Calling Mr.Trump! Apprentices?

My favorite website for picking up Interesting and Annoying subjects Early Guitar NING:

A recent remark spinning on my previous rant about the politics of Cheap.

“I still don’t see why a 1000 eu (1500 USD) baroque guitar can’t be made in a shop that has apprentices setting up the work.  Cheaper materials?  Why not!  “

Apprentices: Everybody thinks they want to be an apprentice and build guitars. In the days of the renaissance and even before that children were relegated to a trade at an early age. There were several reasons for that : economic and economic.  A poor family could relegate their child to a craftsperson and that person would be obligated to feed and house his apprentice and eventually provide him with skills to make a living. In return the shopkeeper had help. Nobody did it for free. It cost the shopkeeper in terms of time, food and lodging he had to take time to train that person. The old system the apprentice would be relegated to the most menial jobs such as sweeping the floors, cutting the wood, and all the periphery chores before they let him even touch the tools. Then he would be trained on a single chore and did that over and over again until he did it well  and eventually  he worked  his way to learning the trade. If you look at the trades today, the electrician’s  apprentice get to dig the trenches and haul the supplies and maybe they got to lay out the conduit.

The problem with the writer’s remarks is that most small shops can’t afford apprentices .Most builders barely make a living let alone hire employees. In violin shops they still have the tradition of apprentices but even so it’s a dying practice because of the economics. After all who wants to train for years for a marginally sustainable business?  I’ve been approached by individuals from time to time to apprentice with me and I have taken on novices, but I certainly couldn’t afford to pay them. If apprenticeships exist they are usually paid for by the apprentice for the shopkeeper’s time. Even  the idea of apprenticeship has changed: Today’s apprentice’s want to make a guitar in a hurry and get out and then immediately call themselves Luthiers.

In my shop  we can go through the process and maybe you’ll  wind up with a decent instrument but it’s a rarity on the first try. Often the would be apprentice has no woodworking skills. I can teach a person how to sharpen their tools and how to use them but real skill development takes experience and repetition and time, an expensive commodity.

In my own experience I apprenticed through local guitarmaker Ervin Somogyi. I essentially paid him the price of an instrument to have him guide me through the process. We made my first lute in three months.I was quite proud of it when I finished , but in retrospect it was a turd.  He showed me a few things such as layout and tooling and assembly but would he have trusted me to make parts for his guitars? An Emphatic no. I certainly didn’t have the mastery of the tools at that point and I hadn’t developed a sense of craft aesthetics at that point either. At that point I doubt he would have even considered anything that I made to be associated with his brand name. Why should he have ? I was still unskilled and wet behind the ears.

My own apprentice experience: I’ve had some real earnest people come through the shop hoping to learn guitar or lute making. Some gave up after a few weeks realizing the notion was more romantic than the actual scraping and cutting. Others stuck it out and came away with an instrument but not the confidence to do it on their own. In all cases they cost me more in time and effort than the money that I was paid. In one case I had my novice scrape my rosewood sides for me. He seemed to be doing fine job until I looked at the sides to discover that they were 2mm at the ends 0.9mm in the center and anywhere from 1.3 to 0.45 mm at the edges. Now that’s the cost of an apprentice.

Post script : the banter on the politics of cheap continue….

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