What Is A Luthier?
A luthier is a professional who makes and repairs stringed instruments like guitars, cellos, violins, etc. Many luthiers will choose to work on one specific instrument; with many choosing guitars as their primary source of work.
Some may even fall into the profession due to a passion for playing one of these instruments.
A typical day in the life of a luthier can include:
- Custom designing and building a new string instrument
- Clean and seal dents
- Refinishing damaged areas of an instrument
- Restoring old instruments to resell
How To Become A Luthier
There is no one specific path to take to become a luthier.
Below is a general recommended path:
- Earn a high-school diploma or GED
- Attend a luthier school OR do some self-education with online videos and real-life experience.
- Work under an experienced luthier as an apprentice.
While you can take a self-learning approach, it is highly recommended to attend a school that specializes in luthier education.
There are so many things you really should know to be successful including:
- Different setups for instrument types
- Understanding wood types
- Body design
These are just a few of the many things you will learn in a course that might be challenging to learn on your own. If you do prefer to do it on your own it is important that you create a routine and stick with your lesson plan.
There are also luthier certification programs you can take to give you a heads-up in the industry. These can take up to 2 years depending on the level of experience you want to gain.
Gaining skills in woodworking, design, and metal is highly recommended. Carpenters often make great luthiers because of their knowledge of woods and how to work with them.
Learning how to use a CNC machine is also recommended if you want to get into custom instrument making. CNC machines are used in many other woodworking careers as well, so having this experience will do you good if you decide to change jobs in the future.
Where Does A Luthier Work?
There are a few options for where you might work if you take this career path.
- Repair shop. If building instruments does not appeal to you, then doing repairs is a great way to still be a part of the industry. Working in a repair shop can have you doing a variety of repairs on broken or outdated instruments.
- Factory. Luthiers in the factory environment will use a variety of machines and hand tools to build custom instruments. In modern times machines are used more often to speed up the process. Some factories do still use hand tools but this is less common.
- Self-employed. Starting your own business is an option! If your passion is for handcrafting stringed instruments for musicians, then this is the best option. It allows you to have flexibility in what types of projects you want to take on, and how much you would like to charge.
Luthier pay can have very large salary ranges, and while there is no formal dataset about what a luthier can make, we have found some resources that can give you an idea of how much you can make.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data for musical instrument repairers and tuners, but not specifically luthiers. This sector shows an average median wage of approximately $37,160. Areas in NJ, PA, NH, and CA have some of the highest wages coming in at the upper 40K- low 50K range.
- At the time of this writing, there were a few luthier jobs on Indeed.com which showed an estimated range of $42-$60K annually.
- If you are super talented, then go it alone and sell your custom creations. The price of musical instruments created by a professional luthier can be in the 6-figures! The Luthier’s Collection showcases some popular builders and their items for sale.
Many luthiers might supplement their passion with other jobs like woodworking projects, cabinetry, or construction. Or, if you are musically talented you can also offer guitar or string instrument lessons.
Becoming a luthier that caters to famous musicians is an option too! But you have to be GOOD! Take Harry Sparks for example. He was a well-known architect who was a luthier on the side to country music stars like Vince Gill and Sam Bush. He had a great job during the day, but had such a passion for being a luthier he needed to share his skills!
If you decide that working on instruments is your kind of thing, and are choosing the formal education path (which we recommend!), here are a few schools you can consider.
The Art of Lutherie
An online guitar luthier school that offers on-demand courses, live coaching, and tutorials.
American School of Lutherie – Portland, OR
ARC Guitar – Winters CA
JS Bogdanovich Guitars – Swannanoa, NC
Borman Violins Fayetteville, AR
Chicago Luthiers Workshop – Chicago, IL
Chicago School of Guitar Making – Chicago, IL
Chicago School of Violin Making – Skokie, IL
Colorado School of Lutherie – Denver, CO
James Condino – Asheville, NC
William Cumpiano – Easthampton, MA
Custom Vibrations – Gilbert, SC
Rock ’n’ Roll Guitar Building School – Napa, CA
Fretted Strings – Davis, CA
Bryan Galloup’s School of Guitar Building and Repair – Big Rapids, MI
Gitana Stringed Instruments and Luthier’s Workshop – Concord, MA (might be closed)
Haight Guitars – Scottsdale, AZ
Hart’s Guitars and Lutherie School – Atlanta, GA
Hawkins Guitar Luthier School – Virginia Beach, VA
Marlee Guitar Company – Cheney, WA
MI Guitar Craft Academy Nashville – Nashville, TN
Minnesota State College Southeast – Red Wing, MN
Nazareth Guitar Institute – Nazareth, PA
The New World School of Violin Making – Presque Isle, WI
North Bennet Street School – Boston, MA
Northampton Community College – Bethlehem, PA
O’Brien Guitars – Parker, CO
Planet Bluegrass – Lyons, CO
Red Rocks School of Woodworking & Lutherie – Lakewood, CO
Roberto Venn School of Luthiery – Phoenix, AZ
Eric Schaefer Guitars – Bernville, PA
SF Guitarworks – San Francisco, CA
Spencer Acoustics – Garland, TX
Violin Craftsmanship Institute – University of New Hampshire
Violin Making School of America – Salt Lake City, UT
Wells School of Lutherie – Daytona Beach, FL