• Adam Chan

Are you a Luthier?

Updated: May 21

It was easy to answer this question in the past. Now it isn't. But why?

I wrote this blog post with four key aspects to guide the flow of my thoughts in relation to the title question; (1) Definitions of Luthier, (2) Mastery of Skills, (3) Professional Attitude & (4) Social Media.

Looking up the definitions of Luthier would be a good start. So I did a quick search on the internet. You would see them as you read on.

Luthiery is driven by skills. Therefore some insights in mastery of skills would be useful in appreciating what it takes to be a luthier.

Professional attitude is important in conducting one's business. Luthier serves the string instruments community. There should be some general principles to keep things right so that the community is benefitting from the services provided by Luthiers.

The power of social media has exercise its influence in almost every aspect of our lives. I share my observations within the context of the behaviours of luthiers in social media. They are merely my inferences.

Definitions of Luthier

A quick check against a few references of it definition, I got these;

1. A maker of stringed instruments such as violins or guitars. (https://www.lexico.com/definition/luthier)

2. Originally a maker of stringed instruments (lutes, harps, viols, etc.) but later particularly of instruments of the violin family. (https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100119520)

3. one who makes stringed musical instruments such as violins or guitars. (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/luthier)

4. A person who, or a business which, makes or repairs stringed wooden musical instruments, such as lutes, violins, and guitars. (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/luthier)

Most online reference websites defined luthier as a maker of string instruments. Some have included repairs as part of the definition.

In today's context, I think the definition can afford a wider scope instead of the monolithic representation.

About Skills Mastery

Occupation refers to a person's regular work or profession; job or principal activity; any activity on which time is spent by a person; the act of occupying or the state of being occupied.

By the above definition, one can infer time spent in one's principal activity is implied. Building on time spent, it would not be difficult to perceive that time spent in the principal activity can lead to mastery of skills.

Personally I think there are no shortcuts to be a professional. Unless one wishes to merely look like one.

A few years ago, I chanced upon a book called "Outliers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_(book))." The author of the book, Malcolm Gladwell examines some interesting phenomenon related to success stories of people and teams. He attempted to undercover the driving ingredients behind these successes.

One of which I found relevant to Luthiery is the 10,000-hour rule for skills.

Gladwell repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.

He said; “In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

I think that one need not take the 10,000-hour rule literally. I suggest that Gladwell's intend was on the necessity to practice in the correct ways for many hours to attain mastery in skills.

Underpinning the 10,000-hour rule are actually one's discipline, patience and enthusiasm in dealing with the many hours of practicing.

In essence, NO shortcuts.

For luthiers, regardless it is building or repairing string instruments, comprehension in the string instrument in question is hardly avoidable.

A luthier have to put in the hours to develop the necessary work processes to required accuracies.

If a damaged instrument isn't repaired, it just isn't. It is very difficult to conceal the fact. Time will tell.

I do concede that certain aspects of botch repairs can be superficially concealed but owing the fact that a guitar is a physical item, these cover-ups would one day creep out.

There is a saying, you know the man by his fruits.

To know if one is a well practiced luthier, just look at his work not only through pictures but the actual instruments. The work on the instruments doesn't lie.

Professional attitude

A skilful luthier with bad attitude and a rudimental luthier with good attitude. Which is worse? I suggest that the rudimental guy wouldn't remain rudimentary for too long given his good attitude.

A luthier has many decisions to make in the course his or her work. Exercising sound judgments become crucial to building a fine instrument or succeeding in a challenging repair job.

Certain approaches are exciting and fun to perform. Luthiers can get carried away in using fun and exciting ways which result in overlooking what may be best for the situations.

Accepting a job beyond one's skills is not uncommon. There will be temptation to want to give it a go, like treating the job as an experiment. Some would say, "I was trying to help."

Regardless the intentions, biting more than one can chew is hardly a professional conduct.

A luthier with good attitude goes a long way…

Luthier and Social Media

Luthiers carry many responsibilities in building and repairing instruments. It is very easy to get carried away by the sexiness of the title, or the romance of being admired.

The impatience for quick successes in today's context is often too much to resist. With the aid of social media, attention seeking and blowing one's trumpet have never been easier.

The insidious competition on social media has driven many to stage perceptions of competence, successes, mastery, fulfilment, confidence, authority and intelligence.

The act of misrepresentation, creating presumptions, clever concealment, targeted illumination in social media have been normalised as daily undertakings that everyone should and ought to be doing.

This is a slippery slope for the future of Luthiery because such behaviours celebrate pretentiousness, reinforce bumptiousness and elevate mediocrity.

Alas! Eventually, mediocracy is no longer a problem.

The art of Luthiery isn't spared. You can do it right, or do it easy. It is your call.

- you know the man by his fruits -

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