William's past students, in their own words...
Patent examiner, October 2003
Nothing easy is ever worth it and building a guitar is no exception. Alongside a skilled luthier, I scraped and sanded, measured and glued, clamped and chiseled for two entrancing weeks. It all seems a dream now, until I open that black case lined with crushed green velvet holding what I created out of seemingly innocuous blocks of wood. But innocuous they were not. A single strum appears to ring forever. A warm, full musical voice reminds me that, yes, it was all worth it. I couldn't imagine the loss of never having had the experience.Thank you, Bill, for your warm, full voice that guided me on an unforgettable journey."
There is very little I can say that will convey what an amazing experience Bill Cumpiano’s guitar-making class is, except that his course is designed to de-fat the confused mind and focus learning in solid acoustic and architectural principles with respect to guitar making.
Bill builds guitars like he lives his life—calm, relaxed, yet purposeful and with great imagination and freedom—which is refreshing, for within his course, much of my false assumptions about acoustics were dashed mightily, but replaced with demonstrated and proven scientific truths. He brought my understanding and perspective of luthiery to a whole new level.
As well, I was made aware of what a great sounding guitar is—the product of a million decisions made mostly subconsciously. Or better yet, the result of symbiotic navigation of a proverbial river, paddling within a current that can never be controlled—only suppressed or diverted.
Bill’s technique teaches that the possibilities are always being redefined, or better understood. He produces beautiful guitars of sonic and esthetic excellence by balancing the known with the unknowable. If you come willing to follow his directives, I promise you will build a guitar to enjoy for a lifetime. I know, because that's what I did.
Software engineer, March 2014
William Cumpiano’s course was a valuable asset to my guitar building. There was enough time to go over every detail without feeling rushed. To be building my own guitar as William built his showing the way and guiding me with patience and clarity was unique from other courses I’d taken which were, for the most part, observing rather than building. An added bonus I didn’t expect and was pleasantly surprised by was the depth to which William taught historical contexts which formed the modern guitar. It’s nice to know not only what works but how it came about and what doesn’t work as well.
The explanation of how trees grow and how wood is harvested was simply one of the topics discussed which will serve me well in the future in identifying and picking out wood, one of the more important factors for me in my guitar building. It was apparent to me that William has been teaching guitar building for quite some time as he explained everything clearly and in a sequence which made it easy for me to understand. All in all, a great experience well worth the price of admission.
Microbiologist-Rome, Italy August 2009
The guitar I built in your shop was played and tried by many professionals. It was a blast. A real success. My [guitar teacher] Carlo Ambrosio loves it. On Sunday he will perform a concert with that guitar. So, in brief, it is a great guitar. It has a great volume and a bristling, lively sound. That's good isn't it?"
[Enrico came back for a steel-string tutorial several years later.]
Coca-Cola executive, ret., July 2004
I’m 56 years old, and I’ve worn many hats in my life, but I never got around to doing something I’d always wanted to do – turn a pile of wood into an instrument of music. As a boy I was convinced it took magical powers to do that. I know better now, yet I still can’t come up with an excuse for my lifelong procrastination. Perhaps life just got in the way. Remember what Lennon said - “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”? Lucky for me, that changed this summer. Thanks to master luthier William R. Cumpiano, I turned off the “plans” and turned on the planer, and guess what? I actually made a guitar – a damned good one at that... Full text here
Information technology engineer, November 2014
William, I'm sure you have heard most of what I have to say from other students, but I hope you know that what I'm about to say is sincere.
I'm having a hard time coming up with words to describe the joy and enchantment I have felt over the last two weeks. To finally live out a dream means the world to me. Your patience and teaching ability have guided me well through this incredible learning experience. I have enjoyed our talks and the knowledge I have gained.
Professor of Ethics, May 2011
I have searched my memory for a learning experience this rich and fulfilling. As you know, I spent years being trained as a helicopter mechanic and then a systems analyst, have two masters degrees and a Ph.D. and I can tell you unequivocally that this experience was the richest and most fulfilling learning experience of my life. It is a rare thing for me to walk away feeling proud of what I had done -- but in this case I was. I have also asked myself why this experience was so exceptional. I have no answer beyond your ability to know when to take the lead, when to let the student struggle and how to deliver the material.
Probably most valuable to me personally was your ability to put me at ease with the process of building a guitar and the tools used to build it. I had little or no confidence going in that I had the skill to do this work, but within a day or two I was self-assured that with focus and patience I would successfully complete the project..."
Editor, February 2002
I am still recovering from the hard work of the tutorial and feeling the elation of having built a great and beautiful guitar with you. I know I was not the best of students--I don't consider myself a natural at very many things, and I'm too readily flustered--but I feel 98% more confident than I did before coming to Northampton, which seems to me like an enormous gain; and while I have no plans to rush into guitarmaking, I know that I am prepared to at least give that process the kind of thoughtful attention you taught me to use every day in the shop. Thank you for that valuable lesson, among others.
