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I have a German degree "Cembalo- und Klavierbauer". This degree is given to persons that are capable of designing, drawing, constructing, building, repairing, restoring, regulating and tuning of a complete harpsichord or piano (from the very first step picking the wood in the forest). I am working in a piano factory and actual busy with the design, drawing, measuring, construction, assembling, and building the complete piano.

I translated this on my business card as "Piano builder” because (with reference to What is the difference between "building" and "making"?) there are deliberate and possibly complex steps with the intention of (quality) and permanence (approx. or over 100 years). Some piano technicians (not builders!) in other countries tell me this is a wrong translation and it should be piano maker.

I asked some English and American people on my journeys but got several different answers. It seems people make the connection to manufacturer is there is a process of more steps to build something like a car or ship, then this professional would be called car builder or ship builder. Some people defend that it concerns manufacturer of instruments and therefor it should be a maker. But in my research there are also people that speak about shipmakers. Also in other languages is seems there are differences between making and building, depending of the profession and the products that are made. Also depending of the timeframe of the profession.

So… what would be the most defendable translation?

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    Some collocations are more common than others. "Piano maker" is more common than "piano builder" (see e.g. google), ergo it is what a native English speaker is more likely to use. – AndyT May 23 at 10:58
  • In this context there is a lot of overlap between 'build' and 'make'! – Dan May 23 at 21:28
  • Neither is obviously wrong; which one sounds better is likely to be a matter of opinion (as your conversations with English speakers already indicate). – jsw29 May 24 at 1:13
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I would say "piano maker" is most defendable.

"Builder" has connotations of "assembly or accretion of pre-finished parts", and also of items which when built are either fixed to the ground or rather larger and heavier than a human would normally handle.

It's common for that reason to refer to ship-builders and carmakers, although shipmakers and car-builders is not incorrect.

"Maker", as a professional title, also has stronger craft connotations, and a stronger implication that one begins with raw materials rather than merely putting together finished parts.

Contrast also "housebuilder" (a bricklayer) and "homemaker" (a domestic labourer). Using "housemaker" (to mean a bricklayer) and "homebuilder" (to mean a domestic labourer) would definitely not be correct.

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    A "housebuilder" is a large business such as Persimmon, not an individual bricklayer, at least in BrE. – AndyT May 23 at 10:56
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    @AndyT, in BrE, a relatively small concern or even a one-man-band could describe himself as a housebuilder (without unseemliness) if he organised and oversaw the entire build - it is common to refer to such people as "builders". I used the word "bricklayer" to emphasise the sense in which "housebuilder" was being used, and to emphasise the "parts assembly" connotations of "builder", which is a very different sense than homemaker. – Steve May 23 at 11:04
  • Note the popular children's character "Bob the Builder" – Steven Burnap May 24 at 0:37

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