Peter Coombe - mandolin, mandola and guitar maker

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Re: Motivation

Post by seeaxe » Tue Aug 25, 2020 4:17 pm

Its interesting how everyone's view differs.

My view...If you're a hobby builder (like me) then don't beat yourself up if you don't feel like building some or even a lot of the time. You're a free man. Go and do something else. They'll all be there waiting for you when you get the urge to build again. And if you never do, so what??

Stop worrying and enjoy whatever you're doing. Life is short. Don't waste it making yourself do things you don't want to do.

But if you do force yourself back into the shed...just pick one and finish it. Choose the one you feel most anxious about. You'll feel better when its done. And give the surplus ones away. Better to give than receive etc etc. Talk to school music teachers.There will be many kids out there who won't be able afford what you can make. Judging by what i see in the Gallery, they are very, very good instruments.

Good luck mate. Whatever you end up doing.

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Re: Motivation

Post by Joseph Jones » Wed Aug 26, 2020 9:29 pm

Hi all,

Thought I'd pitch in...

Nothing motivates me more than a clean and organized workspace.
However if anyone has any motivation tips on cleaning and organizing I'm open to that :lol:

The stone is hard and the drop is small but a hole is made by the constant fall.

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Re: Motivation

Post by davidafterwork » Wed Aug 26, 2020 11:24 pm

Funny story ..
When I was serving my time as a carpenter the foreman would always make us take 15 minutes around 4pm each day when the place would be messy and do a clean up. It used to drive us mad but now 40 years later I do it all the time in my workshop and have a portable battery hoover that I recommend as it can be used to hoover dust off timber when sanding etc and then a full hoover at the end of each day. One of my better habits and highly recommended!

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Re: Motivation

Post by lamanoditrento » Thu Aug 27, 2020 1:58 pm

Good topic, although I don't have any problems motivating myself into the workshop. The opposite really, a bit of guilt at spending too much of my spare time there.

But basically I am motivated by the idea of leaving M-F corporate life for full time workshop life. Oh to be free of endless meetings, office politics, suits and hunching over a computer! Hearing my instrument played by an accomplished play is also a great motivation. The video I did of my most recently completed build really helped my imposter syndrome.

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