Get a group of luthiers together and they immediately start to talk shop; discussing methods, materials, glues, sound concepts… In something that seems like an own language all to themselves. For a ‘normal’ person there is neither rhyme nor reason to it.
What most people can’t understand is that most makers are very willing to share information with each other; “Where dit you get those knobs?”; “How do you bend your sides?”; “What is the resistance of those pickups?”; “How did you create that headstock attachment?”; “What kind of glue/lacquer do you use?”
For outsiders it seems like all of them are giving away there ‘trade secrets’. But for most makers it is a way of getting inspired and helping each other. Nobody of them will exactly copy another maker, or try to run off with his method and passing it off as their own in order to make a lot of money. Sometimes people make a tribute to their work, but that is done out of admiration and respect. Over the years I have met many makers from all over the world, professionals, hobbyists, beginners and people with 50+ years of experience. But I learned something from all of them. Some have become good friends and colleagues. Others people with whom I agree to disagree, but there still is a lot of mutual respect.
And then here are some builders who don’t want to share anything. They consider themselves high and mighty and sit in their ivory towers on lonely islands. Afraid somebody will try to steal something of them. One of the paradoxes of this group of makers is that their work reaches some level, and then seems to come to a halt. They consider themselves established and rest on their laurels. Their work doesn’t develop anymore, stops to show progress and only becomes a repetition of steps they have taken before.
In her beautiful book “Guitar Makers – The endurance of artisanal values in North America”, anthropologist Kathryn Marie Dudley describes how the free sharing of information among guitar makers helps to expand the body of knowledge and improves as well as ensures the quality of instruments being built.
Last week this little video was posted on a couple of luthier Facebook groups. It beautifully illustrates the fact that guitar making is more than just gluing some pieces of wood together.