New year – new shop!

New year – new shop!

Posted on March 30, 2016

Well, last night I officially signed the long over due lease to a new shop space.

The end of 2015 was challenging. Some personal/family issues in addition to me feeling like my business just wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do forced me to take the first full time job outside of lutherie since I began my career. It was a nice job. I built custom luxury decks for a home builder. I liked being outside and I was still working with my hands which is important to me. but as the weather turned cold and I found myself working in single digit weather for a ever increasingly angry boss I started to miss my shop more and more.

Towards the end of 2015 I received a surprise job offer from a very reputable and successful guitar maker (who shall remain nameless). I visited his shop and we discussed the possibility of me coming to work full time, long term as a shop foreman.

In this business, job opportunities are far and few between. I’ve been very fortunate in the opportunities I’ve had and been offered. So anytime someone of note makes an offer like that its always a pretty difficult decision. Do I continue on my current track (which isn’t really delivering for me right now) or do I abandon my independence and everything I’ve worked so hard for to take this great opportunity? It seem, on the surface, like a no brainer to take the job.

But, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had done that already. I have already spent 6 years of my career working for someone else. On their vision. Each of us only has a certain amount of time on this planet. for those of us who are makers of things, the tick of the clock seems loudest. Because its us who’s hands will go, who’s shoulders will hurt, who’s eyes will start to dim and who’s work will ultimately take its toll long before our work is through. So, in my typical reckless artist fashion, I turned down the job in order to refocus my energy on my vision and my business. Im thankful for the opportunity because, while that person doesn’t know it, it restored the fire for me to make this career work.

When I drove back from that visit I had a lot of time in the car to think and I realized that I while I had taken a big leap of faith by leaving Ribbecke’s shop and building my own shop in a pittsburgh basement I hadn’t fully committed. If I was going to justify turning down this amazing opportunity (and another amazing opportunity I turned down the prior year) I was going to have to really just take the leap off the cliff.

So I put together a solid business plan, I started hitting up every business development group in the city, reached out to some friends and started looking for a shop space that would get me out of the basement and into the public eye.

After two months of really difficult negotiations I finally found the place I needed at a great price and signed the lease last night.

my plans for this new space are huge. Its about 5 times bigger than my current shop. there is a large machine room in the back, a center room which will serve as my assembly and work bench space, and a storefront in the front which I will frame out to be my repair and set up area with a hangout/retail space.

I plan on really focusing on my repair business which up until this point has always been secondary to my building. But I think its important as a contemporary luthier to repair. I see a lot of younger guitar makers (myself included) just building guitars and at this point in my career I’m just not convinced that is a good business model. So, I will be putting a lot of my energy in the coming year to building a solid repair business for the pittsburgh and surrounding area.

This will help support my plans to increase the production of my instruments and to improve the building methods I’m using for them. I’ve had some ideas for a few years that I just have been too limited in space to implement. so with the new added space I will finally be able to capitalize on these ideas.

I’m also really excited to start doing some other side projects. Those of you who have followed me for a while on social media are probably aware I’ve had my hands in construction and furniture here and there and that Im at unhealthy levels of workaholism. so with the larger space I’ll be able to really dive into some more furniture and craft projects I’ve had rolling around in my head for a long time.

This blog post also is the first of many to come as I’ve committed myself to fitting in more writing in my life. My goal with my blog here is to be honest. I have found that as a young luthier it is most helpful when those who are more experienced are just honest about their experiences. which… is more rare than I think it should be. Its hard in an era of social media to have an accurate view of what it takes to find some semblance of success in life. People manicure their public image in a way that obscured the truth of how they got where they are, how things are really going, and what their mindset is. we guard ourselves.

I want to share my experience as a luthier, a contemporary craftsman, an artist (if anyone thinks that of me) and a human being in an unguarded way that sheds some honest light on what all that means. I have had moments of doubt. I have had to take other jobs. I have lost relationships. I have lost my motivation to continue doing what I love and I have found it again. I hope to use this blog as a venue for exploring these aspects of the trade and my experience in it. So if that sort of anthropology interests you definitely stay tuned!

In the meantime, I have some guitars to build and a shop to tear down!!

Stuart Day

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