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The Person That Affected You The Most


Mark Neukirchen
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The person that affected me the most in my interest in violins was an elderly amateur violin maker that lived in the woods in a basement house (a basement less the upper house). He had a sign at the end of his driveway offering violin services. I first met him when I was in my early teens after buying an old decrepit viola for $2.00 at an estate sale, and my dad and I brought it to him to have a crack repaired. His violin workshop was a part of his bedroom and I can still remember the pleasant smell of resin that originated from his large can of International Violin Co. violin varnish. He was especially proud of his sizing that he concocted using turpentine and other “mystery” ingredients.

While, in hindsight, he was not an accomplished violin maker by any stretch of the imagination, I will always hold a special place in my heart for him and the time he shared with me when I was a child.

Is there someone that has had a special impact on your interest in violin related instruments?

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I experienced much the same thing, except he was an food prep instructor where I went to high school. One of the teachers mentioned that he built violins, and I had one that needed repair. After repairing it, he asked me out of the blue if I would be interested in learning to build them. Being young and stupid, I thought to myself "How difficult could it be?" So I replied "Sure."

That started what amounted to about a 3 year casual apprenticeship. I spent my summer holidays and weekends there building alongside him, and at school, he would give me impromptu lectures in the morning before classes began while he was baking bread or preparing pastries for the day.

If I hadn't been presented with the opportunity at the time, I most likely would never have taken the leap.

I should mention that I also had a subsequent mentor as well, a luthier who attended many VSA conventions, performed lots of research etc..

He steered me in the direction of finer points in building and has offered me a tremendous amount of encouragement and resources. I've been truly blessed by having good people such as these take me under the wing and offer such wonderful opportunity, knowledge and friendship.

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My great grandfather and my grandfather built stringed instruments high in the Blueridge Mts. (VA). Mostly fiddles and banjos, but other stuff as well. They were self trained: think in terms of the fiddle makers in the old Foxfire books. I'll never forget their old shop. Many of the old mountain style players , and later some bluegrass players, hung out there (and the jams-and the flowing corn-was constant). I hung out with them a lot as a kid, and learned a lot from them, mostly stuff that I don't use today, but it was my childhood and hard to forget.

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Wel...heh...they mostly drank it. I wasn't allowed near it (but what can I say? Kids have a way of getting into things). I do sort of remember them using it on snake bites though. Not trying to present myself as a country boy here, as I spent my later youth in Arlington (near DC), But as a young kid we were hillbillys I suppose. Oh, I also remember that they made their own glue, mostly hide type from cows, but sometimes from deer.

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Wel...heh...they mostly drank it. I wasn't allowed near it (but what can I say? Kids have a way of getting into things). I do sort of remember them using it on snake bites though. Not trying to present myself as a country boy here, as I spent my later youth in Arlington (near DC), But as a young kid we were hillbillys I suppose. Oh, I also remember that they made their own glue, mostly hide type from cows, but sometimes from deer.
I admire the ingenuity that a lot of these folks had. Ask someone from the city to make their own glue and probably all you'll get is a blank look.
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I was just thinking about this subject this morning. I've met many remarkable people who have influenced me in a variety of ways some of them contributers to this list. The one individual whom I most revere is Oliver Rodgers. Simply one of the smartest, most humble, generous, kind individual I've ever known.

For those that don't know, Oliver was a leading thinker and writer in violin acoustics. He graduated from Harvard in vibrational engineering, was involved in the designs of the very first jet engines. Oliver taught me most of what I know about violin acoustics. It really saddens me that he's gone.

Oded

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Is there someone that has had a special impact on your interest in violin related instruments?

My great grandfather hollowed out a sycamore log to make this. It was passed down to me after I'd rebuilt a few violins, and I actually thought I could make it sound fairly decent. The top sides and neck are one piece with the back being the only glue joint. Sometimes a lesson on how not to do things works good too.

I had a friend who was 99 when he decided to check out, and had played violin from age 7. Needless to say he was well versed in all styles of playing and quite good at it. He taught me a lot about setup and just wish he could have taught me more about playing (it wasn't his fault I wasn't a good student). I made good music with him (with a guitar) and thought it was cool to play Hank Williams songs with someone who'd actually played with Hank. His father bought him a French Violin back near the turn of the century and holding that instrument and hearing it played put the bar pretty far up for me on what I like.

I hated it when the price of sugar went up. The barrel went dry and stayed that way. Looks like I'm going to have to give up tobacco and gasoline too with the taxation thing remaining unchecked.

Later...

Rick

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This thread is timely for me because I recently agreed to show a 15 year-old how to make a violin. This boy is home-schooled and is extremely mature in his outlook. He seems to know how to plan his own education to a great degree.

Our first lesson will be making a violin knife by hardening A2 steel.

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For me, with regard to violins, it's been Michael Darnton. Starting with his articles in American Lutherie and going forward through his online contributions and in-person workshops he opened the door for me into this world and has kept it open and kept things interesting and fresh over the years. Actually Michael's resolute unwillingness to leave anything unquestioned has influenced me to be more open in my own thinking in other areas, come to think of it.

I must also mention the late lute maker Robert Lundberg, from whom I learned an attitude towards lutherie as a process and not just a product which still circulates in my thinking to this day.

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"For me, with regard to violins, it's been Michael Darnton. Starting with his articles in American Lutherie and going forward through his online contributions..."

I was just about to start typing the same thing.

