This is second article of the Luthiers Journey series, titled Pure Honey. In this article, Richard Morgan begins with the hazards and suggested basic precautions in the art of  luthiery, and then describes with a very nice example from beekeeping how luthiers identify problems and try to improve things with different processes and materials, although sometimes they end up reinventing the wheel while trying to innovate.

Pure Honey

In Australia we have a saying: “If all else fails read the instructions.” This philosophy definitely has some merit when it comes to luthiery. However, in the area of safety, such an attitude is complete madness.

There are many hazards in the processes of building an instrument and before I go any further I feel compelled to mention them with suggested basic precautions.


1: Injury from operating machine or using tool.

It may sound obvious but any procedure needs careful consideration as to possible dangers followed by a planned approach.

  • All work should be done with total or complete focus……..interruptions can only be allowed when work has stopped.


2: Dust and Gas

Like most luthiers my approach to these airbourne particles has been inadequate. My partner has kindly researched some of the resultant health problems and life threatening conditions from unprotected exposure. She has totally changed my approach.

  • A carefully fitted face mask that removes all dust and gas can be worn comfortably for long periods. Also there are some very light and comfortable goggles that will greatly reduce eye irritation.
  • The immediate and careful removal of clothes after work is essential.
  • Thin latex or vinyl style gloves when sanding by hand helps greatly.


3: Noise

  • A luthiers greatest tool is their ears. Even jobs like hammering in fret wire deserve ear protection.
  • Dirty ear plugs can cause problems.


Okay its back to breaking the rules.

The reality is this. Most individuals could buy a book, timber and tools and end up with a very good instrument that looks and sounds the same as other very good instruments. This is not a bad way to start up in the art of luthiery however, it is not what I consider it to be. Most makers I know go down a joyous and occasionally frustrating path of discovery. We all have theories and opinions that we try out on our instruments. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we invent processes that are already well established. I call that “Reinventing the Wheel” and I am guilty of it many a time.


Very Best Approach

The following has nothing to do with luthiery but is a wonderful example of the very best approach.

This year an Australian bee keeper and his son introduced a system of gently removing honey from the hive by simply flicking a lever which ruptures the individual honey cones and channels the honey out of the hive. To put it simply this is revolutionary!!! No more angry bees….much less damage to hive and higher quality honey. It took 10 years for Cedar and Stewart Anderson to develop from concept to working reality.
There could be no doubt that Cedar after being stung for the 20millionth time was not the first to wish that honey could be easily removed. Also Cedar and his father were not the first to try a better way of extraction. What they did have was persistence,curiosity and somewhere along the line a creative moment which they carefully refined.

This is what most luthiers do. They identify problems and try to improve things with different processes and materials. The 2 leaders in Australia who best show this pioneering spirit are Greg Smallman and Peter Biffin. Greg makes classical guitars and Peter makes spike fiddles. I believe these 2 individuals have given many of us licence to dream of possibilities.


That’s all for now. In the next article I promise to talk about “woody” things clamps and glues.

Regards Richard


About the Luthiers Journey article series

Richard Morgan is a maker (luthier) from Australia and a member of theMandolinTuner community. From the moment that Richard joined theMandolinTuner we started exchanging e-mails and I was very happy to read about his work, especially as Richard mandolins (and mandolas, mandocellos, etc.) are truly innovative, featuring a unique sound-board design and lots of other innovations as well.

Soon, I start thinking of Richard as a friend of mine and I shared with him my vision of creating a section for luthiers within theMandolinTuner, something I believe would be very interesting for theMandolinTuner community. I am happy to say that Richard liked my idea and what you read now is a series of articles we have planned as the first step towards realizing this vision. I named  this article series “A Luthiers Journey”.

So, enjoy Richard describing his journey as an instrument maker.

– Chris Rizos 


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