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Thread: What is a "master luthier"?

  1. #1
    bon vivant jaycat's Avatar
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    Default What is a "master luthier"?

    I have seen this term around and about, often in descriptions in classified ads. "This mando was set up by master luthier so and so." etc.

    So, what is a master luthier? Is this an officially sanctioned encomium bestowed by some regulatory outfit? Some kind of honor? Or just what someone decides to call himself?
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    I believe Master in this case is from an ancient Freblonian phrase meaning "in my opinion REALLY good".

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    This is something that use to be official a couple hundred years ago. But part of what made the United States different from Europe is that there were no guilds to bestow these titles. So anyone can declare themselves a Master Luthier.
    Dave Schneider

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    Anyone calling himself a "master " luthier is some one with an overblown ego using it for some sort of marketing advantage. I prefer "experienced", because that is actually true.
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    In olden days when there were craft - trade guilds, a master was someone who had shown proficency in their discipline. A "Master Piece" was an item created to show that they had mastered that craft. Today, like many things, you can be one simply by saying you are one.
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    Well, if a state can figure a way to attach a license and fee to some trade, it will use those ancient guild terms. Most places, there is such a thing as a master plumber or electrician, but in my state sadly, very often a license starts with ‘limited’. In NY, a Master Falconer can possess up to 13 raptors and engage in activities not allowed for Journeymen. Predictably, some states use a college masters degree to categorize a ‘master’, which almost makes sense. Fortunately, my doctorate doesn’t provide an opening for annual fees anywhere - so far.
    Any time-traveller from the middle ages would be aghast that we don’t have sensible trade designations.
    Other uses of the designation ‘master’ I’m afraid get us into swiftly-changing semantics, and are therefore, dangerous.

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    Registered User PT66's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    There is an organization that is called The GUILD of American Luthiers. But it does not in any was bestow titles on any of its members.
    Dave Schneider

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    Quote Originally Posted by tjmangum View Post
    In olden days when there were craft - trade guilds, a master was someone who had shown proficency in their discipline. A "Master Piece" was an item created to show that they had mastered that craft. Today, like many things, you can be one simply by saying you are one.
    Yes. The guild would only allow you to work as a tradesman after passing an apprentice test but you could only set up shop and take in apprentices after making your master piece. And the tradesmen and apprentices would call you "master".

    Before becoming a master in Scandinavian countries, you had to go "walk about" for three years and a day in foreign countries, to learn your trade and educate yourself.

    The power of the guilds was stopped by law 150 years ago but you still call your boss " master" today.
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    Don’t know about the US but, in the UK, the formal address for adult males without formal qualifications has traditionally been “Mister” (Mr) whilst male children are referred to as “Master”.

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    Quote Originally Posted by poul hansen View Post
    Yes. The guild would only allow you to work as a tradesman after passing an apprentice test but you could only set up shop and take in apprentices after making your master piece. And the tradesmen and apprentices would call you "master".

    Before becoming a master in Scandinavian countries, you had to go "walk about" for three years and a day in foreign countries, to learn your trade and educate yourself.

    The power of the guilds was stopped by law 150 years ago but you still call your boss " master" today.
    It's still like that in Germany for certain trades/crafts, especially those, where advocacy groups ("guilds") managed to set up official regulations by claiming that certain standards must be met in safety and quality – of course all for the benefit of the customer. After passing the apprentice test (and work in that trade for a few years up until recently), which allows you to officially call yourself "Geselle" ("Journeyman"), you can apply for a "Meisterbrief" ("master craftman's diploma"; "master's certificate"). You not only have to provide a master piece, but also prove good knowledge of your chosen craft, business management, safety rules, accounting, pedagogy &c. Preparing for that "Meisterbrief" (which may entail attending a special business school in some trades) takes about 1 – 2 years of intensive training. The "Meisterbrief" allows you to officially call yourself "Meister", set up your own workshop and train apprentices. I've been a "master of pipe organ making" for 20+ years, which - hopefully - lends to some sort of marketing advantage. "Overblown ego"?

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    Pontification is what you invite, not clarification.
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    I’m assuming that it’s a lot like being a Jedi Master.

