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by Keith Hill

Originally published in American Lutherie #63, 2000

Everyone who practices an art, a craft, or a profession belongs to only one of two groups: Those who love the art, craft, or profession; or those who love being involved in the art, craft, or profession. That which distinguishes these two groups is that those in the latter group are in love with the idea of being an artist, craftsman, or professor while those in the former love the art itself.

What does this have to do with being a musical instrument maker? Everything. The art and craft of the professional instrument maker hinges on knowing how to reliably produce a musical instrument which equals in every way the quality of the best that has gone before. To deny this reality makes a farce of the whole business. Why? Because if you replace the words “musical instrument maker” with the word “chef” (as in gourmet cook) and the words “musical instrument” with the word “food,” no one would quibble with that statement. Since musical instruments produce sound which the ears “eat,” I see no difference (nor did Mattheson who used the same metaphor in discussing music back in the 18th century) in how the standards of quality should apply. Yet, the field of professional musical instrument making is plagued with the attitude that “because we don’t know and can’t know how the great instruments from the past were made, we do the best we can and focus our attention on what we can do well” which, unfortunately, means building instruments that appeal to the eye and not to the ear. No one would hire an engineer to build a bridge who had that attitude. No one would hire a chef who had that attitude, much less want to eat anything cooked up by such person. Yet, in the field of music, such an attitude is normal.

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