When people ask me how much patience and precision a luthier needs, or what skills one needs to have, my answer was usually something like “just pay attention to the details and don’t be sloppy” or “good instrument makers just know how to hide their mistakes”. Let me explain: I used to feel that a luthier’s dedication to precision was a bit overrated, since I still make mistakes (no joke). However, I think now that I had simply forgotten just how much we instrument makers do in fact obsess with precision – until earlier this week when I was planing a piece of Ebony that will become part of the rosette of a Torres Replica.
After having sharpened my hand plane blade to something that most woodworkers would consider so sharp you start bleeding by looking at it (to a luthier it was more like “pretty sharp”), I started thinning out a piece of ebony that I had previously resawn from a solid block of ebony and then rough-thicknessed with my table saw. After creating a few shavings at the finest setting possible, I started realizing that I had just cut ebony shavings which were so thin they were getting transparent.
Yes, light going through ebony, I am not making this up. So I immediately took a picture, and I was amused at the fact that I had recently considered myself “not-so-meticulous”. This shaving on my workbench was witness that I still perfectly fit the stereotype of the precision-obsessed meticulous luthier (keep in mind that I am also German, which supposedly has something to do with precision work;)). I suppose the fact that I am constantly surrounded by measurements in tenths and fiftieths of a Millimeter numbed my perception a bit – I simply started assuming this degree of detail is normal and encountered in most other professions as well.
So there you have it, I admit: I am just as obsessed about precision and detail as people always say luthiers are. And I guess I can be proud of it. Finally, last but not least – a picture for you. Starring: very thin ebony, the instigator of reflection and acceptance.