My violin, my luthier...

August 6, 2012 at 04:41 PM · I am the first owner of my violin (2010) and it turned out that the luthier (John Newton) had recently moved to Toronto. I went to meet him and this has blossomed into not only a violinist-luthier relationship but opportunities to play together and be friends. This comes with value-added attention - I get periodic look overs and advice on setup etc. Its as if I bought more than an instrument but indeed a whole new world...

I wondered if anyone else has had similar experiences and if you are in contact with your luthier.

[I realize some of you will have to wait a few years to meet your luthiers .... ]

Replies (49)

August 6, 2012 at 06:02 PM · Your post makes me want to look up my luthier and write to him. It's wonderful for you to have the instrument's "parent" there for extended care.

August 6, 2012 at 07:08 PM · Paul, I hope this topic inspires lots of people to meet their step parents... You can learn so much about your instrument.

August 6, 2012 at 09:16 PM · I have 3 violins custom-made for me by Ed Maday and 3 custom-made for me by Vittorio Villa. And yes, I know them personally and feel like they are good friends. They are both fine fellows and both have very nice families.

I live about an hour's drive from Ed. I have been there so often that at this point I think my car knows the way by itself. The last time I came there, Ed's wife Janet said that their friendly dog knew I was coming!

Vittorio, living in Cremona, Italy is clearly not a hop, skip and a jump from me. But I visited him this past fall to take posession of my 3rd violin from him, and had a great time. (See my blog "My Pilgrimage to Cremona".) We keep in touch by e-mail.

I bought a beautiful bow from William Halsey. I didn't meet him but we had some very pleasant e-mail exchanges. I've also had a music stand and piano bench custom-made for me, and bought a beautiful painting from an artist and picked it up at his home, where we had a very nice visit and good talk. This personal contact definitely adds another dimension to the experience of owning a fine newly-made item.

August 6, 2012 at 10:17 PM · Elise needs to take a pilgrimage to visit Bakers. Rosin is at least as important as the instrument.

August 6, 2012 at 10:58 PM · Uhm, when someone has gone to "meet their maker", isn't that often a bad time for family and friends?

August 6, 2012 at 10:59 PM · Smiley: where IS that tongue-sticking-out emoticon anyway....

OTOH it would be interesting to see it made...

August 6, 2012 at 11:02 PM · David: "Uhm, when someone has gone to "meet their maker", isn't that often a bad time for family and friends?"

Not for Lyndon apparently...

August 6, 2012 at 11:26 PM · Elise,

I'm so glad that you are promoting getting to know one's luthier. I had a John Newton violin several years ago and I found him to be very helpful when I had questions. I think this is so important to getting the full value of enjoyment from an instrument and we all know (secretly) that musical instruments have a life and temperament of their own. Enjoy your relationship with your Newton and your friendship with John.

August 6, 2012 at 11:54 PM · Because I have almost never sold my violins directly, but preferred to go through shops who could provide follow-up services and trade-up policies, I don't know where most of my violins are. But I'm always happy to meet owners and see their violins again.

August 6, 2012 at 11:58 PM · I find that sometimes it's not a good idea for the maker of a particular violin to also be the adjustor of that violin - the players' idea of what the sound should be might not necessarily be what the maker had in mind.

August 7, 2012 at 12:14 AM · I know the builder of my viola, but he doesn't work on it. It's interesting how different the man and the instrument are; he turns out to be a rather retiring man who scupts as well as builds stringed instruments, while my viola (2006) is an exuberant wild child of a thing, needing my attention to keep in line.

Fortunately the man who adjusts my instruments has infinite patience.

August 7, 2012 at 01:19 AM · @Darrett, sometimes I also wonder if the maker is not necessarily the best adjuster of an instrument. Too close?

Around where I live one does not know one's luthier. One knows one's NASCAR.

August 7, 2012 at 01:44 AM · Most makers who work alone haven't spent nearly the number of hours adjusting as someone who works in a busy shop doing adjustments, and really shouldn't be expected to know all the about that particular job as well as someone who does it hundreds or thousands of times a year.

A similar situation for me was when I worked for five years as a salesman, and got to really see how players picked violins, what they were looking for, the tests they did, etc. It made me realize how much I hadn't known about that part of it, even though I had quite a few years in a couple shops by that time, both making and adjusting.

August 7, 2012 at 08:48 AM · "i havent heard from my luthier for some time, but perhaps youve heard of him, his names antonio, antonio stradivari or tony as we call him."

Never 'eard of 'im, this tony geezer. Was he Mafioso?

August 7, 2012 at 08:51 AM · "Elise needs to take a pilgrimage to visit Bakers. Rosin is at least as important as the instrument."

Meeting the maker of Baker's Rosin might put Elise into an risky sticky situation ...

August 7, 2012 at 08:57 AM · I meet luthiers occasionally (not MY luthier though) and play chamber musak with them too as well as the odd bit of socialsing. I bet you didn't know that luthiers socialised? A few also even get the chance to mess up tony's fiddles from time to time ...

