Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get started building or repairing instruments?

When the Guild first started in the 1970s, there was very little access to information about building and repairing guitars and other stringed instruments. But thanks to the many excellent resources available now —books, journals, catalogs, videos, courses, online content, and social media — it is quite possible for a beginner to learn to make a good quality guitar with a little strategic help. Whether you’re just curious and want to know more about guitar making, or actually want to make a guitar, or are even thinking about a future career, these resources will get you started.

First, we recommend joining the Guild of American Luthiers (GAL). We’re a non-profit international organization of stringed-instrument makers, that started for the very reason you are reading this – people wanted to find out how to build and repair stringed musical instruments and share what they learned! Our quarterly journal, American Lutherie, is full of an incredible variety of high-quality information. Through the pages of American Lutherie, you’ll instantly be exposed to all kinds of luthiers (not just guitar makers), and you’ll have access to a wealth of information related to guitar making, including detailed full-scale plans of a wide variety of instruments (among which are some of the most outstanding guitars of the 20th century). Our conventions are wonderful and unique opportunities for new and aspiring luthiers to attend educational workshops and lectures, and to meet and learn from master luthiers, as well as make friends and contacts with other kindred spirits of many skill levels and interests.

Many people start with a course or school, and these can run the gamut from an online tutorial, to a weekend seminar at a luthier’s shop, to a several-year course at a brick-and-mortar school. Use our resource links to see the schools and courses that we know of. Kit building is also an easier entry into the field, and some courses use kits for a faster start. As one Contributing Editor to American Lutherie magazine, John Calkin, says, “Some people deride the use of kits, but my experience with them has been nothing but positive. You need to find out if you have the hands to be a luthier.... If you have no woodworking experience, kits are a painless way to scope out your raw capabilities.” (read more) If you are a self-starter and decide to jump in on your own, there is a lot of lutherie info being shared online through youtube, forums (like Official Luthier’s Forum and MIMF), and social media groups.

Working with an established luthier is always a good basis for training, and many luthiers are willing to give advice, lessons, or sometimes informal or formal apprenticeships. These are usually highly individual arrangements and probably best found by seeking out a instrument maker and simply asking. Look for local luthiers that you admire, or check the websites of luthiers you’ve heard of or read about in American Lutherie. Don’t be discouraged if your intended mentor is not interested, as it may not be practical for them. It can cost a lot in precious time to train someone.

Starting a library of your own is easy to do these days. Cyndy Burton, an experienced luthier/teacher and Contributing Editor to American Lutherie recommends the book, Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology by William Cumpiano and Jonathan Natelson as a good step-by-step guide on how to make a classical or steel string guitar. All the books from the GAL are invaluable resources for aspiring and experienced luthiers. The Big Red Books of American Lutherie each include articles from three years of American Lutherie in one handy volume. Robert Lundberg’s Historical Lute Construction shows the entire process of building an authentic lute in minute detail, with insights applicable to all type of instrument making.

The two best known, most-established, and largest suppliers of lutherie materials and tools (including books and videos) in the USA are Luthiers Mercantile International and StewMac. Luthiers Mercantile’s emphasis is on woods and tools for making instruments, while StewMac (aka Stewart-MacDonald) has a greater emphasis on tools used in repair work, guitar hardware, partially made components and kits, and video instruction. And there are hundreds of other suppliers and sources of information; see our resources page for links.

If you’re someone who really likes to figure out stuff for yourself, these resource materials will go a long way towards getting you started.

Suppose you’re working on your first instrument and get stuck or have several questions; or maybe you’ve finished your first guitar and would like a critique; or maybe you'd just like to talk shop with an experienced craftsperson. Cyndy recommends you contact someone whose work you respect and see what you can arrange. For example, many guitar makers would be glad to share detailed lutherie information, especially if you pay them a consulting fee. An hour or two with someone who really knows what they’re doing can save you hours and hours of banging your head against a wall! If you offer to pay someone for their time and effort you have a much better chance of getting exactly what you need. Many luthiers are happy to help someone out if the amount of time required is brief, and they are not losing income while doing it. By networking locally, you may find a local luthiers group that meets on occasion and may give you an opportunity to find support and get your questions answered in an informal setting.

Happy Luthing!