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aaronjt

Life of a Violin Maker/Repairer

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Hello Maestronet!

I have quite a dilemna, as many of you know it is important to consider many things before making an informed decision. I have many questions for you violin makers out there both amateur and professional.

I am 23 years old, and I am very passionate about the Violin. I currently am enrolled at a University in the Biology program. I love everything about the violin and enjoy messing around with different strings (probably have spent close to a 1000 dollars on different strings and just appreciating differences in strings and sound). I've also taken apart a few violins when I was younger (probably not very well) and just enjoy the shape of the violin also the new violin smell from a newly finished violin by a maker, you could say I have an obsessive personality. I am also looking into doing the Southern California Violin Making course as well as the American School of Violin Making. I have the neccesary tools, but lack basic woodworking skills such as sharpening. Also I have the Courtnall/Johnson book 'The Art of Violin Making' which is a good guide, but is a bit difficult to get started with just that. I also lack certain power tools that would make life a bit easier such as a band saw. I've looked around on the site for information but have further questions to ask. I have a few questions for you makers out there.

1. If you had the option to do it all over again, would you choose violin making and why?

2. Another question is, I am no longer on my own. I have a wife (in her final year of undergrad) and would like to one day have children, I am concerned with my capability to be able to provide the necessities for my family in the future.

3. The availability of apprenticeships or internships- Are they available and what does it entail? Usually how long do they last and what does life look like after graduating from a reputable Violin making school?

of course there are other questions I would like to ask but these are the main questions I have been wondering about. I greatly appreciate any response and have enjoyed this board for many years.

Aaron Towarak

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the violin business in general seems to be in a decline, with the economy and all, so unless you go to violin making school (not just the so cal classes) and are the top of your class, you dont have much chance of making a decent living, especially supporting a family, many people in the business had a lot of woodworking experience by the time they were 23, i had already built 3 clavichords, 2 from scratch, and started with redwood burl tables and clocks when i was 12

honestly since you seem to be able to handle university and getting a degree, id much recommend doing that and having a hobby with violins, then by the time your my age, 50, or older, you might have enough experience to turn a hobby into a job, but seriously many big shops are cutting back, and employees are being let go, like i said to get a job you need really good recommendations from your violin making school and really good examples of your work, just being decent, middle of your violin making class, probably wont turn into stable job opportunities

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Aaron -

'' have spent close to a 1000 dollars on different strings ''

'' I am concerned with my capability to be able to provide the necessities for my family in the future. ''

- Spend less on strings then.

Lyndon -

'' so unless you go to violin making school (not just the so cal classes) and are the top of your class, you dont have much chance of making a decent living ''

- I can understand you point Lyndon, but there are makers out there who are making a living yet they never set foot in college.

Aaron, you're about the same age as me when I started thinking about making.

There are looooads of French and Germans who start very young, but don't let that put you off.

1. If you had the option to do it all over again, would you choose violin making and why?

- Yes I would, and I'd start younger and work harder at school, why ? because it's always fascinated me, no one can take that away.

2. Another question is, I am no longer on my own. I have a wife (in her final year of undergrad) and would like to one day have children, I am concerned with my capability to be able to provide the necessities for my family in the future.

- My Dad started making violins around the same time I was born, Mum left him and moved 3,000 miles, .....but not because he was a maker.

3. The availability of apprenticeships or internships- Are they available and what does it entail? Usually how long do they last and what does life look like after graduating from a reputable Violin making school?

- Having been a player I was apprenticed to a maker, one to one. I wasn't paid much but I managed to learn a fair bit.

Later I went to Newark, which was the best option available to me. You should aim for the top and work hard to get a job.

I didn't want to work in a shop anyway and always knew I'd prefer to work as a maker, suits me better. Consider your wife too, is she into violin making ?

Make sure you maintain good relations with your freinds and clients, work harder than you think you can, and base yourself as near or in a big city as you can.

Good luck.

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I hear the big difference between two large pizzas and a violin maker is that two large pizzas can feed a family of four! ....

With so much international competition there is probably very little chance of making lot's of money.... I understand that most VM school grads go into repair as a way to stay connected. Good repairmen can earn a living, and every big city will have a few shops, and they need people in country to do the work.... even if it's just adjusting bridges on the rental fleet....

