Guitar Build – Choosing a luthier

So I’ve got a big chunk of wood, just the perfect size for a guitar body. This was given to me by a friend who had done some work for a high-end furniture maker.

This piece of London Plane (a type of lacewood I gather) has hung around the house, most of the time next to, or under my desk and has been a constant reminder of my long-term promise to myself to treat myself to a custom guitar.

An ex-colleague had gone on a guitar building course at Bailey Guitars and had been delighted with the result. I had been thinking about doing something similar but, for a couple of years had found it very difficult to free up a whole week and, being self-employed, it could potentially mean turning away work. The rough price of £1,200 to £1,300, including accommodation, was a bit of a stretch too.

I finally bit the bullet and wrote off to Baileys looking for a place on a course in late 2009 or early 2010 and… nothing happened. I sent a couple of chasing emails but still nothing. I made the assumption that they were either no longer running the courses or had gone out of business.

This was about the time I found the excellent Six String Bliss podcast and the first episode I listened to included an interview with Steve Benford , a luthier from Milwaukee.

I was impressed by Steve’s knowledge of, and passion for, guitars. I sought out reviews from previous customers. I also followed the story of Pipes and PT, the podcast hosts, having guitars built. Nothing but glowing endorsements.

I wrote an email to Steve, outlining my basic ideas, and we corresponded back and forth, hammering out the details and then came the part I’d been dreading. The actual price. If a self-build was going to cost upwards of £1,200, how much would it cost for a craftsman to do the same thing? Well the answer turned out to be $925! Or about £575 in sterling. Add in the cost of a hard case, shipping, import duty and VAT and it’s going to cost around £830.

Coincidentally this is about the price of a new Standard US Strat.

Postscript: Three days after sending Steve the initial payment, a got a reply from Baileys saying that they were taking bookings. There’s a lesson here for small businesses. Don’t ignore your email! A simple response saying “we’re really busy right now but thanks for your enquiry. We’ll be in touch in X days” would have secured me as their customer.

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