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Becoming a "Professional" Instrument Builder - A Cautionary Tale - Part 1

Hello again Dear readers to my Blog, and Merry Christmas.

This is most likely going to end up being a cautionary tale, but as this seems to have been a topic of discussion for me lately around the house I figured maybe a few of you might be interested.

Question of the Week - December 24, 2013

"So, Greg.... Hows the Business doing?"

Yes Folks.... believe it or not, I'm a professional "self employed" Luthier. < GASP! >

How can this be?

Is it really possible?

I heard that....

Ok, Ok, go refresh your drink and sit back in your chair, I'm about to tell you a story about what NOT TO DO.

My humble tale started a little over 2 years ago, and all considered, I've not done badly.

"In the Beginning..."  I was in a fine career, working for a major fortune 500 company in a bottling plant. I was doing very well, married, had 2 step children and making just over $50K a year running an assembly line. My musical experience was playing Tenor Sax in High School back in the late 1970's. I played Sax occasionally since then but in all honesty I probably uncased my instrument an average of 3-5 times a year over the next 2 decades. That is it.... Never learned to play any other instrument, let alone had any interest in building any. Then came that Life Changing "Mid-Life Crisis" that I had heard spoken of in hushed whispers... on April 1st, 2011, after working for 9 years, the manufacturing plant closed, and all 250 of us were unemployed. I found myself at the age of 51, unable for a number of reasons in this economy to find gainful employment. Believe me, I searched and searched, but I was far too "Overqualified" apparently to be hire-able. I couldn't even get transferred to another facility in the corporation ( I was within 10 months of being vested in their retirement program, so I was of course "Overqualified" for any open position.) Over the next year and a half I lost my home, my 401k, my marriage, and found myself bankrupt and legally declared indigent. The unemployment assistance checks ended the month before the last Presidential Election when unemployment dropped to 7% and the government closed tier IV.  I found myself facing a choice, move back home with my parents or sleep under the overpass. I chose to move back to my parents house.

Now, I'm telling you this because I want you to understand that it doesn't matter how much you have to invest to get a business started.... I literally started with nothing! When I set out on this little adventure I did so with no money, no skills, and literally no clue where to begin. All that I did know was that if I was going to have a job and make a living then I had to do it myself. Now, Providence is a fine Lady, and the Sister of Wisdom. It turns out that I did have a few playable cards in my hand that I was not counting in my initial assessment, but I was not in the right mental attitude to play them at first.

My previous hobbies & interests were mainly in historical research and military war-gaming, far, far away from anything music related. But, I had to find something to do with my life. After settling into my parents spare bedroom, I took inventory of the resources available to me.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Be aware of your surroundings, and be prepared to use the resources available to you.

They are there for you to use, so Use Them!

My father has been building furniture and cabinetry for family & friends for as long as I can remember, his father (grandpa) was a master carpenter as well, and between the tools he left my Dad and what Dad had collected himself over the years gave me access to a well equipped (though primitive) workshop. My Dad told me that I could use it "IF"...( and this was a daunting IF )... I could find or figure out something that I could make money on. Now this is difficult to do if you have any experience in the current economy where Walmart and Chinese mass production has given people the idea that you can build most anything for Free!  Seriously, I've been asked to build a lot of stuff for people, but when it comes to paying for it... well now... your time spent doesn't seem to carry any value. Sure, I could build that chair for you.... I'll just buy $20 worth of wood, spend the next 32 hours building, and somehow I guess the electricity that runs the lights & tools will need to be covered.... what's that? You want me to build it for $10.00

What is it that you do for a living again? Well now... would you be willing to pay your boss $20 for the privilege of working a 32 hr week for FREE? No? Well.... me neither.... sorry 'bout that.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Your Time and Your Skilled Labor Has Value!

Do not short sell yourself!

I spent the first few months looking at the various things I might be able to build, given the resources at hand. I checked the local markets and ebay. In the meantime I took a crash course in wood working from my father. He is in his mid 70's and long retired, but he had a lifetime of experience and I saw the value in that resource. In a matter of 6 months I was becoming competent with wood working. I gained experience in building, repairing my mistakes, and turning items on a lathe. Being that I have certain religious convictions I started out with carving various religious items. I had hopes that my show of faith would pay off ...

IMPORTANT NOTE:

It is not wise to mix money with faith.... just don't go there... trust me.

It is "Bad Karma" to seek financial profit from Spiritual things, unless your beliefs are rooted in a certain short list of traditions, a subject for another time & place...

If you are seeking a shortcut to Success, buy a lotto ticket.

My search for a marketable product eventually brought me to music. It was what was left after I tried and eliminated almost everything else Spiritual. My very first project... a Temple Lyre. Now I knew absolutely nothing about building an instrument, so I went to my best resource for education.... You Tube.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Virtually every skill, every trade known to mankind... can be found on YouTube. Somebody has done a video on it!

The Internet is the modern day "Library of Alexandria", it holds all the educational resources needed for learning virtually any trade skill. You just need to watch and practice. I effectively educated myself to be a Luthier in a matter of months.

Once I started to build instruments, I began to look around for a nitch I could fill in the market. I knew right away that building 6 string electric guitars would be unprofitable. The market is full of $100 Gibson & Fender clones. There are walls full of them in big box stores & pawn shops. I needed to find the gap in the market. And what I found was that here in Florida, there are multitudes of people living here that came from someplace else. And the places they were from had local folk traditions & flavors that were just not found here. The Appalachian Mountains have Dulcimers & Bluegrass.... The upper Mid-West has Hammered Dulcimers, The North has Irish Bouzoukis and Psalteries, We have new Immigrants with Hispanic traditions and folk instruments of their own. And finding a well crafted Folk Instrument that reminds them of "Home" is very appealing. There is also cultural trends that cycle through, like the current interest in such things as Cigar Box Guitars and Cajon Drums. 

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Build what the Customers in your area are looking for, but are having trouble finding.

Make it well built, don't take shortcuts... and if at all possible remember "SHINY SELLS", there is nothing that says quality like 8 coats of Krylon Clear Acrylic...

It's getting late, I'll continue in part 2

G.S.Monroe

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Comment by Hudson Wolf on January 5, 2014 at 12:24pm

Can't wait to read part 2! You're a man how stands with both feet on solid ground, your experiences are treasures.

Comment by darryl kernaghan on January 2, 2014 at 7:59am

happy trails g.s,at least you,re the driver now

Comment by Wichita Sam on December 25, 2013 at 12:19pm

Now, Providence is a fine Lady, and the Sister of Wisdom...

 

How true.  The best things in life came to me...after...unemployment, divorce and a spate of homelessness.... Stronger faith, nurtured by people who helped me thru, opened my eyes to all the good things God wanted for me to receive.. Sorry for your pain, glad for your gain!!!!

Comment by Randy S. Bretz on December 25, 2013 at 8:20am

Make a quality product, keep prices low, life time warranty, come out with new products, keep in touch with past customers, ship world wide, keep adding new products to your showcase, use the best materials available, send bonus gifts with all orders, comment when ever your products are used, keep your world wide dealers stocked up, and hope the next 7 years will be as good as the last 7 years.   Mojobone Works.....when you want only the best. 

Comment by Clock The Wolf on December 25, 2013 at 6:59am

:-o

Comment by G.S.Monroe on December 25, 2013 at 6:44am
Comment by Clock The Wolf on December 25, 2013 at 12:41am

:-)  Shiny?

 

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