Stage designer, January 2004
In January of 2004 I completed an extremely rewarding two-week guitar-building tutorial with William Cumpiano. I worked at William’s side as he built the same style of guitar using different tone woods. It was an enlightening and uniquely satisfying experience. I have experience with some woodworking techniques and familiarity with common power tools. On the other hand I had no experience with the precision carving achieved through the use of finely honed chisels, skew knives and block planes. Nor had my background prepared me for the precise tolerances required of fine instrument construction. His techniques for the most challenging sculptural work (the carving of the neck and in my case, the carving of a pyramid style bridge) are simple and clear and when followed properly produce impressive and satisfying results for the novice luthier... Full Text Here
Dr. David Cory
Radiologist, July 2000
I can look back on the two weeks in Northampton as a time of hard work in the shop, but at the same time, a time of relaxation and renewal.
In my profession as a radiologist, my days are spent in front of a viewbox or computer monitor, inserting needles in various parts of the body, and watching the ebb and flow of barium through the gastrointestinal tract, with frequent interruptions by phone calls, emergency room radiographs, and administrative duties. In the Cumpiano shop, I could focus on individual tasks for the minutes or hours required for completion without interruption, a luxury unknown in my job.
So fulfilling was my tutorial, that upon my return, I set up a shop in my basement. I have competed a few instruments since, including two which I have given to my sons, Pete and Dan. These will be a part of my legacy which would not have been possible without the tutorial.
In summary, I recommend a tutorial with William Cumpiano without reservation. I gained a new avocation, a nice guitar, and a good friend.
Law firm chief operating officer, August 2014
I love the guitar. It's phenomenal. Sounds great.
My family and friends are seriously impressed.
Looking at me in different light.
One of best experiences of my life !
Seamus Cantwell came all the way from Tipperary, Ireland (yes, he knows, it's a long way--he gets that all the time) to make a 12-fret curly Koa jumbo guitar, while watching me make a 12-fret curly maple Jumbo.
Laser laboratory administrator, August 2008
Florent made 17 guitars before traveling all the way from St. Etienne, France, to refine his skills with the guy who wrote the book that started him on his journey. He brought his dog-eared copy with him to show me. He later wrote,
I wish to give you a 100% positive evaluation for the tutorial. This tutorial was a great experience for me at several levels : As a hobbyist, i made several guitars since 1996 with William's book, i came to Northampton to be able to make light and easy to play instruments. This tutorial exceeded my best expectations, we made together a fine guitar, I learnt a lot of technical skills to make each step of the construction easier, but i also learnt a lot about wood's structure, musical instrument's context and behaviour and music from all the Americas. William's teaching is very clear, based on experience, technical facts and data. The workshop's atmosphere, filled with hand tools, good smell of wood, music and philosophy is a place were i felt completely at ease. Coming in the USA for the first time, this trip was also a cultural shock for me and a true immersion in a foreign country, Northampton is a very pleasant place, where the food is excellent ! I learnt also from William a lot about American society and history, it gives me the taste to travel more in this large country!
Guitar technician, March 2010
Florida guitar technician Charles Scroggins wanted to upgrade his acoustic guitar-making techniques, so he took the one-to-one tutorial and made himself a very nice 12-fret curly-mahogany Dreadnaught. He appears pleased with the results.
Guitar technician, March 2010
"Wow, what a great two weeks it was to be taught by William. It was truly captivating, inspirational, educational and I think a privilege and honor. William’s calm, patient and methodical approach to teaching is top notch and his knowledge goes well beyond the construction.
I made a mistake when carving one side of the back of the neck/head stock transition (this was after it had already been explained and demonstrated to me) – he quite simply marked off the spot, did a little “repair” work in the moment all the while explaining to me where I had erred and what I needed to be looking for and paying attention to. He then stopped the repair, said we’ll come back to it later after we see how the rest of the neck goes. I then did a much better job of carving the other side of the transition after his 2nd “demo” and explanation. Then, after carving the rest of the neck and coming back to the bad transition that William fixed, well when all was said
and done, my “ooops” looked like it was meant to be that way . This approach was a real lesson for me (a dyed in the wool perfectionist) that although perfection may be a goal, it is not a reality, and for any problem there is a solution – it’s all in the approach and sometimes it’s best to consider whether or not to fix the mistake immediately, or wait and see how it works itself out – something which Williams’ decades of experience allows him to teach others. Some people have the knowledge but don’t want to share it, some have the knowledge and the desire but no patience. William possesses all of these traits. He has a passion for the art and wants to pass it on.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what we built in those 2 weeks: it was a Ditson Grand Concert made from Cocobolo and Engelmann. It is a beautiful little guitar and it is amazing the voice that it has – this speaks to Williams mantra of “minimal adequate structure”. Once I brought it home, I couldn’t resist and took it “in the white” to show some friends – they were amazed. It has a simple elegance and is a very intimate instrument to play, and the voice….