Just an incredible body of accumulated advice, offered freely, without obfuscation...

Best regards,

E

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I'd have to agree with Mike. When I got more seriously interested in violins, I learned a great deal from this site. The MIMF site was helpfull as well. In this day and age, it's amazing to me how many learned luthiers are willing to come forward and offer advice, and it's an invaluable resource!

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For the past five summers, I have been attending workshops at MCLA with Hans J. Nebel. That amounts to about 270 hours of class/workshop time with him. He's an incredible restorer, and a wealth of information and stories about violins in general, and about his time working with Simone Sacconi, Dario D'Attili, Hans Weisshaar and others. For me, he's a great inspiration. I don't think that I have enough decades left to approach the level of skill that he has.

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Is there someone that has had a special impact on your interest in violin related instruments?

1. Richard Hart. In the mid 1970s, I used to visit his shop in Weare, New Hampshire, watch him work and listen to his amusing diatribes. The experience made me think that making or repairing stringed instruments would be an interesting thing to do. But he discouraged me from attempting lutherie and ridiculed most other luthiers, saying that the only way to get proper training would be to apprentice to a master in Europe. In retrospect, I suspect that he was just insecure and worried about competition. And years later, I looked at a viola he had made, recognized that everthing about it was crudely done and realized that he really wasn't very good. Does anyone else here remember Richard Hart?

2. Hans Nebel. I have taken his summer classes almost every year since 1991, first at the University of New Hampshire and later at North Adams State College, now called Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. From the first day, I have seen him as very knowledgable and skillful, a great teacher, and quite an interesting and entertaining character. If it were not for him, I would not be able to do what I do today.

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1. Richard Hart. In the mid 1970s, I used to visit his shop in Weare, New Hampshire, watch him work and listen to his amusing diatribes. The experience made me think that making or repairing stringed instruments would be an interesting thing to do. But he discouraged me from attempting lutherie and ridiculed most other luthiers, saying that the only way to get proper training would be to apprentice to a master in Europe. In retrospect, I suspect that he was just insecure and worried about competition. And years later, I looked at a viola he had made, recognized that everthing about it was crudely done and realized that he really wasn't very good. Does anyone else here remember Richard Hart?

In 1976 (when I was 21) I learned violin making from retired Rockwell Engineer, Paul Schaupp, in Inglewood Ca., who was in his eighties at the time. He was self-taught, and like your mentor, he was actually fairly crude in his approach.

For various reasons, he was beyond wanting to carve out necks at that age (I suspect that he was physically unable) and so, my first violin has a machine made neck.

Paul was in touch with many musicians and collectors, and there was always someone interesting visiting his house. He had devised a method for roughing out his plates using his table saw and some stacked dado (sp?) blades - which he loved tinkering with - but which I thought locked in a particular arch - which, even then, was an approach I wasn't too fond of. (which was fine by Paul)

Paul was aware of the fact that his violins were not everything that they could be, aesthetically, but he never seemed to be particularly bothered by the fact - even so, he had a list of customers waiting for his violins...

He had a tiny shop in his back yard, and some space in his garage devoted to the power tools. He was a clever and efficient repairman.

He is probably the first adult that ever stopped and tried his best to convince me that I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to, making violins was just one possible thing .

At 21 I was by no means a kid - but to Paul I was a kid, and he was truly a mentor to me, one of several older men and women who took the time to help point me in a direction I would continue to follow for the rest of my life.

We drifted apart as people do, once his wife got ill, and I have found myself wishing I could tell him that I continued to make violins long after we lost touch.

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I guess I would have to say, though I have had a number of very decent teachers, all of whom have made a good living for years on the strength of their building skills, the one who really pushed me along was a retired engineer named Jake Jelley (some here may know him). When I was part-way into my first instrument, (and had done just about everything wrong) he was full of encouraging words...showing me what I had done wrong in some cases, but mostly just encouraging me...almost like a parent encouraging a five-year-old in his crayon drawings, or fingerpaints or something.

He told me about the workshops in Tucson (Ed Campbell), and encouraged me to go. He later encouraged me to go to Michael Klein in southern Oregon, for further teaching. By the time I met Sam Compton, Michael Darnton, and some of the other people who were of such powerful later influence, I had nearly forgotten that without him, I might never have finished that first viola, let alone kept going to build more.

So--best teacher? Mr. Darnton.

Kindest, gentlest, most cheerful and positive luthier? Well, Sam had to be right up there somewhere.

But as far as what was the actual wind behind the sails...I'd say Jake Jelley takes the prize.

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Kindest, gentlest, most cheerful and positive luthier? Well, Sam had to be right up there somewhere.

I keep thinking about the fact that you said this.

It is absolutely true.

Sam would "light up" a room by being in it. It was an unusual and rare gift, I think. I do not believe I ever heard a harsh word come from Sam. How many people can that be said of?

One time I sat in on one of his "Beginners Bench" workshops, where he was dealing with Strad necks and scrolls... I believe it was somewhere right around the year 2000, that's where I realized that he had a true genius for this stuff. His knowledge was exhaustive and pragmatic - I came away itching to get going on my next neck. He had pointed out a myriad of rather obvious things Strad was doing - that I had never even seen before.

"Beginners Bench" - ha!

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Michael Darnton is the person that has affected my violin building, repair, and setup the most. Not only by

his most informative posts and replies here, and on other Forums, but also by other means of communication.

He is an expert violin maker and teacher, and has very few peers on the history of violins, and their construction.

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