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Separated at birth: Lutherie and social psychology?

I arrived safely in Vermont this afternoon (although I still have 3 more hours of Keith Richard's Life to get through), and in other news it looks like my dad will be able to get here tomorrow night, so he'll only miss one day of class.

After arriving at their home and workshop, George and his wife Pippa provided a fantastic home cooked meal for me and the other three students. Over our dinner conversation, in which George talked about his experiences as a luthier (a.k.a., the profession of guitar building) and about the processes we'll be doing over the next three weeks, it struck me that guitar building and social psychology are actually very similar in several key ways. Of course, take this with a grain of salt, since I haven't actually picked up a piece of wood or tool yet:

  • Both work under the apprentice model, in which you learn the craft from a more experienced mentor, taking on the techniques that s/he have developed, and then once mastering those, branching out and then deviating from those practices as you develop your own identity in the trade. There is likely a similarity that stems from a common ancestry within a particular tradition, but that as you become independent you also start to diverge.
  • At their core, lutherie and psychology (as well as other sciences) are about understanding the complex relationships between variables. How will this particular tonewood, shape of the braces, or thickness of the top combine to create a particular tonal voice? What other variables will I be accounting for (or not) in the decisions I'll be making along the way? You can't control everything at once, can you? (although as you become more experienced and sophisticated, you can take on more at a time.) Doesn't this sound a lot like designing and interpreting a research study? Don't I wish that I could run a multiple regression to predict how my guitar will sound? I'd try, but so far I haven't figured out how to get my data into SPSS.
  • With both you need to consider the big picture, but when it comes down to it, success occurs when you are able to focus on and succeed at the particular task at hand. A project is only as strong as the quality of the individual steps along the way. This was advice George gave us tonight: be attentive to each small task, and if executed well, together they will produce a good product.

I'm looking forward to getting into the workshop for the first time tomorrow. We'll be talking about some of the properties of wood and principles of acoustics, and also be making some of the decisions that will serve as the foundation for the rest of the class, and hopefully to some nice sounding guitars.

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