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Letter: Luthiers Must Offer What Factories Can’t

Letter: Luthiers Must Offer What Factories Can’t

by Alan Carruth

Originally published in American Lutherie #63, 2000


I was very taken with Woody Vernice’s review of the Taylor neck design video in AL#62, but I think he sells himself short. As impressive as the video is, I don’t think the joint is beyond the ability of most luthiers to cut to the required accuracy. Of course, it would take us longer by hand than it takes Bob’s machine!

Woody’s overall point is well taken, though. If we are to justify our existence (and our prices!) we have to be offering something that the factories can’t. If you leave out the stash of endangered materials, two possibilities spring to mind: visual art, and tone. There are a number of builders exploiting the aspect of visual creativity. In most cases this takes the form of some sort of “applied” art; whether it be a distinctive soundhole rosette, carving, or inlay work. Often the decorative scheme of an entire guitar will be keyed to one such distinctive element, making it a unique work. In some ways this is the path of least resistance. Luthiers have always built highly-decorated instruments for the elite market. It is easy to add a little pizzazz by slapping on a bunch of pearl, but that way leads in the end to the Rococo and Mannerism: the elaboration of form to the ultimate detriment of function.

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