Again, WOW!!! I cannot recommend this tutorial with William enough. If you are considering taking this course, I say go for it, do not hesitate, get on the list now. My only wish is that I could have spent more time in William’s shop. Who knows, I may ask William if I can come back again to expand on what he has already taught me (that may be one less slot for you).
Brian offered to talk to you about his tutorial if you write to him at bwfry (at) optonline.net
Musician, January 2010
I came to William's tutelage as a musician with a very limited amount of knowledge pertaining to woodcraft. However, in the two short weeks I spent working with William, I saw my confidence grow a hundredfold. I found that most of my initial questions about luthierie were answered and replaced with more educated questions, questions that I felt were founded on an actual understanding of the basic concepts of guitar building."
Aside from the knowledge I gained, I also came out of his workshop with a wonderful guitar ---a guitar that I built nonetheless! I can honestly say that I prefer playing it than my Martin. It is aesthetically pleasing, as well as having a most beautiful tone. One of William's
strong points is a skill I employed extensively; his ability to take a potentially" disastrous mistake and turn it into something beautiful.William is a top-notch teacher as well as a remarkable craftsman. His ability to convey information in an agreeable manner is truly his greatest gift. He invites you to extrapolate from the information given and to reach your own conclusions. I came out the other side of his fine tutelage not only with a refined sense of guitar building but also with a more comprehensive grasp on myriad tangential subjects, including the history of famous guitar builders, the physics of acoustics (a field William has spent much time in), the physical aspects of wood species, and the very philosophy of music!
Retired businessman, January 2010
I just wanted to drop a note to let you know how much I enjoyed the two week intensive with you in Northampton. The flamenco guitar we made together is now my favorite. The fragrance of the cypress combined with the gentle vibration I feel through my torso while playing it makes for nearly an out of body experience!
You taught me so many things in two short weeks that it would be difficult to include all those things in this letter but I will try to be succinct. Thank you for giving me a sense of confidence that I too can do this and do it well!
Thank you for teaching me that it is all right to slow down and enjoy my developing relationship with the wood as it and I are transformed together in a beautiful creative process, not just the completion of a task! Thank you for shattering
a few myths about materials and processes that are really not objectively substantiated by science. Thank you for teaching me that few errors are fatal! That lesson made the building process much more enjoyable for me!
Thank you for teaching me to be a better teacher. Your calmness during a memorable glue up crisis was impressive and never have I witnessed a more communicative use of silence while I figured out my mistakes on my own! Thank you for introducing me to the possibilities of building a quality instrument of sustainable materials Such as cypress, sycamore and poplar. I will carry your efforts forward with my own experimentation.Thank you for helping me create an instrument that I will cherish for life!
As my words hopefully describe, the experience was well worth the money and effort. I highly recommend your tutorial to anyone who wishes to engulf themselves in the fragrance of exotic and other sustainable woods, the music played by professional performers as they drop by your studio to pick up their instruments and to live and breath guitar and instrument creation and the opportunity to study the history, facts and myths of guitar building for two weeks without distraction. What a memorable experience. We'll have to do it again someday William!
Woodworker, September 2017
First, your class exceeded my expectations! It was an experience I will hold dear for a lifetime. My main concern going into the class was that we would simply assemble a guitar versus build one. While we did have to start with some dimensioned wood due to time constraints, you chose parts - like the neck blank - that most woodworkers would know how to build. More importantly, you talked through their construction and supplemented the talks with videos.
You are incredibly patient. You have the heart of a teacher, and you know
when to let the student work on his own, and when to pay close attention. There wasn't anything about the guitar that you weren't knowledgeable of, from understanding wood and adhesives to the theory of sound production. I loved your theory of "minimally adequate structure" and have applied it to all parts of my personal life. Who knew building guitars also offers a life lesson?
I have been a woodworker since 1988, yet you taught me how to glue wood properly. Also, the importance of precision (1/32" off today = 3" off tomorrow), "more pressure in the heel of the hand, less pressure in the fingers," purfling "feathers," and a thousand other techniques that come from experience rather than books.
Your templates and dimensions are invaluable. Along those lines, you are completely open to sharing your sources and you held no "secrets."
I loved your style of demonstrating a technique on the guitar you were building first, and then letting me mimic that technique on mine. That is an excellent teaching method.
Outside the shop, your lovely wife Ginette (apologies for the misspelling!) was the perfect hostess, and I enjoyed our dinners together. Northampton is a really awesome backdrop to the class, and I hope to take my wife up for a visit through the area in the Fall. She will love the houses!