Violin makers who play

February 1, 2018, 11:23 PM · Although it would seem to be a no-brainer, many violin makers can't play the instrument very well.

Here's one who does:

Does anyone know of other luthiers who are proficient on the instruments they make?

Replies (29)

February 2, 2018, 2:23 AM · Steffen Novak in Bristol, England. Last year he brought out seven of his violas for me to try but I had to achnowledge they were too good for my occasional purposes.
February 2, 2018, 3:43 AM · Playing is not essential, but I do think it helps.

Mechanics drive the cars they fix, cookers sample what they cook, and why not, violin makers could play their instruments, in a basic level at least.

I find it very useful, as maker, that I can play my violas. That helps a lot in the set up. And also to understand other player's needs and opinions.

Im more recente times we have examples of makers who played: Poggi, Garimberti, Bisiachs, Chiocchi, Bissoloti, etc.

Two of my players in the Gewandhaus Leipzig are viola makers too.

Talking about Pietro Guarneri of Mantua, the Hills say: "We thus discover that the master had devoted his early years to becoming skilled in music as well as in violin making; and we have here the only instance yet recorded of one of the great Italian violin makers engaged in this dual calling".

The Hills presume that Pietro violin master was Francesco Orcelli, an "accomplished musician and fine violinist", who was Andrea Guarneri`s brother in law, proving "an intimate relation between palyer and maker".

Talking about Del Gesù, the Hills venture to state that: "May he not, following in the footsteps of his ancestor Orcelli, and his uncle and godfather, Pietro, also have been both a player and a maker of violins, a player of more ordinary capacity than his relatives, possessed of no desire to be attached to one of the Ducal Courts? Singing and dancing to the accompaniment of music was much favoured by the mass of the people throughtout Italy, and Cremona, the seat of instrument making, must from this very fact have inspired some members of her craftsmen families to become players. We have no doubt that such was the case, and supposing it in the case of del Gesù, his double calling would in the circunstances seem to fit in with the tradition handed down to us by the last of the Bergonzis".

In anoter part of the Hill`s book on the Guarneris they state that: "we regard it as certain that many of the makers wo setled in the smaller musical centers could play well enough tho take the minor parts in orchestras, and indeed would need to do so to supplement their earnings as makers. These were the days of many disdness... ..."

And Stradivari, would he be a player? I suppose so, and it seems there is one written evidence of this. In Sacconi`s book "I Segreti di Stradivari" there is a catalog of the relics of the master, and we find in number 222:

"Sul retro del foglieto sono tracciati alcuni righi musicali, autografi di Stradivari, con numeri al posto delle note.

I would translate this as (tradutore traditore!):

"In the other side of the paper, there are some lines of musical notes, written by Stradivari own hand, with numbers instead of musical notes".

Why would Stradivari write some lines of musical notes but for play them in an instrument?

The musical notation in numbers points to a player that was not able to read music, but was capable to play, and perhaps play well, since in the past (and today) some good musicians were not able to read music. Louis Armstrong was not able to read music, the same for David Brubeck. Mozart mentioned the fact that many opera singers were not able to read music, so he had to teach them their parts.

But, as I mentioned above, many top makers are not players.

Edited: February 2, 2018, 3:49 AM · Excellent post, Luis.

To be sure, I was not suggesting that to be a good maker one must necessarily be a good player, too. A maker friend of mine is renowned for his cellos (one purchased by Rostropovich) and he plays the flute!

But I'm sure that it can help.

February 2, 2018, 4:06 AM · Yep Dimitri, it can help a lot. Many subtleties of sound and playability are hard to understand if you are not a player.
February 2, 2018, 6:21 AM · I enjoy watching Daniel Olsen videos on YouTube. He was a child prodigy player and then branched off into making violins. He had an Amati violin and his crazy wife smashed it with a hammer.
Edited: February 2, 2018, 6:48 AM · The fellow I just bought my daughter's cello from, Kelvin Scott, played violin from a young age through high school. Another cello specialist I spoke with several times, Larry Wilke, is a pretty decent cellist I understand.
Edited: February 2, 2018, 8:49 AM · Jeff Phillips (He won some big prizes in VSA competitions) also plays in Salt Lake Symphony, according to his web site.

February 2, 2018, 8:52 AM · Here’s one that does too :) via power tool

February 2, 2018, 9:00 AM · @Kevin: That was funny!!
February 2, 2018, 9:07 AM · My childhood friend Seth Truby was a gifted violinist (went to conservatory in high school) who then trained and worked as a luthier/violin restorer for a period. I almost bought a violin from him recently.

