William Cumpiano is a Massachusetts luthier, which is a general term for a maker of stringed instruments. Someone who makes violins or dulcimers is a luthier.
Cumpiano builds guitars and is the co-author of “Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology,” considered to be the bible of guitar making.
His guitars, if bought through a dealer, will cost between $5,000 and $7,500. If you want a custom guitar, he’ll build one on commission for you, but it will set you back.
His prices begin at $4,500 for a steel-string and $5,000 for a classical guitar, and go up depending on your wood choice and appointments.
And his waiting list is more than 12 months long. In other words, he’s good. It’s what he does. He’s earned the right to call himself a luthier.
I’ve built a few guitars. That’s what I tell people, that I build guitars as a hobby. I’m not a luthier. I don’t know if I’ll ever accept that designation, but not yet, not now.
I’m not good enough. I don’t have enough experience. Not that the guitars I’ve made are bad guitars, quite the contrary.
They look good, sound good and play well. I’m proud of them. They turned out quite nice for a beginner. Yet, building a few guitars doesn’t give me the right to call myself a luthier.
Cumpiano wrote an article titled, “A Pedagogue’s Lament: Thoughts about Learner’s Impatience,” which I have found to be quite profound and very applicable to so many areas of life.
“It’s a pity, isn’t it?” he writes. “Nowadays, nobody wants to pay the dues for their art. Everyone wants to BE something but nobody wants to BECOME something. Everyone wants to be an expert but no one wants to become one. But you must become before you can be. It’s noble to be a student, a beginner.”
“Whatever happened to the fine old tradition of the ‘amateur’?” Cumpiano continues. “The word comes from the French: ‘lover of.’ If you love something, you want to know it deeply. However, that takes time and effort. And it seems people just don’t want to give things the effort it takes to know something deeply.”
The second line has stuck with me. “Everybody wants to BE something but nobody wants to BECOME something.” At the risk of theological imprecision, let me adapt that to say, “Everybody wants to be a disciple of Jesus but nobody wants to become a disciple of Jesus.”
Discipleship is not an easy task. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve encountered who, having read a few books on Jesus or attended several classes on discipleship, think that they have arrived when they have barely gotten started.
They have had a couple of mild successes but what they really need are a few failures, which make us humble and remind us how far we have to go.
Failures teach us to speak less and listen more and remind us that a disciple is always a learner.
Even when an older disciple teaches a younger disciple, it’s not in the guise of a master, but simply as one who has made more mistakes than others have made and thus have more lessons to pass on to the next generation.
A fellow luthier told Cumpiano not to worry too much, suggesting that the very nature of guitar making tends to weed out those who expect instant success.
“It is too complex and too elusive a thing to do. It rewards only the pure in heart, the ones that give themselves completely to it, and ask nothing from it, except the privilege to be allowed to continue.”
Is he talking about luthiery or discipleship?
You don’t become a disciple through a casual following of Jesus. It is more complex than we give it credit for being.
Discipleship is for those who give themselves completely to it, and ask nothing from it except the privilege to be allowed to continue.
As followers of Jesus, we’re all “amateurs.” We do it for the love of it. No other reason is good enough.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland.