Why do we assume that handmade is better?

eclipseownzu

Gold Member
Got into a discussion at work today about the benefits of robotic assembly over human assembly in the electronics field I work in. It is a forgone conclusion that robots do far better work with far fewer errors working within tolerances human beings will never achieve.

All of this got me thinking about musical instrument building. I would be willing to bet if I offered you a maple drum set made by hand by a drum builder in a workshop for $2000 most would take that over a maple set made by robots in a factory for $500. My question is why?

Doesn't it stand to reason that a robot could cut a more precise bearing edge than a human hand? Couldn't a laser eye detect minute flaws in that bearing edge that the human eye could never detect? Wouldn't each drum set be far more consistent from one to the next? Logic would say that all of that is true, yet we cling to the idea of human drum makers making superior products.

I am by no means saying that I am immune to romanticizing the role of the drum builder or luthier. My dream guitar is one that is built by hand by a luthier that I have been following for years. I am just throwing the question out there to get some different opinions on the subject.
 

Stroman

Platinum Member
Your premise is that physical perfection is the ideal measure of desirability. When it comes to musical instruments, I think more esoteric factors influence our decisions.

Mojo may not be measurable by industrial robots, but it can sure affect how we approach and feel about instruments, and thus affect the music we produce on those instruments.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
Got into a discussion at work today about the benefits of robotic assembly over human assembly in the electronics field I work in. It is a forgone conclusion that robots do far better work with far fewer errors working within tolerances human beings will never achieve.

All of this got me thinking about musical instrument building. I would be willing to bet if I offered you a maple drum set made by hand by a drum builder in a workshop for $2000 most would take that over a maple set made by robots in a factory for $500. My question is why?

Doesn't it stand to reason that a robot could cut a more precise bearing edge than a human hand? Couldn't a laser eye detect minute flaws in that bearing edge that the human eye could never detect? Wouldn't each drum set be far more consistent from one to the next? Logic would say that all of that is true, yet we cling to the idea of human drum makers making superior products.

I am by no means saying that I am immune to romanticizing the role of the drum builder or luthier. My dream guitar is one that is built by hand by a luthier that I have been following for years. I am just throwing the question out there to get some different opinions on the subject.
We can just throw creativity out the window and go with the machine-perfect product!

Hell, for that matter, we can just do away with drummers all together. Too imperfect. You have to pay a drummer, but a drum machine you only pay for once, and it's perfect!
 

Duck Tape

Platinum Member
I think your reasoning is good but I don't know much about either process. I would think the hand builders still need certain machinery, and the automated process would still need some human input along the way.
 

Drumsinhisheart

Silver Member
Making drums myself I can see the OP's point. On the other hand, robots are programmed by humans. An entire run of instruments could be messed up before someone catches the glitch.

Of course, drums do not have to be made perfect to sound good. That's hype. I don't know any drums that are made exclusively with hand tools. There's always some power tools involved. But drums are not much more than a cylinder with two membranes. If you put the lugs on straight you're good to go.
 

Razbo

Member
It's a good question. I guess you hit the nail with the idea of the romantic notion. I think robotic assembly would churn out far more consistant results. That said, robots are only as good as their last calibration. I can speak more of guitar construction than drums.

Gibson uses a PLEK system that is a machine that levels frets and cuts the nut slots. My Gibson SG had the e slot so far out of alignment, it was barely playable. I do my own nut slotting, and this was no big deal, so fixed it myself. I think a person would never have let that through... Then again, where was the quality check before shipping anyway?

Overall, I think the concept of 'handmade' is a bit over stated. Every place uses templates, and then machines follow the templates repeatedly. Just because some guy puts each piece on the table and locks it down does not, to me, mean "handmade". yet, Gibson products are supposedly handmade, because some guy puts the machined neck into the machined neck slot and glues it by hand.

From what I've seen of cymbal making, on the other hand, is really a handmade product.

Handmade also would mean there are fewer thousands of pieces, and each one would be somewhat unique because of human "error". Without saying if handmade is better or not, it certainly would take more hours as well, warranting some of that higher price.
 

Mike_L

Member
You're totally right. We can just throw creativity out the window and go with the machine-perfect product!

Hell, for that matter, we can just do away with drummers all together. Too imperfect. You have to pay a drummer, but a drum machine you only pay for once, and it's perfect!
10/10 reply.

I'll absolutely pay more for a handmade product (anything, not just drums) over a mass produced, machine-built copy of a copy of a copy. And I have and I couldn't be happier.

A hand crafted product means that there will be minor inconsistencies from product to product which makes it unique. It means that my drums are mine and there are no others identical to them. Somebody put hard work and hours upon hours and attention to detail into my drums and I appreciate and respect that.

To me, robotic-made drums don't have the soul that hand crafted drums do.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Doesn't it stand to reason that a robot could cut a more precise bearing edge than a human hand? Couldn't a laser eye detect minute flaws in that bearing edge that the human eye could never detect? Wouldn't each drum set be far more consistent from one to the next? Logic would say that all of that is true, yet we cling to the idea of human drum makers making superior products.
it depends on the nature of the task. In drum making, yes, some tasks are better performed by CNC machines, etc, but some are better done by hand. It also depends on the type of shell construction. Let's take the task of selecting the boards / plies as an example. Especially in solid shell making, there's a lot of skill in selecting the most appropriate boards for the task in hand. If you're just layering up ply shells from sheet, & your focus is economy, then automation of the process after initial delivery inspection is quite a bit easier, but still requires big volume to justify the outlay.

Take bearing edges as another example. A CNC mill will cut edges very accurately, but it's only as accurate as the guy who loads it onto the machine. A human interface is still necessary, if only to ensure there's no shavings under the shell. Bearing edges cut by hand, are of course, cut using a machine. There's really no difference in accuracy, but there is a difference in monitoring of the process. Wood is a natural material. Especially on certain solid shell constructions, tear out is possible when machining the edges. Someone doing this on a router table or spindle moulder will see that directly. On a CNC mill, not so obvious.

What it really comes down to is this. Economy of scale. Only if you're making a lot of one thing does it make sense to use CNC gear. It's a big investment, & not appropriate for every situation. It's much more expensive to program a machine to make a small run than it is to make the small run by hand.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Most drums are made by machine, aren't they? I saw the DW tour and a human puts plies into molds to make shells, and a CNC machine cuts edges and likewise drills the holes. It takes a human to assemble them but that's not "hand made", is it?
 

eclipseownzu

Gold Member
Most drums are made by machine, aren't they? I saw the DW tour and a human puts plies into molds to make shells, and a CNC machine cuts edges and likewise drills the holes. It takes a human to assemble them but that's not "hand made", is it?
I suspect that you are correct on this one. My post was purely hypothetical, but as you can see, we got a couple of posts that gave credence to my idea that we romanticize things that are built by hand.
 

CreeplyTuna

Silver Member
Things made by hand, at least by professionals, have an attention to detail that mass produced products lack. I'm sure Andy would agree. His drums come with features and quality that you don't find in cheaper, factory line drums.

If money wasn't an issue, who would ever choose a Snuggy over an hand made Amish quilt?
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
In my opinion any industrial process(not just robots), is going to be limited to producing things from materials that are indistinguishable, and won't be able to take advantage of limited quantities of high quality input material.

Wine making is a prime example. Yes, they can churn out very consistent flavored wine in large batches, however it is the grapes selected from that especially arid and sunny location or harvested just after a freeze, that produce the most flavor, however if you run these grapes through an industrial process, it will lose money, and probably not be as good as the smaller wine makers. Paradoxically, the smaller wine makers are often competitive with the larger manufacturers, because there is demand for super consistent wines, such that the prices for the less than perfectly consistent grapes might be less to begin with.

In drums, an example might be getting a burl veneer or stave construction drum, the cymbal smiths are well know for cherry picking the blanks etc.
 

Skinny91

Member
It's an interesting point, but I think the time and care that go into a hand made kit would go above and beyond a machine built one, which is only as good as the person who programmed it. It's important to remember how much it varies between different builders and different machines, but if it came down to the greatest drum maker in the world vs the greatest drum making machine I'd have more faith in the person to create a better product.
 

groove1

Silver Member
I don't assume it. Lots of handmade prototypes existed before mass produced products hit the assembly lines. You have to get the design from somewhere. Handmade can be better, but it isn't a given.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Like anything, some handmade things are better, some machine made things are better. I would rather eat a handmade pie.... but for roller bearings, I'll take the machine made product.

I prefer my drums to be as handmade as possible, but with precision machining where it is required. So drums fall in the middle between handmade and machine made.

