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Pedagogue’s Lament

Pedagogue’s Lament

by William Cumpiano

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 9, #2, 1981 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1998

Isn’t it a pity? Nobody wants to pay the dues of their art: everyone wants to be but nobody wants to become. Everyone wants to be called an expert but no one wants to be called a beginner. Whatever happened to the fine old tradition of the “amateur” (from the French: “lover of”)?

Painstakingly, I tell my students: “Drop your illusions. You cannot become a luthier after a seven-week course. I will give you the mental tools and the process of assembly, but you must go on from here and build dozens upon dozens of guitars. You must study the masters and dissect their decisions, you must fail and throw up your hands in despair, then pull yourself together and try again, over and over. You must suffer sleepless nights wondering why and what to do next, and devour information in every direction: tools, finishes, machinery, abrasives, adhesives, old ways, new ways, odd ways. Then, somewhere between your fiftieth and hundredth guitar, you start to hear it, because you’ve been straining to listen for so long: the peculiar song of the soundbox.”

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