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In Defense of the Amateur

In Defense of the Amateur

by Nicholas Von Robison

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly Volume11, #4, 1983 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1998

This is an age of specialists, and I am by nature as well as habit an amateur. This is a dangerous thing to confess because full-time luthiers are likely to turn up their noses. “What you really mean is,” they say, “a dilettante; a playboy of the art and science of lutherie.” I’m afraid they are at least partly right. When once asked if I had a claim to fame, the best I could come up with was: I think I know more about lutherie than any other horticulturalist and more about plant life than any other luthier.

I could put up a solemn defense of we who choose the overall view. “Amateur” literally means lover, and an amateur of lutherie very often loves the wonderful world of musical instruments in a way that the specialist builder probably did when he or she was young but maybe has forgotten while trying to keep up with all the knowledge that has unfolded in the past ten years. The important thing is that amateurs are lovers of whatever they are amateurs of.

At least that is the excuse I give myself. I think what I have wanted most out of life is to find living itself rewarding. I’m sure that I have wanted that more than I wanted wealth or fame. As Thoreau said, “I don’t want to feel when I come to die that I have never lived.” Like Thoreau, I am inclined to say that I came into this world not primarily to make it a better place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. And that is part of the amateur spirit. I haven’t always been happy. Who has? But I have usually been interested and involved.

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