Luthier vs Guitar Tech: Are They the Same Thing?

Guitar tech and Guitar Luthier are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they’re not really related jobs. 

You might have done the same in the past and today I’ll be telling you the differences between these two jobs.

Luthiers and guitar techs don’t necessarily do the same job. A luthier may do some things that a guitar technician does and vice versa, but their fields are vastly different overall. The rule of thumb is that a luthier builds guitars from scratch, while a tech just repairs and does maintenance.

A luthier is known more as a builder of instruments and a Luthier’s work is also more of a craft than a position or job, it takes years to master. 

A guitar tech on the other hand is more like a Dr. Frankenstein, melding together already existing guitar parts to repair or replace the damaged and old guitar bits.

What does a luthier do?

A Luthier is a craftsman that specializes in making and repairing stringed instruments. Most luthiers also specialize in one specific instrument, in our case, a guitar luthier.

Guitar luthiers usually work in specific settings: a factory, a guitar repair shop, or in their own self-employed business.

Not only do they make guitars, but guitar luthiers also repair different kinds of damage to the body of the guitar. They clean, patch, seal and refinish damaged areas to the point that the marks are almost unnoticeable.

While most luthiers may learn and refine their skills through an apprenticeship, many of them come from backgrounds that are already connected to their trade in some way or another. 

  • They may have experience designing and repairing guitars.
  • They may have started as a guitar tech
  • They might have excellent acoustic listening skills
  • Or have experience running previous businesses

Most luthiers can also play the guitar and while it’s not necessary that they be master guitar players, being able to play helps a luthier to better consider design choices and how these affect performance.

What does a guitar tech do?

Guitar techs differ from luthiers in that they don’t so much build guitars, they’re focused more on repair and maintenance. Guitar techs also travel on the road with bands, setting up guitars amps, and equipment as part of their job.

Depending on the size of the band, the guitar tech may be responsible for a whole host of tasks. Some of these include:

  • Tuning and restringing guitars.
  • Setting up equipment specific to the bands’ needs
  • repairing damaged parts
  • soundchecking 
  • Setting up effects pedals and systems

The career path of a guitar tech is also often a lot less straightforward. A lot of guitar techs get experience through learning on the job, but universities also provide courses in the necessary skillsets needed.

When guitar techs begin their careers, it’s often on a volunteer basis for a smaller band if they don’t already have course training. In this case, they learn skills on the job and build up their competency over time.

Guitar techs also work at guitar stores doing general guitar maintenance for customers.

A guitar tech that wants to do it more as a self-owned business will generally have a lot more skills that overlap with that of a Luthier.

Can a luthier do what a guitar tech does?

In some cases, because part of a guitar tech’s job is to repair, a luthier would be able to fill that spot. 

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a Luthier could do everything that a guitar tech does, because the two fields have differing focuses.

The guitar tech is mainly concerned with getting the instruments set up to play and that means that their job also has to do with the interactions of the guitar with other systems like the amps and electronics in the guitar.

A luthier is more concerned with the building of the instruments, but the overlap lies in the maintenance. Both guitar techs and luthiers do guitar setups.

This entails adjustments to the neck, string replacement, and other small maintenance jobs that are necessary to keep a guitar in working condition.

Is this distinction real in practice?

It’s more a distinction of specialization. Many guitar techs also have luthier skills as it benefits them to know how to do bigger maintenance jobs. In theory, a guitar tech focuses on maintaining the guitar, while the luthier focuses on building.

Luthiers do however also have skills in guitar maintenance and the tech side of things, but

I’d say that the greatest distinction is the type of maintenance needed.

How to know if you need a luthier or a guitar tech?

You’ll need to ask yourself what kind of work needs to be done.

If it’s something like replacing old pickups or adjusting the neck, then a guitar tech is best suited for this kind of work. 

For more structural and cosmetic issues, you should go to a luthier instead. This would be damage to your guitar’s body, scratches and dents, damage to the finish, and so on. 

There would be an overlap in something like replacing a damaged neck though. Replacing a guitar neck is considered a repair to the build, but it’s a simple parts replacement and most guitar techs can do this too.

You can take your guitar to both for a setup and the average guitar setup will cost between $40-$100 depending on the guitar and where you take it to get set up. This will include the basics and is best suited if you’re a beginner guitar player.