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The violin business is a bit of a strange one. Musicians are a bit different. They will find a luthier that they like, and stick with that person. Without a very good reputation, people won't trust you with thier instruments, and reputation comes with working on instruments. It may take may years before you could earn a decent living on your own as a luthier. If you want to pursue this, your best bet would be, after you go to school, get a job as a luthier in a very good shop. Plan on a lot of basic set-up work for quite a while.

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1. If you had the option to do it all over again, would you choose violin making and why?

Maybe not. Violinmaking has been a blessing and a real hoot, but I think there are equally fun and challenging jobs which can generate much better money and job security.

Let's put it this way: It was never something I even slightly encouraged my kids to go into, even with the advanatages they probably would have had.

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Wise words by David Burgess.

I started working wood when I was a boy. Always loved music and played. Started making intruments when I was 13 years old. Eventually I graduated in the best Law School here, so I am an amateur maker. Never went to a violin making school.

This is a tough market. The learning curve is very slow. Competition is tough too.

You can make instruments as a hobby. Making in a high level may be a rather neurotic thing too.

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Hello Maestronet!

I have quite a dilemna, as many of you know it is important to consider many things before making an informed decision. I have many questions for you violin makers out there both amateur and professional.

I am 23 years old, and I am very passionate about the Violin. I currently am enrolled at a University in the Biology program. I love everything about the violin and enjoy messing around with different strings (probably have spent close to a 1000 dollars on different strings and just appreciating differences in strings and sound). I've also taken apart a few violins when I was younger (probably not very well) and just enjoy the shape of the violin also the new violin smell from a newly finished violin by a maker, you could say I have an obsessive personality. I am also looking into doing the Southern California Violin Making course as well as the American School of Violin Making. I have the neccesary tools, but lack basic woodworking skills such as sharpening. Also I have the Courtnall/Johnson book 'The Art of Violin Making' which is a good guide, but is a bit difficult to get started with just that. I also lack certain power tools that would make life a bit easier such as a band saw. I've looked around on the site for information but have further questions to ask. I have a few questions for you makers out there.

1. If you had the option to do it all over again, would you choose violin making and why?

2. Another question is, I am no longer on my own. I have a wife (in her final year of undergrad) and would like to one day have children, I am concerned with my capability to be able to provide the necessities for my family in the future.

3. The availability of apprenticeships or internships- Are they available and what does it entail? Usually how long do they last and what does life look like after graduating from a reputable Violin making school?

of course there are other questions I would like to ask but these are the main questions I have been wondering about. I greatly appreciate any response and have enjoyed this board for many years.

Aaron Towarak

Keep the violin making as a hobby and enjoy it and your family life and get the best paying job you can from your studies to support your hobby and enjoy it to the max. If you want to start a career being a violin maker from where you are now with no basic wood working skills you are in big trouble and will be broke and divorced in a few months......What you are asking in wanting to be a luthier is similar to confessing to being unable to read or write but wishing to have a PHD. ...it is possible but probably not realistic...with a happy social or family life.... Follow what you are best at.. .....I'd second David's comment above

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For the amateur, there is a certain romantic allure of being able make violins for a living. Hanging around here for a year has been a bit of an eye opener. While it isn't impossible to break into the industry, I suspect there are precious few makers who earn their living only from making new instruments. And i've acquired a new-found respect for those who do. If i can become good enough to sell the odd instrument and get the rest into hands of talented kids who can only afford garbage, I'll be a happy man. Lets just say i wont be leaving my day job to pursue a career as an violin maker

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Oh Melvin! You edited your comment..

I liked how you referred to it as being cursed. When I am asked how I got into violin making I half jokingly say "bad-luck" but then again I am no moabite. I really do love what I do and at times to the frustration of my wife. When friday comes, I am the kind looking forward to monday. She gets jealous at times because she doesn't always have the fulfillment in her work as I do in mine so it makes commiserating on the weekends difficult. But I digress... I believe those of us called into this passion/profession do sometimes see it as a "curse" as melvin aptly put it.

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There is some good advice on this thread. If you have a wife, it would be best to get a good paying job, become very proficient at it so that you can support your family, and, all the while, hang out here and read the threads. You'll learn a lot, just by reading the new topics that pop up here. Marinate your brain in violin making for a couple years, try making a violin on the weekend, and after work. It's not really the type of thing you can just drop everything and do. You can't pull an all nighter, and come out at the other end, a luthier. It's something you acquire slowly throughout the course of your entire life. And you're lucky to have the background in playing, and realize at such a young age that this is something that you're interested in. Those are two gifts that not everyone on this forum (including myself) were lucky to have had, starting out.

