Frequently Asked Questions

Choosing a Lutherie School

As in choosing anything else in life, it’s a decision you need to make based on your individual needs, desires, goals, and so on. The more you know about what you want to learn and how you learn best, the more apt you are to be able to find a learning opportunity that fits. In order to help the process along, I’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself and the folks who run the school you’re considering. Don’t overlook the obvious.

Ask yourself. What do I want to learn about? What do I plan to do with that knowledge — short term, long term? Do I want to end up with specific job skills so that I might be employed? Do I plan to work for myself? How long do I have to learn these skills? Scope: do I want a general lutherie education or am I only interested in building one instrument for fun? How long can I be away from home to learn? How much can I afford? Can I do this on my own or do I need a structured learning environment and a teacher?

When you’ve been as clear as you can be with yourself on what you’re after, it’s time to match your desires with what’s available. A few hours of checking out schools online may be useful simply to eliminate some of the potentials or pique your interest in others. E-mail may also be used to cull out the least and most desirable. Next, the telephone is the preferred tool.

Ask the school. About curriculum: get specifics. How much time is spent on each area or topic; how many instruments are built; how is instruction done — demonstration? Lecture? Is there any particular instruction in the use of hand tools, power tools, tool making, or jigs? How many instructors for how many students? How many hours/day? How much individual instruction will I receive? What do I leave with, that is: instruments, tools, certificate, diploma, and so on. Along these lines, it may be useful to determine what else is going on at the facility. For example, is the instructor running a repair business or building his/her own instruments and also teaching?

Facility. How much room is there? Does each student have his/her own workbench. Is each assigned hand tools? What power tools are available? What arrangements have been made for student safety and comfort. For example, is there air conditioning? Are there other humidity controls? Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s much better to know in advance than to pay your money only to find out it’s way too hot and humid or hot and dry, or cold.

Entry requirements. Do I need previous woodworking skills, hand or power tool skills? Is there an age minimum or maximum? Do I need a high school diploma?

Costs. Get all of them, including — woods, gears, cases, other accessories, tools, housing, food, travel, miscellaneous fees, and taxes.

Payment policies and registration. How do I register? Deposit? Refunds of deposits or costs before or after school begins? Is there any kind of student loan or scholarship help available? Work-study? Payment plan? Note that schools which are part of universities or institutions of higher learning are more apt to have payment and funding options as well as accreditation.

References. Ask for contact information for several students who have attended and follow up carefully.

The time you take to thoroughly assess your own needs and goals and research what’s out there will pay you back many times over.