If you’ve been contemplating a career as a professional guitar maker, or simply have a jones for building your own instruments, Phoenix, Arizona’s Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery has guided more than 2,000 DIY-obsessed students since 1975—which, by the way, makes it the longest running guitar-making school in the USA.
“Since the beginning, we’ve offered a foundational course to get you a pretty thorough theoretical and hands-on knowledge of acoustic and electric guitar making,” says school director William Eaton. “We have 35 to 40 students a class, and even though the large guitar companies do a lot of work with computer-aided CNC equipment—which obviously didn’t exist in 1975—many of those companies still subscribe to the idea that design knowledge and skill starts with a vision, and that starts with hand-building processes. When you do something hands-on, it allows you to envision every part in the guitar. It’s critical in understanding the geometry of the guitar, the angles, the radiuses, and the structural requirements. Every one of those facets is important for a designer.”
Roberto-Venn is an accredited trade school that requires a five-month commitment from its students, and while it doesn’t promise job placement after graduation, it has logged a 70-to 80-percent placement rate just the same.
“If nothing else, we’re a very good screening facility for finding employment,” explains Eaton. “Collings Guitars, for example, actually sends someone out to interview our placement director, our instructors, and our students to make intuitive decisions on who would be a good employee for the company.”
Of course, not everyone who attends the school is solely focused on a professional career as a luthier or tech.
“In the early years, our demographic was mostly guys in their 20s,” says Eaton. “But in the past 15 years or so, we have students in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who aren’t necessarily interested in a another vocation. I don’t know if it’s a baby boomer thing, but we are seeing people who have had careers, and are now saying, “You know, this is something I’ve always wanted to do.” Happily, it’s never too late to do this.”