Of course it is always a treat to get a fine old Italian fiddle in the shop to gawk at and obsess over, but it is a real treat when I get a modern masters violin in the workshop to do some repair work to. My latest project was a gorgeous 1989 David Burgess violin. Burgess has not only won more competitions than any living violin maker, but any violin maker in history! His instruments are absolutely beautiful and it was my honor to repair the damaged varnish on this Burgess violin!
One of my close clients called me and asked about a ‘damaged’ Burgess violin, he had my attention to say the very least! He continued to tell me that while he was ‘cleaning’ his violin some of his varnish was stripped away on one of the violins upper ribs. I thought no big deal, until I saw that the varnish had been completely wiped away down to bare wood! Needless to say I had my work cut out for me, but I was pleased with the results and enjoyed getting to spend time with a modern masterpiece.
Violins are all the same, right? From the outside world I can see why all violins look the same! But when you are a maker or a player you appreciate the beauty that instruments have to offer! This instrument wasn’t worth a terrible amount, it was a German violin made back in the late 1800’s and belonged to a good client of mine whose Grandfather use to play it in bars in Germany!
We decided to go ahead and repair the ‘wing’ of the f-hole. It wasn’t a very labor-intensive job, but it had its difficulties. Wood selection is one of the hardest things to do, how am I suppose to make a piece a spruce look 200 years old? Then on top of that match 200-year-old varnish with the normal wear and tear… I found a piece of old spruce and was able to repair the damaged f-hole. Another violin was saved and I am happy to say that the great-granddaughter is now enjoying the violin that lived a long life in Germany making it’s way to the USA!
This year I have been doing an intense repair on a Stopka Viola, which is owned by a client of mine. It came in with an unfortunate sound post crack. We had to remove the top and get the crack glued back together. The crack ran almost the whole length of the viola top, but I was able to get it glued back together quite cleanly. Once the actual crack was glued I was able to get started on the real task, fitting the actual patch. I feathered the original top to less then half of a millimeter! And then continued to fit the patch until it fit perfectly. Tedious and time consuming this is a good example of why I only take on a few intense restorations per year because they really need all of my attention to execute properly. After the patch was fit and glued I could brace my crack with some small cleats and glue the top back on. A few weeks of some careful varnish retouch we were back in business!
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.