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What is a Luthier?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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A luthier, taken from the French word for lute (luth), makes or repairs stringed instruments. To those outside the lutherie world, the term might be most closely associated with acoustic guitar making, but people who make mandolins, banjos, violins, cellos, dulcimers, ukuleles, and other stringed instrument are also luthiers.

Luthiers themselves sometimes distinguish between two types of instrument making: the making of plucked or strummed instruments verses the making of instruments that are used with a bow. In some cases a luthier only repairs or adjusts instruments and doesn’t actually make them.

In our modern age of automated engineering, assembly lines and prefab products, luthiers stands out as an Old World craftsman and craftswoman. The art of making and repairing stringed instruments dates back to antiquity, evocative of a love for craft that goes beyond a simple need to earn a living. A fine luthier is a musician’s best friend, keeping his or her stringed instrument in excellent playing condition for the life of the instrument.

Many non-professional musicians who play music for personal pleasure might be unaware that luthiers exist or that instruments can (and should) be adjusted over time. Constant string tension, environmental factors and other circumstances can combine to slowly push an instrument out of its ideal range. This reduces a factor known as playability, but a visit to the luthier is all that’s needed to return the instrument to its “personal best.”

Luthiers can also repair many kinds of physical damage. One common type of damage is a dented soundboard (top of guitar), or back. This is often physical trauma that has broken through the finish of the instrument and entered the wood. A luthier can clean, seal, patch and refinish the damaged area to make it barely noticeable, which also protects the wood from further decay.

If strings buzz, if the action sits high, if a valuable or sentimental instrument is simply dirty from years of storage, misuse or neglect, a luthier is the one to call. Under skilled, caring hands your instrument can be revived and go on to provide additional years of pleasure, not only for you, but for generations to follow.

Music shops commonly provide luthier services and luthiers like Fret Not Guitar Repair can also be found online. A reputable luthier should be happy to discuss the problem or service with you via phone or email. You can ask for a price quote at this time or a ballpark figure if a price quote is premature. If your instrument is valuable and the luthier was not a referral from a trusted source, you might want to ask for references. If interested in having physical damage repaired, before-and-after shots of repair work the luthier has done can be helpful.

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