Hermann Todt made this violin specifically for William Lewis & Son of Chicago in 1929. Todt was a violin maker from Markneukirchen. This violin was made with exceptional wood for the maker. The top spruce is very even with tight grain, while the maple has a deep medium width flame.
It is branded on both the back plate near the button. And on the inside of the back plate above the William Lewis & Son label.
The William Lewis & Son was a Chicago based music store that specialized in violins and bows. William E. Lewis the founder, was the son of a cellist and he became a violinist. At the age of 8 English critics elected him as a musical prodigy. The family moved to America in 1850.
The William Lewis & Son firm was established in 1874 and lasted 80 long years building a nice collection of instruments including Stradivarius, Guarneri, Montagnana, Storioni, Rugeri, Guadagnini and many more fine instruments made by old masters.
I always seem to grow attached to my instruments as I build them, how could I not? I spend so much time focusing on every little detail that I get so use to having them around and working on them! But this violin is going to be hard for me to see go off to a new home.
This violin means a lot to me because I made this after James Fegley. Although I was never lucky enough to meet Jim, I am fortunate because I wouldn’t have any of this without him.
He started Fegley’s well before I was alive and I think he would be proud that I am carrying on the Fegley name.
This is a Stradivari copy that I made over the last few months. It has a mostly original James Fegley scroll that he started to carve and never finished.
Making this violin truly one of a kind. Normally I would have just kept the scroll but I thought it would mean a lot more to be completed and go on to enjoy making music. So “King James” will forever live on to make music!
“Clyde” a nice Del Gesu’ violin copy that I recently made found it’s new home with a nice teenage boy. He is a very talented and humble young man. I can honestly say I feel very thankful I get to watch the partnership grow with time. Here are a few photos of the finished product.
This past year I have been copying a Stradivari Viola from 1672 known as the ‘Mahler’. It is the first of the 10 Stradivari Violas to be in existence today. While Stradivari made a couple thousand instruments he rarely made violas. There is going to be a Stradivari Viola being auctioned off this year and it is set to start the bidding around $45 million.
I can’t say that my prices will ever reach such a tremendous amount, but it gives me something to look up to as a maker. These instruments are high-end art, which is playable. You cannot take your Picasso off the wall and try to get enjoyment from playing it!
Times have changed and there are quite a few adjustments that I made to my Viola when I was drawing up the blue prints. I copied one side of the outline and mirror imaged it to have a very symmetrical final product. It is almost like drawing half of a heart on a piece of paper when we were kids and folding the piece of paper in half before we cut it out to make a perfectly symmetrical heart, make sense?
I also removed the ‘wings’ from the sides of the scroll, exactly how you see cello scrolls today. It makes playing for the musician slightly more difficult; I also took the original scroll size and reduced it by about 15-20%. Again I did this strictly for the playability factor. I am almost done with my final scraping and rounding of the edges before this Viola gets to spend some time outside tanning.
Check back to see the finished product being varnished!
Time has been flying over the past year. Almost one year ago today I decided to buy Fegley’s Violin Shop. Although at 25 it came on as no small task, I quickly learned that I have been building up to do this almost my entire life. As a kid, I was always building things with my hands – whether it was a ramp for my bike or a tree fort that my brothers and I should have never trusted to hold our weight. There was always a constant project to overcome. So ultimately, I truly felt honored when Margie Fegley approached me about taking over the business. I knew that it was in my cards at some point; I just didn’t think the opportunity would present itself so early on in my career as a Luthier.
I was terrified if I am being completely honest… Fegley’s has been in the area for over 35 years and I didn’t know if I was really ready or not to take on running my own business. Plus, quite honestly, I liked the freedom in working 40 hours per week and having the ability to sleep in on a Saturday morning if I wanted. Who doesn’t? But I quickly learned it was about much more than that – I realized that I am a “live to work” type and not the other way around. But I can hardly call what I do “work”. I love being at my workbench and creating pieces of art that will last well beyond my years. The only problem is that my art has to produce sound at the end of the day… I pour my blood, sweat and yes sometimes tears into my instruments.
I am a strong believer that some people are just meant to do what they want to do. And I feel like I am right where I belong: at my workbench with my tools and overly expensive wood. I feel fortunate to have found such a tedious craft that I can apply my personality and attention to detail… A deadly combination in striving to become a young maestro.