August 7, 2012 at 11:21 AM · "Uhm, when someone has gone to "meet their maker", isn't that often a bad time for family and friends?"

Life after death - I met a maker I later bought from at an RMCM exhibition, Manchester, UK. It's been of benefit to exchange ideas. And yes, I did meet and buy from another maker later. I "met my maker" of 4 out of 6 of my presently-owned fiddles, and also the maker of my long-gone first professionally used instrument.

August 7, 2012 at 01:40 PM · I have 12 different opinions from 10 different experts about who my luthier might have been. The only thing they have in common is that none is currently living. I suppose when I join the ancestors, I will meet my luthier as well as find out who Jack the Ripper really was and who betrayed French Resistance leader Jean Moulin to the Gestapo in June 1943.

August 8, 2012 at 01:05 AM · Tom - sounds like you need to be polite to all luthiers in case you are talking to The One!

I wonder if there is any resemblance between the violin and its maker - a bit like dogs and their owners I guess...

August 8, 2012 at 02:30 AM · Maybe. I'm starting to look slightly antiqued.

August 8, 2012 at 03:05 AM · See, David? You should always go with fresh work!

Now I'm reminded of Oscar Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray". Maybe a luthier could make a magic violin that would antique by itself but the luthier would keep looking young!

August 8, 2012 at 03:13 AM · What an interesting topic! I have never met the maker of my violin because he is too far away from me. I do, however, go to a luthier's shop every once in a while for adjustments. It's always been fun cause he would let me try all his violins and sometimes bows and of course constantly telling me to ditch my junk...Overall, a nice guy with lots stories. Only downside is he keeps reminding me how bad my instrument is :(

August 8, 2012 at 07:48 AM · Raphael: "Maybe a luthier could make a magic violin that would antique by itself but the luthier would keep looking young"

A violin aging by itself! Who would have thought of such a concept!

Perhaps you are onto David's secret though.... He must have one ancient violin... :D

August 8, 2012 at 07:50 AM · How is it from the L's perspective - how many of your babies and their adopters do you keep contact with? And do those relationships blossom?

August 8, 2012 at 07:55 AM · I bought my fiddle from Don Leister in Richmond, VA. I liked buying from someone I knew I could e-mail later if I had questions! He also told me where the wood used to make instrument came from, which was important to me.

August 8, 2012 at 11:30 AM · Elise - I am unfailingly polite to all luthiers and expect to continue that way when I join the ancestors.

August 8, 2012 at 11:33 AM · Steven - I have a violin for sale. Come to New York and buy it from me! ;-)

August 8, 2012 at 11:49 AM · Meeting the maker of Baker's Rosin might put Elise into an risky sticky situation

Maybe she could play croquet with them. Then it would be a sticky wicket.

Anyway, my main instrument was made in the 1800s in Markneukirchen. Hard to reach that luthier. I'm not into seances, like Lyndon uses to reach Tony. (Rap on the scroll twice, if you really intended for people to come along later and change the neck angle...) :-)

August 8, 2012 at 11:51 AM · Raphael: "Maybe a luthier could make a magic violin that would antique by itself but the luthier would keep looking young"

A violin aging by itself! Who would have thought of such a concept!

As someone said: A musical Picture of Dorian Gray! Know I know so why many players like the Antiqued look -- to keep looking young. That, and cosmetic surgery...

August 8, 2012 at 12:24 PM · Seems to me there is a real need for surrugate-luthiers to parent all the violins that have lost their parents. Might be a new marketing strategy... "I'll be your Strad-Dad...."

We could have adoption ceremonies...

August 8, 2012 at 04:43 PM · The maker of my violin is Italian. I found his email address and wrote him once, and got an adorable email back in very broken English. (His English, however, is much better than my Italian.) I treasure it. It's cool to know your violin's maker is still out there working and creating. :)

August 8, 2012 at 04:48 PM · Emily - what better reason for a trip to Italy? [I was there for 12 blissful days this summer..]

August 8, 2012 at 05:20 PM · I have met my makers.

My first violin maker - of the violin I got when I was 17 (60) years ago, was Carl Holzapfel of Baltimore - he was luthier for my father and me. I also got to play the N. Amati he kept in the shop safe, I liked the Strad model (the Emperor) we bought for me from him better.

My next maker was Henry Meissner of Redlands, CA (who later moved to Carpenteria) and I visited him a number of times - even played in an orchestra with him - under Blumsteadt. I've had that violin since 1973.

Next was Fernando SOLAR Gonzales, whose 1971 violin #157 I bought from the south of England through an ad in The STRAD Magazine in 1974. I finally met SOLAR on a business trip to Madrid in 1990. He had finished making a complete collection of the decorated/inlaid quartet that Stradivari had made for the King of Spain; I got to play on both of the violins. I had a strong urge to add SOLAR to my collection of "met" violin makers and got lost in the city and suburbs trying to find him.

