Alternate Career Titles:

Instrument Craftsman, Custom Instrument Builder, Instrument Builder/Designer

Career Overview: Designs and builds instruments, either to be sold at their own shop or for a large instrument manufacturer.

Career Salary Range: $15,000 to $65,000+

Become a Musical Instrument Builder/Designer

Career Description

The Musical Instrument Builder/Designer is a creative person, transforming materials into functioning instruments. They get their knowledge and ideas by watching other instrument builders work, reading books, and visiting museum’s collections of instruments from other eras. He or she usually knows how to play at least one instrument, and sometimes they know how to play an entire family of instruments.

The Builder/Designer has a number of options as to where he or she can work, including on staff in a music factory or music store or the individual. He or she might design and build instruments on in his or her own workshop, following customer orders to create an instrument to their liking. To accomplish this, Musical Instrument Builders/Designers are usually handy people with an interest in handcrafts and musical instruments. They are highly creative and usually extremely inventive as well.

There is a great market for violins, guitars, dulcimers, harpsichords, banjos, and flutes, but of course, any instrument needs to be built. Musical Instrument Builders/Designers who are self employed find that they sell as many instruments as they can make, meaning Builders usually stay pretty busy, and sometimes fall behind orders.

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Different instruments lead to varying costs, but the highest salaries go to builders/designers of rarer instruments, earning anything from $25,000 for a $150,000 plus per year. Skilled craftsmen may sell their instruments, or “works of art,” for $2,500 to $100,000 per instrument.


As mentioned, there are always openings for qualified Musical Instrument Builders/Designers, as individuals can work in factories, shops, or companies, or even on their own. Once a Builder/Designer is qualified, he or she can usually find plenty of work and earn a good living. Not to mention the new opportunities arising from the introduction of new electronic instruments.


Qualified individuals can usually find more than enough work in the field, but depending upon the individual, it may take years to become a skilled master craftsman or craftswoman. Increased earnings and responsibilities come from individuals finding work with more prestigious companies/clients.

Education and Training

While they are difficult to find, there are technical schools around the country that offer courses that teach the fine art of designing and building musical instruments. With that said, maybe the best hands-on training comes through working as an apprentice. To enter an apprenticeship, an individual needs knowledge in woodworking, which can be acquired in high school or through a community college extension program.

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Experience, Skills, and Personality

As mentioned, the apprenticeship helps hone the skills needed for this type of career because the Instrument Builder must know all about the type and family of instruments he or she is working with. A good musical “ear” is extremely useful, and woodworking and/or metalworking is necessary.

Unions and Associations

Musical Instrument Builders/Designers are not unionized. In terms of associations, he or she might belong to the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), the National Council of Acoustical Consultants (NCAC), The Piano Technicians’ Guild (PTG), or the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA).

Suggestions for Getting Started

  • Contact a manufacturer of the type of instrument you would like to work with in order to locate an apprenticeship.
  • Certain associations may be able to help find training your area, along with any seminars or training programs scheduled around the country. These associations include the Acoustical Society of America and the National Council of Acoustical Consultants.
  • Check with your local instrument shop and see if they offer summer jobs so you can learn as much as possible about instruments.