Homegrown Music and Homemade Musical Instruments: Guitar Luthiers

Excerpt from a 1979 interview with guitar luthier Tim Olson about how he got his start making electric and acoustic guitars and the scope of the instrument making craft.

| March/April 1980

  • 062 homemade instruments
    Marc Bristol and other Washington State grassroots musicians wail away on a gutbucket, washboard, and jug ( the axe is a gag). Inset shows gutbucket "notch and bevel" detail.
  • 062 homemade instruments - luther handbook
    The membership handbook for the Guild of American Luthiers looked like this in 1979.

  • 062 homemade instruments
  • 062 homemade instruments - luther handbook

Even homesteaders need to relax and enjoy themselves from time to time, right? And almost everybody these days wants to cut his or her cost of living. So how about a little do-it-yourself entertainment?

That's what this column is about. Homegrown music  . . . and sometimes homemade musical instruments to play it on. 

The Lowdown on Luthiers

Most homegrown musicians dream at one time or another of building their own guitars or mandolins or banjos completely from scratch. And since the publication of the first modern book on the subject (Classic Guitar Construction by Irving Sloan, E.P. Dutton, 1966), increasing numbers of folks have been building their own music makers. In fact, it seems that all the do-it-yourself movement needed to really "catch fire" was some how-to information . . . and when Mr. Sloan provided the necessary data, homegrown craftsfolk started turning up everywhere!

One sure sign of the number of people who are "building their own" is the fact that there's now an organization with over 1,300 members which functions as an information-sharing forum for "luthiers." Guitar luthier Tim Olson, a founder of the Guild of American Luthiers and the editor of its quarterly magazine, defines luthier as "a person who handmakes any instrument" . . . although the term was originally applied only to lute builders. (Tim doesn't limit his definition to folks who work without the aid of power tools, but he does insist that a true luthier carries out each and every step in the instrument's construction him or herself.)

Not long ago, I visited Tim's shop to talk about instrument construction. What follows is an edited excerpt from our conversation.

BRISTOL: Tim, though luthiers build many types of instruments, I know that the guitar is your favorite. When did you first encounter one?

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