Next, a personal friend of mine, Charles Woods, had taken up violin making in his early 40s. I bought his violin #11 made in 1990, and it was my personal favorite of all my violins, and the one my granddaughter chose to take as her personal instrument - I don't blame her! I subsequently bought another violin and a viola from Charles. We no longer live in the same town, and I think he has quit making - he's almost as old as I am. But before he was through he had made and sold 3 cellos, about a dozen violas, and over 80 violins. He'd won in some competitions too. (UPDATE 2016: Charles informed me this Christmas time that he has completed and sold his 100th instrument.)(UPDATE: June 2016, Charles has informed me he has completed #101.)

Finally my most recent cello, a Jay-Haidi, ws sold to me by Jay Ifshin, not exactly the maker, but he owns the workshop in China that it came from, and his wife owns the Rugeri it is copied from.

One other instrument, that has also passed to my granddaughter now, was brought to this country from Germany by my wife's paternal grandfather. He made his living on that fiddle in New York until her father (as a boy) sat on it, and it was replaced by another (that was passed to another son) - but the repair on it was perfect. It was made in Grossbreitenbach in 1845 by an ancestor, who was a member of her Tresselt violin-Making family that goes back hundreds of years.


August 8, 2012 at 06:28 PM · Rachel how do you like your Leister violin? I played one last year and thought it was a very good violin for the price he was asking, but I ended up buying something else.

August 8, 2012 at 06:47 PM · "How is it from the L's perspective - how many of your babies and their adopters do you keep contact with? And do those relationships blossom?"

If you have seen the movie The Red Violin, you will realize that we fiddlemakers are a pathetic and socially awkward bunch.... not people who musicians would want to maintain contact with. Better to "hit and run". ;-)

Hey, a luthier friend of mine actually has a doormat which says, "Go Away". LOL

August 8, 2012 at 08:30 PM · You David? Socially awkward? Or.... is it possible... you really AREN'T a luthier??

August 9, 2012 at 01:20 AM · Hmmm..."The Red Violin"...

David, please assure us that no funny business goes into your varnish formula!

August 9, 2012 at 09:01 AM · Raphael,

I would love to if you would be willing to let me pay it over let's say...50 years?..haha

I do plan to start a collection once I get a decent job :)

August 9, 2012 at 11:22 AM · No problem! AND you could pay me in gum! NOT!! Really, I understand.

August 9, 2012 at 11:23 AM · Luthiers are a rather nerdy bunch. That's why I am able to fit right in. I even respond to threads about rosin. That is the pinnacle of orch dork nerdyness.

August 9, 2012 at 12:00 PM · Smiley - we need an OrchDorchAnnoymous (ODA) support group. I'm obviously one though I'm not even in an orch (though stay tuned ;) )...

August 9, 2012 at 07:27 PM · We fiddlemakers have our own support group, LISOSM, "Luthiers In Search Of Sugar Mamas".

The acronym doesn't flow poetically off the tongue, but that's just one more insight into our generally pathetic state of affairs.

August 9, 2012 at 10:33 PM · hmm. well I'm from Canada and we eat a lot of Maple Syrup (just finished a bowl of blueberries, milk and MS...)....

August 10, 2012 at 09:25 PM · Elise, you're hurting me. Years ago I made maple syrup and got used to the good stuff. Where I live now I can't even BUY the good stuff.

August 10, 2012 at 11:05 PM · Ah, another mail order business - to go with the Baker's R... :D

August 10, 2012 at 11:37 PM · Take the Baker's rosin business model, and don't deliver your sugar too quickly, if you want to be valued. :-)

August 11, 2012 at 07:46 AM · Paul, I love my violin! But, I'm just starting Suzuki book four so I'm not an expert player or anything. However, my teacher (who plays in our orchestra and is an expert) said he liked it as well. I tried a bunch of violins in DC and thought Don's sounded as good or better than violins for twice the price. His violins are all beautiful too! Definitely worth the trip to Richmond.

August 12, 2012 at 01:53 PM · I also got a violin from a local Toronto luthier, though not for the personal service. I've actually degraded the violin a bit through parts changes -- cosmetically and perhaps sonically, for my convenience, and I'm not sure I want him to see it in its present state or take up more of his time with minor requests. If I had some more significant issues or wishes for the violin, I agree that it's great to have the ability to consult the maker, but I also have confidence in the abilities and dedication of other local luthiers.

Still, I really enjoyed getting it from a living maker and also avoiding some of the uncertainties and deliberate deceptions that often go with old instruments and sales channels.

August 12, 2012 at 04:11 PM · Ran "I've actually degraded the violin a bit through parts changes -- cosmetically and perhaps sonically, for my convenience"

The mind boggles - you did something permanent like attaching a screw-on pick-up? That might turn an eyebrow - or maybe you just changed the tailpiece for one with tuners or a different chin rest or pegs? (I doubt the luthier would mind).

Interesting question: what would a luthier object to? I suppose revarnishing would be offensive but perhaps most are just happy that you bought it and wish you well... OTOH hand made violins are creative works and I hink I would be miffed if that effort was really 'degrated'...

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