    You know, force and all.
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    times change ... I have lived long enough to have gone from being my dog's "master" to now being his "parent"

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    I would dare say most of the luthiers I have ever met were just people that had a strong desire to build or repair musical instruments and very few entered the industry to make millions of dollars but some have managed to make a decent living. Some went to school to get a start and many more of them picked up the trade over the years they spent doing it. Take my word for it, that is the hard way. The luthiers that I know personally might cringe at that tag but there are many that I would consider in the category and some frequent this Cafe that we apparently all enjoy. They are the one's that actually know what they are talking about and most give advice freely. I'm more concerned with instant experts that give advice freely that haven't a clue but that's another story. Yes, there is no governing body in the field that bestows the title but give these men and women their due. As humorous as many seem to find this it's what they do for a living and to feed their families. Even if you have a factory built instrument somewhere along the way somebody that was really good at the art of the luthier was involved. If this is the worst example of a misused term you can find then you live a sheltered life.
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  23. #16

    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    A good question Jaycat and an interesting discussion.

    Quote Originally Posted by poul hansen View Post
    The power of the guilds was stopped by law 150 years ago but you still call your boss " master" today.
    I don't doubt for a moment Poul, that what you say is true in "Danmark". Not so much here in the U.S.A.. If I were to call my boss "master", he'd most likely think I was being sarcastic. And oddly (predictably?) enough, the use of the word itself has recently been deemed inappropriate in some circles.
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    “ I've been a "master of pipe organ making" for 20+ years, which - hopefully - lends to some sort of marketing advantage. "Overblown ego"?‘
    I would think that overblowing would be an apprentice error in that trade.

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    Trade guilds have been mentioned here, something I've always been interested in learning more about. Can anyone recommend a good book or documentary on this topic?
    ...

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    Many years ago the discussion came up at the shop of my former employer. As we worked on instruments one day we asked ourselves; 'what is a "master" luthier?'
    As one can imagine, the discussion was a lot like this one, and it inspired me to have this business card printed.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    My hypothesis is that "master luthier" is more commonly used by non-luthier owners trying to add value to an instrument they are selling (e.g, "set up by a master luthier"), rather than by the luthiers themselves. I've had work done by a number of very talented and experienced luthiers, none of whom referred to themselves as "Masters". However, a quick search for "master luthier" does come up with a few self-identified Masters.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    Master luthiers don't have to make their own coffee.
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  32. #22

    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    The term does not have a lot of meaning without an intact apprenticeship and certification system. In most states the building trades are the only trades which have maintained such a system. It is enforced by the building codes in the states. In the state where I live there are journeyman and master plumber, pipefitter and electrician licenses which are still maintained and required to do work covered by building codes and inspections. The apprenticeships are administered by the unions and enforced by the state with required tests and regular relicensing.

    When I worked in the tool and die trade, in the 1970s up into the 1990s, the apprenticeship system was dying out for a lot of reasons mostly relating to no one wanting to pay for it or administer it. The machinist union did still maintain a journeyman's classification at that time, which I got after 6 years of work in the trade under supervision of journeymen. There was also a four year apprenticeship option but no one in our area had an apprenticeship program any more. The master classification had already gone away.

    It is similar to the "acoustic engineer " term which has been discussed here before. Some states require a person who advertises themselves as an engineer to have state licensing, at least for work that may affect public safety. But it is rarely enforced. A lot of people call themselves "engineers" who were unwilling or unable to put in the work and effort to get the actual education.

    Jack Lawrence will refer to himself as a "journeyman guitarist" in his e-mail signature. That is a bit of an understatement.

    Charles Sawtelle, on the other hand, was said to have a business card saying "Charles Sawtelle, Expert" much like Wiley Coyote's business card proclaiming his Supergenius status. It would be interesting to see the apprenticeship program and licensing test for both of those.

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    ... A lot of people call themselves "engineers" who were unwilling or unable to put in the work and effort to get the actual education...
    That one is even stickier. I have the certification from two large companies as a Network Engineer. I had the knowledge to pass the exams. The only time that title would come out would be if someone asked what certs I held in a job interview. But getting back to self promotion, I have no problems with someone identifying themselves as a Master Luthier but I might question anyone other than Joseph Bohmann that made the same claims he did.
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    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
    --M. Stillion

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    As I've said many times, to customers, other luthiers, aspiring luthiers etc., there are no credentials in this business; no training required, no license requited, anyone who has done a fret job more-or-less successfully is free to hang out a shingle and call him/herself a luthier, or even a master luthier.
    All we really have to back our claim beyond that is our reputation, so we'd better do our best.
    I've observed myself being referred to as a master luthier, but it is a title I do not self-apply.

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    Default Re: What is a "master luthier"?

    "Master Luthier" would be the next step up from "Pretty Good Luthier," or "Not Bad Luthier."
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