Not sure how much he still plays, however, and at this point he's leading an El Sistema-type program in Portland.

February 2, 2018, 10:55 AM · "violin makers could play their instruments, in a basic level at least."

The question is of course what your idea of 'basic level' is. :)

February 2, 2018, 10:56 AM · Raymond Schryer is said to be a pretty hot fiddler. And Ray Melanson plays in an orchestra on Cape Cod.

In general, though, I've found that makers don't play in front of clients. Why add distractions to the choice, or risk making your instrument sound less fabulous than Zukerman's del Gesu?

Edited: February 2, 2018, 1:50 PM · Kevin wrote:
Here’s one that does too :) via power tool

Kevin, apologies for the slow tempo of the Tchaikovsky. I discovered that quick string crossings are difficult with a three thousand gram bow. ;-)

February 2, 2018, 12:19 PM · The first time I saw that, I couldn’t stop laughing (and rewatching) it for about an hour!

I love the one with with the sawzall mounted violin bridge sanding too.

Edited: February 2, 2018, 2:12 PM · While we're at it, there's this other one about fitting bridges..,

I'd also like to recommend a video about carving violins with a chainsaw, from my friend Peter Goodfellow.

February 3, 2018, 1:59 PM · Dimitri Atanassov, crémonese violin maker was/is a professional violin player, which at some point. was Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra Concert Master.
February 3, 2018, 2:36 PM · Dimitri Vadiarov and Gonzalo Bayolo.
And bow maker Edwin Clément.
February 4, 2018, 1:21 AM · Do you mean Dimitri Badiarov, the cello da spalla maker, also a good player.
February 4, 2018, 1:34 AM · I suspect there are very few luthiers who do not play the instrument at some level, but it's pretty much a rule NEVER to play in front of clients, so as to avoid competitive stuff.

"How can he make decent instruments if he plays that bad?"

February 4, 2018, 3:04 PM · Christian Adam from Ahrensburg near Hamburg / Germany. Not only a nice person and fine luthier, but also a decent violinist (graduated from university). All in all worth a visit when you happen to be in the region! (And worth a trip if in need of a good repairman...)
February 4, 2018, 3:07 PM · ... and the maker of my favourite bow plays... the bass guitar...!
Edited: February 8, 2018, 7:46 AM · Although not a maker but a superb repairman,Tim Bergen fits this category.After working on Strads and delGesus during the day he plays in my wifes orchestra at church and plays quite well.
My good friend Mark Schnurr is a fine maker and can get around the fiddle.He lives near David Prentice I think...
I remember John Newton playing my wife's violin just after he made it.
February 6, 2018, 2:02 PM · At one point, I was quite proficient on the hose-o-phone (a short section of garden hose), but my parents grew weary of it and bought me a trumpet.
Edited: February 6, 2018, 2:19 PM · It is about as important for violin makers to be good violinists as it is for violinists to be good violin makers.
Edited: February 6, 2018, 3:30 PM · Not sure I agree with that statement. For a violin maker, to be an experienced player ought to be an asset although not essential. Not that you can’t make outstanding instruments if you don’t, but surely it ought to simplify setup tremendously and for making various adjustments as well if you don’t have to rely on someone else’s feedback (which may not be the buyer); especially for the not so obvious sound qualities that only an experienced player has the skills to demonstrate. On the other hand, I fail to see how a player can benefit to the same degree in having the knowledge of violin making. Perhaps you can give us some examples to illustrate your point?
February 6, 2018, 3:27 PM · My point was that I don't think having both skills is particularly important in either case. Making violins well and playing violins well are two very different skill sets.
Edited: February 6, 2018, 3:37 PM · I agree entirely with your last statement, but how can a luthier setup an instrument without ever hearing it played? Plucking strings gets you only so far.

Addendum: the two skill sets are not mutually exclusive either.

February 6, 2018, 4:16 PM · The key is the level of virtuosity and craft, hence the qualifying words "good" and "well."

And, agreed, they are not mutually exclusive.

February 6, 2018, 5:27 PM · Flautist Nick Jackman also played/plays the bicycle pump, giving a flute with trombone-like pitching.
French Luthier Alex Hillairet plays his own viola, as did my late father's late technician Ted Collins (gratefully taken on by my father when he was made redundant from his optical instrument making job).
But the real, serious excellency was in the two keyboard makers who also composed and played: Everyone knows Muzio Clementi in this regard, but how many people know of Giles Farnaby, whose music is well worth listening to (though I must admit I was introduced to it through playing in Edmund Rubbra's Farnaby Suite)?

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