Handmade things are old-fashioned. I mean that as a huge compliment. Old fashioned things bring me comfort. There's an indefinable quality a handmade instrument brings to the table that a machine made instrument can't.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Let me add a bit more detail & a thought or two.

We're talking about the shells, right? If we're talking major brand hardware (lugs, brackets, etc), with very few exceptions, they're all made in the same way & on the same continent. The moment you move away from the die cast sintered metal model, the price jumps massively. Even a move to cast brass makes a big difference. Solid brass makes a bigger difference, then a more complexed shape machined from solid costs 5 - 10 times the price. Produce your hardware outside of Asia, & the price doubles again. There's no such thing as "hand made" metal shell hardware, it's all by machine, yet there are vast differences in quality, both in terms of reliability & sonic performance. The point here being that quality is a decision taken based on cost vs. benefit. Hand built or "robot" doesn't enter the equation.

Back to shells. There's no substitute for human attention to detail. Ok, that's more of an inspection function than a crafting function, but one tends to go with the other. Then there's the human input element. Applies to ply shells, but so much more with solid shells, the touch, the experience telling you if the cut is too deep for the grain orientation, etc, etc. Metal objects can be made on a repeating basis with great reliability, but with solid wood, every piece is different.

Small batch production brings attention to detail that volume production never can. If it's volume production, the price depends of efficiency & speed. variations in the raw material doesn't sit well with a mass production model. In a perfect theoretical world, you can CNC everything, but it's rarely practical to do so unless you're at automative component volumes. In the end, the real difference is time & passion. Spending time with something tells you so much more than a tick box check list of inspection criteria, & having a craftsman make the instrument from start to finish yields so much more information than one person performing a single task can ever pick up on.
 

Drumsinhisheart

Silver Member
Let me add a bit more detail & a thought or two.

We're talking about the shells, right? If we're talking major brand hardware (lugs, brackets, etc), with very few exceptions, they're all made in the same way & on the same continent. The moment you move away from the die cast sintered metal model, the price jumps massively. Even a move to cast brass makes a big difference. Solid brass makes a bigger difference, then a more complexed shape machined from solid costs 5 - 10 times the price. Produce your hardware outside of Asia, & the price doubles again. There's no such thing as "hand made" metal shell hardware, it's all by machine, yet there are vast differences in quality, both in terms of reliability & sonic performance. The point here being that quality is a decision taken based on cost vs. benefit. Hand built or "robot" doesn't enter the equation.

Back to shells. There's no substitute for human attention to detail. Ok, that's more of an inspection function than a crafting function, but one tends to go with the other. Then there's the human input element. Applies to ply shells, but so much more with solid shells, the touch, the experience telling you if the cut is too deep for the grain orientation, etc, etc. Metal objects can be made on a repeating basis with great reliability, but with solid wood, every piece is different.

Small batch production brings attention to detail that volume production never can. If it's volume production, the price depends of efficiency & speed. variations in the raw material doesn't sit well with a mass production model. In a perfect theoretical world, you can CNC everything, but it's rarely practical to do so unless you're at automative component volumes. In the end, the real difference is time & passion. Spending time with something tells you so much more than a tick box check list of inspection criteria, & having a craftsman make the instrument from start to finish yields so much more information than one person performing a single task can ever pick up on.
Ditto. Drums made of wood almost demand human contact.
 

Anon La Ply

Renegade
Some thought bubbles and speculations ...

I think about music itself in terms of "hand made-ness". At one end there's slick, professional products. Production methods include state-of-the-art technology and a large knowledge base. This is the top selling product with internationally-based promotion and distribution.

At the other extreme is obviously hand made, uneven output. Production methods are based on personal knowledge and skill, with basic tools. Emotion plays a greater role. Distribution and promotion ranges from nil to local.

Each approach has its fans. As always there's plenty middle ground, and the line is getting murkier with home sequencing resulting in technologically-based local product that can be distributed and promoted internationally via the web.

Still, in all areas - music, drums, household items, clothes, etc - "hand made" is slowly phasing out. There will be demand for handmade products for some time to come because of its emotional appeal and closer connection to nature, but eventually almost everything aimed at the middle classes will be tech-based. The skills required to create quality hand made product will diminish, to be replaced by more high tech skills. Everything changes over time.

My 2c
 

Km6543

Senior Member
I worked in a country where a lot of bakeries touted their goods as being "hand made." I thought ewww, that means they keep putting their fingers in them!
 
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