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As an economist might say, the choice is a bit about opportunity cost. If you're Mckinsey or Boston consulting material, you'll do worse as a violin maker... but if your destiny might otherwise be janitor at the local Mcdonalds...

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... but if your destiny might otherwise be janitor at the local Mcdonalds...

... at least you'd be getting minimum wage and a paycheck.

At one point earlier in my working life, I took a leave of absence for a few months to try making musical instruments. I did make a few, and sold them, but it was definitely sub-minimum-wage living, with no health or retirement plan. I was single at the time, so I could do it... but it seemed awfully dumb to pass up a good paycheck for that kind of life, so I went back to my "normal" job until I retired a few years ago.

Now I'm back to sub-minimum-wage violin work. Actually, if you include expenses, it's negative income. And that's with a fair background in woodworking, and having all the necessary (and unnecessary) power tools.

Definitely listen to David and Melvin... get a good-paying job for the sake of the family, and mess around with violins in whatever spare time you have. When you determine that you don't need any more money, then you can go into violins full time.

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1. If you had the option to do it all over again, would you choose violin making and why?

My choice would be either to do violin making again, but differently, or to take up pottery.

2. Another question is, I am no longer on my own. I have a wife (in her final year of undergrad) and would like to one day have children, I am concerned with my capability to be able to provide the necessities for my family in the future.

3. ...what does life look like after graduating from a reputable Violin making school?

I got married soon after graduating from a violin making school, and my first child followed not so long after that. It's been a bumpy ride. A few people here can remember how I was travelling around with my heavily pregnant wife to sell a violin or two, being quite desperate, but trying not to show it.

I moved house from England to Belgium, and then from England to Japan. The first time with a small child, and the next with two small children. Every time I moved, I had to build up my business again almost from scratch. It's been very tough at times.

But I persisted, and kept going. And now, 14 years after starting to learn violin making, I'm in a position to be able to say I'm doing OK.

So, no, I would not recommend this career without any warning to anybody. But, if you're 100% sure this is what you want to do, then do it, but wisely. And, yes, it does help to go to a violin making school full time, but being a top dog in school counts for absolutely nothing.

To be a successful violin maker, you don't need to have started woodwork when you're 10, nor be naturally talented. What you really need above all are determination and the strongest belief that eventually you'll be a success, whatever that means to you.

There are enough people who will discourage you, and they are being wise and realistic. But, don't let me be one of them.

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Ok, here's a slightly different argument. I know three successful violin makers whose wives are the major breadwinnerrs. Apparently the wives like to be married to violin makers. So, you should determine how your wife would like to be married to a violin maker.You might remind her that you can work at home and help take care of the kid..... :rolleyes: If she can earn a decent living, and likes being married to a violin maker, you have your answer. Go to violin making school, or apprentice (probably a better option). Problem solved.

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Aaron,

Having a college degree in philosophy, a forty plus year marriage with 3 children and 6.66 grandchildren, a working life stumbling through my passions from carpentry to cabinetmaking to sawyer to varnish maker...and not being a violin maker...and having no plans to retire, I am not qualified to speak about reality.

However I have had a working relationship with most of the violin making schools in this country for a number of years. Most of them post 100% [or close] employment for their graduates. If there is something in you that says you MUST do this, then you will find a place in the trade and most likely survive financially. If you love doing it, then it is an amazing second occupation..or hobby as the case may be. Either way you can make instruments that will live beyond you and make music for a long time.

One way or the other it is an interesting path.

on we go,

Joe

ps...Does anyone want to buy a degree in philosophy?

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This topic reminds of the movie "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". See it if you haven't...even if you hate sushi.

It's the same with anything you choose to do especially when you go at it alone. Whether a restaurant, landscaping, or violin maker, unless you're rich, it's going to be hairy before it gets better. You just have to stick with it and try to make the next work better than the last.

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Keep the violin making as a hobby and enjoy it and your family life and get the best paying job you can from your studies to support your hobby and enjoy it to the max..... Follow what you are best at.. ....

Yacey's Septic Tank & Luthier Services Inc.

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I lost my first wife within a year of coming home and saying " honey guess what , I'm going to be a violinmaker "

It is now 17 years later , I have built financial wealth through property renos and investing whilst learning the violinmaking skills on the side

I have two kids which are nearly at fulltime school , and have built a workshop at home. It is only now wilh the understanding of wife #2 and many years of hard work and struggling that I am emerging as a competent maker.

