World-renowned luthiers practice woodcraft in the central Michigan countryside


About five miles south of Big Rapids, Michigan, the craftsmen at Galloup Guitars are busy repairing guitars, producing custom builds, and mentoring the next generation of luthiers.

A luthier is a string instrument maker. For those looking to hone these skills, the Galloup School of Guitar Building and Repair is something of a mecca.

“People who show up in that environment…they don’t want to leave,” owner Bryan Galloup said. “It’s a little oasis in the middle of nowhere.”

Galloup moved to Big Rapids from his hometown of Reed City in the early 1980s to work with legendary luthier Dan Erlewine. When Erlewine accepts an offer to work at Stewart-MacDonald, a giant in the world of violin making, Galloup takes over the company. At that time, he focused on repair.

“People were like, ‘Hey, I’m going to pay you to come and learn,'” Galloup said. “And then I decided to open a school, which seemed innocent enough.”

Over the years, the number of students admitted per two-month term has steadily increased. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the school had 26 students, Galloup said. During the last term, about 20 students from all over the world were enrolled.

Three years ago, one of those students was Tom Dalia. After studying biology at Southern Connecticut State University, Dalia learned that was not the path for him.

“I think I spent more time at the local music store than going to class,” said Dalia, who now operates all of the computer-controlled machinery at Galloup Guitars.

When he started violin making lessons at school, Dalia formed a close bond with his classmates, who were also his roommates. These housemates traveled to Michigan from Taiwan, South Africa, Japan and Philadelphia.

“All the guys I lived with, they kind of became your little family here,” he said.

Visit to see additional photos. While you’re at it, check out our behind-the-scenes video from Galloup School of Guitar Building and Repair. Watch them craft and play guitar.

There is a steep learning curve for students. The school offers four main courses, through which a student can progress while continuing their education. Each student builds a custom guitar per term, choosing between acoustic, archtop acoustic, or electric.

“I remember, my arms hurt so badly from everything we were doing that I would come home and just lay with my arms on pillows,” Dalia said.

A critical decision students must make during the design phase is what type of wood the instrument will be made from.

Different wood species produce different tonal qualities in a finished instrument. Galloup has developed a passion for sourcing rare woods from around the world. Part of the wood from Galloup’s personal collection has been preserved since 1974.

“For any luthier, they’ll tell you their wood supply is their bank,” Galloup said. “And almost, it’s like when I build a guitar with it, it’s like someone takes one of my babies.”

Galloup explained that although the students are focused on their end product, the instruments themselves are not the end goal.

“How many students have we trained since 1984, I don’t know. But we’re definitely the #1 school in the world for guitars,” Galloup said. “They’re not there to build guitars – they’re the project. The guitars are just a tool to develop their skills.”


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