September 2011

Life of a Luthier

September 23, 2011 10:12

My friend Marisa is a luthier at Kennedy Violins.  She wrote this blog about the "Life of a Luthier".   I found it to be insightful, shedding light inside the workshop.

Marisa, one of the luthiers at Kennedy Violins
Some luthier tools

The back-to-school time of year has everyone at Kennedy Violins very busy! Let's take a look at the luthier department during this exciting fall season.

In this picture, you can see part of the luthier area. Thousands of violins, violas and cellos are worked on, set up and inspected in this area before being shipped to customers all over the country.



We use several different knives when working on stringed instruments, as well as chisels, files, and scrapers. All the measurements used in luthier work are very precise and exact, and most things are measured in millimeters using flexible and rigid stainless steel rulers, dividers, and calipers.

When setting up and inspecting an instrument, we check to make sure the tailpiece is in good working order, and tighten the fine tuners so they won't buzz. We also apply peg compound to the pegs so that they will run smoothly.

Another thing we check is the sound post. In the picture you can see a view of the sound post as it appears when you look through the end button hole on the bottom of the violin.

A sound post inside a violin

Luthiers use this hole to view the fit of the sound post. We check to make sure it is making good contact on both the top and bottom plates, that it is straight, and that it is in the proper place within the violin.

We spend quite a bit of time on the nut and fingerboard. The nut needs to be shaped correctly, and we achieve this using a file. Both the nut and the fingerboard are sanded smooth, using dry sandpaper, wet sandpaper, and steel wool. This process leaves the fingerboard incredibly silky-smooth. The string grooves are carefully filed in the nut using specially sized flat and round files.

A finished nut

The bridge also requires lots of attention.

A violin bridge and bridge knife

We make sure that the feet fit the top plate of the violin perfectly. We also shape and thin the bridge so that a subtle taper and bevel are achieved. The string height and top curve are measured and applied, and we also make special cuts on the arms and heart of the bridge.

The bridge in place on the violin

Next, the strings are installed. We wind the strings on the pegs using a special method which keeps the pegs from slipping, allowing the violin to stay in tune longer.

A Louis Carpini violin outfit

The violin then undergoes a final inspection, and is now ready to play.

Last of all, the violin is put together as an outfit. The violin pictured here is a Louis Carpini violin outfit, and it is available for purchase on We inspect and rosin the bow, and make sure that all the accessories are included. The violin is then packed up and shipped to its new owner, where it will be happily played for many years to come.

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Stay Off the Injured List

September 6, 2011 09:35

For a few weeks now, many students in the U.S. are back at school. Here in the NW, just starting this week. School starting means many things. Homework, lunch ladies, soccer moms…the list goes on. One thing that going back to school means, however, often escapes most people’s mind. I’m talking about injuries.

Think about it: Families are busier now, going to school, to sports, to scouts, to music lessons, to the library and that’s just on Monday. Plus, the students are in new classroom environments that they don’t know and on a new schedule that they are used to. Not to mention that, musically speaking, they have a heavier load, literally and figuratively, with a new instruments that are often bigger than what they had last year and more music to practice that is more difficult that what they are used to. All of these factor combined translate into bumps, bruises, sprains, strains, or worse. Sigh, it’s a jungle out there.

Why is this topic on my mind? Well, almost 12 years to the date, my brother shut my hand in the sliding door of our minivan right before a cello lesson. The door shut and locked with my fingers in there. I broke two fingers and was unable to play for about a month. It was totally an accident and with our busy family it was only matter of time before something like that happened.

So, how can we keep ourselves from being on the injured list?

Communication-This is huge! Communication is necessary every day, but if good communication is practiced between parents, students, and teachers, then possible injuries can be prevented.

Tools-Giving your students or yourselves the proper tools to work in new environments can also prevent injury. For instance, the proper shoulder rest for a new instrument can prevent muscle strains in the neck and back.

Sleep-Countless studies indicate that there are many benefits to a good night’s sleep. In addition to health benefits, good sleep can decrease your chances of accidents like falling or running into things.

I’d like to say that I learned my lesson 12 years ago and have avoided injury since then, but that would be a lie. I totally busted my lip by slipping on a puddle and face planting on a stone floor hours before a flute final in college. Still, those three things have lengthened the time between injuries. Oh, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

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More entries: August 2011

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