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National Statistics for Luthier Wages

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National Statistics for Luthier Wages

Postby Steve Graves » Thu Dec 27, 2012 6:42 pm

For all the folks thinking of going into the study/practice of the Luthiers' Craft and Trade, can anyone point to any statistics into the realities of such a venture. I know great luthiers are far a few between but for the rest of us what can we expect to find doing repairs, manufacturing work and custom instruments?
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Re: National Statistics for Luthier Wages

Postby Barry Guest » Tue Feb 12, 2013 3:02 am

Starvation comes to mind.
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Re: National Statistics for Luthier Wages

Postby Barry Daniels » Tue Feb 12, 2013 9:56 am

Sorry you never got a serious reply to your question. This may be because most luthiers avoid painful subjects. The best response that I ever saw to a question like this was that you don't go into lutherie for the money. You do it because you have to build/repair. Most of us do it for little or no money. If you get good enough to attract a business following with some pay, then that is just gravy.
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Re: National Statistics for Luthier Wages

Postby Mark Swanson » Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:01 am

Many have found that it's easier to make a little steady money from repairs. It's difficult to get out of repairs to build full-time if you have been doing it a while, are used to that income and have a lot of people who know what you do- folks are always bringing me repairs, and I live in a big city where there are a lot of guitars that need work. So, I contract through a local music store and they are constantly sending me repair work. I build when I can and have steady repair work. The store also sells guitars for me and I have a close friendship with them.
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Re: National Statistics for Luthier Wages

Postby G.S. Monroe » Tue Feb 12, 2013 3:42 pm

The sad reality is that in this age of mechanization, computers, C'n'C machining, "Labor Saving", and such, there is not a lot of value placed in traditional craftsmanship anymore. Unless you are a professional musician, chances are you can "make do" with a mass produced instrument built overseas. I build because I love the craft. I was a hobbyist first, but then long term unemployment and poor job prospects has me building full time.
The wages are pathetic, but it is positive cash flow that keeps me active and productive. For me it's more about having something to put on a resume' and having some money coming in, but as a career it pays a few dollars above standing in traffic with a "will work for food" cardboard sign.
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Re: National Statistics for Luthier Wages

Postby Rodger Knox » Tue Feb 12, 2013 4:36 pm

This reminds me of the old joke about the luthier that won the lottery. Someone asked him what he would do, and he replied "I guess I'll keep working on guitars till the money runs out."
A man hears what he wants to hear, and disreguards the rest. Paul Simon
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Re: National Statistics for Luthier Wages

Postby Barry Guest » Tue Feb 12, 2013 6:56 pm

Steve,

If you are worried about the action on your instruments, my advice is to not fret about it. <G> But seriously, as a generalization, creative people are not great marketers and have trouble pushing their own cause. A partner/friend/employee with a brain function opposite to the creative brain in luthiers is a bonus. I suppose the bottom line is to surround yourself with good people who will take up the handles on your barrow while you lovingly craft your "babies"
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Re: National Statistics for Luthier Wages

Postby David King » Fri Feb 14, 2014 11:08 pm

Barry puts this very well. Many of the successful ventures I can think of are a team. One person puts in the hours while the other handles the money. What I keep seeing over and over again is that the fellow with the balls to charge 4-8 times more than everyone else in a given market for essentially the same thing gets a lot of attention and ends up doing well. Their reputation rides entirely on the fact that because they charge more they must be worth it. I should point out that they also have no friends among their colleagues. It seems to only work for the first fellow in the pool that thinks of it.

I try to do everything myself and it's an unmitigated disaster. I hate book keeping. I hate looking people in the eye and telling them that this repair I just spent 30 hours on is going to cost them $400 when I know they think they're getting ripped off and I know I'm ripping myself off. Money sucks when you don't have enough of it and you assume no one else does either.

Regarding pricing, try pretending you are talking about pesos and not dollars.
We aren't one uniform nation, we are millions of micro-economic zones. More of us live in the third world than in the first. I think the trick is steer away from poor folks, pretend you aren't one of them, shun them and only hang with those you perceive as wealthy (this is a horrible thing to think and say but it's what capitalism is all about and we can all agree that capitalism is a great and honorable thing). Start thinking like you are wealthy and pretty soon you might get used to being wealthy and then it won't seem like such a stretch. When all your friends and clients are dentists and lawyers you'll soon realize that they worry about money all the time too but at least they live in a world where there's an extra zero in front of the decimal point. Soon you too can be complaining about how the person who cleans your house has the gall to charge you $100 for 5 hours of work.
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Re: National Statistics for Luthier Wages

Postby David King » Fri Feb 14, 2014 11:42 pm

To the question at hand, in "Industry", starting wages for a trained luthier was in the $9-12/hour range a few years ago. The top paid workers with extensive experience in all phases or construction and manufacturing might make about double that starting wage. There would be a benefits package however so the actual value of the wages would be 25-30% more compared to a solo builder who's paying rent, utilities, health insurance, fica, business insurance etc. If your intention was to work 40 hours a week and your business expenses added up to say $1000/per month you would need to earn at least $30/hour probably to get to a living wage. It can be done but you have to put "pulling those dollars in" front of everything else you do. It's a mindset.
Luthiers I know that have employees have told me that an employee has to generate 3X their salary in income for the owner to break even. That's something to think about...
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Re: National Statistics for Luthier Wages

Postby Michael Lewis » Thu Feb 23, 2017 4:53 am

In reality, one needs to have the skills to do excellent work in order to demand good 'wages'. I started out by making an instrument and thought that was how I would make my living, but Reality rushed in and told me that I needed better skills, a better work ethic, someone to sell, and a bookkeeper. Well, I was fortunate that my wife learned to keep the books, but she was of little help in the shop. It soon became evident that repair work was easier to make a living at than making new instruments, and that is mostly how I have made my living over the past 30 something years. By making instruments I understood how they are put together which helped in the repair processes, and conversely the repair work built skills that greatly helped the construction and finish processes. You need to master the basics so you can reliably do 'workman like' repairs. With time and a bit of luck your skills and understanding grow so that you can effect the repairs and not leave visible evidence of the work done, though in some cases that is not possible. For me it became a personal challenge to improve my abilities and knowledge, and I did much of this by pushing my comfort zone and tackling much larger and more complex projects. Once you know how something is supposed to look or feel you don't quit until your work is 'right'. When you replace a nut you make the new one look as close to the original as you can right down to any subtle shapes involved, but without any obvious flaws if there were any in the original part.

Structural repairs are the easiest to understand but not always so easy to do, but at least they are pretty much straight forward. Finish repairs can be more deceptive and difficult, or sometimes they are easy. The point is you have to have the knowledge of the stuff you are working with, and you will make it look easy when you are good at it. I charged a good rate for my work, like a mechanic or plumber and was usually jammed for space to keep all the cases and instruments. If you build a good reputation you will be busy, so always do your best.

I am basically retired now since I have not had much time in the shop for nearly two years caring for my ailing wife, but we're in our 70s and with Social Security I no longer HAVE to work for a living. One more point: if you are going to make this your business (career) make a lot of money and pay your taxes. This is what your Social Security will be based on when you retire.
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