So as I see it you have two choices #1 do as I did and go the long road with the aim of being setup by age 40. or #2 go to school and find a shop to work in.

I don't like to say this , but your wife might not follow you if you enter this world.

I hope you find your path , and if you ever get "lost" my door is always open

cheers Adam

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3. The availability of apprenticeships or internships- Are they available and what does it entail? Usually how long do they last and what does life look like after graduating from a reputable Violin making school?

If the goal is working in a top shop or with a top maker, pickings are pretty slim these days. Jeffrey and I have had frequent contact with one recent violinmaking school graduate who has been aggressively looking for a job (or internship) for over a year, already speaks four languages, and is willing to move just about anywhere in the world to take it on. Granted, this individual isn't looking for just any job, but holding out for a really solid fast-track continuing learning environment.

In contrast, my nephew (electrical engineer) decided to take a break before finishing grad school, in order to take advantage of one of the really good job offers thrown his way.

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I've been enamored with the romance of violin making for as .og as I've been playing. I've enjoyed other projects that are trade/workman like. I haven't managed to make an instrument, but I've greatly enjoyed carving scrolls in scrap wood to keep my hands busy.

I could probably manage to go to a violin making school. I don't think I could manage to turn down an apprenticeship, if the opportunity arose.

But there are jobs that would also be fulfilling(to me...)., pay enough to comfortably support a family AND hobbies, while being easier to get qualified for, and get.

Pharmacy it is. It's a field where part time work isn't at all uncommon. Unlike, say, engineering or comp sci, the other things I was looking at, post divorce. Which REALLY allows for enjoying life outside of work, when you can work part time and still comfortably meet the financial needs of a family.

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If you want it bad enough, nothing in this thread will dissuade you... however this thread contains some sobering and accurate information. Here's what I can offer. Hope it helps.

I don't think I can honestly say if the choice was presented to me today if I'd choose the same route. The industry has changed in the last 30 years. All I can really comment on is what lead me into the field.

I wanted to be involved with making/restoring from age 11. I asked unending streams of questions to the local makers (in Chicago) who cared for my violin, and they patiently answered them. I asked my father if I could apprentice (which was unrealistic at the time).

I got "sidetracked" by school, other woodwork, music, sculpture and working at a number of jobs to make up the rest of the rent. I had a son, then realized I wanted to go back to school and "go for it". I believe I was a year or two older than the OP at the time. Timing/drive/opportunity allowed me to make the move.

I don't think I was a brilliant student, but I worked hard in school... working for another violinmaker and a conservator during those 3 1/2 years. I guess I made decent progress, because the head of the school recommended me for a few positions to consider after school... then David Burgess visited and offered me a job helping him with making/repair and misc. projects needed by "the firm". I, of course, took it. :)

The fact that there were multiple choices then, as opposed to now, for entry level positions with decent shops is something I feel has changed radically (as noted by the story of the recent grad David mentioned). Competition from mass imports of inexpensive instruments from China was just starting, so the flood waters weren't too high as yet and the quality wasn't quite so daunting.

My own willingness to be flexible within the industry is what probably got my family through the early years. I worked in the shop, then accepted a sales position, then management, and ended as a VP within the firm I worked. Health care and other benefits allowed my to raise my family relatively comfortably and allowed my wife to stay home when the kids were pre-school age.... but I find a corp. does extract a little bits of your soul over time.

By the time my two daughters were in Jr. High and late grade school, I started my own firm. One man, one shop, one room (if you don't count storage and machine rooms). Luckily, I was in the position (reputation wise) to deal with better contemporary and older instruments... keeping my chin above the more commercial flood mentioned earlier. I live relatively simply but very comfortably. I have two kids in college and I can manage the bills. I have the time to be active on one of the violinmaking school boards, with the Oberlin workshops, and help put together an exhibition every now and then (at the upcoming VSA meeting for example). I get to work on some really fantastic old stuff and some really fantastic contemporary stuff (usually made by friends of mine). I don't have a corporate wife. She's a nurse.

The industry has changed... though not for the first time. I see things as cyclical to a point, but considering funding for the arts and competition, we are not currently at a hight point of a curve. Anyone who enters the industry now will probably be required to be even more flexible and determined.

Good luck!

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Hello All,

Thank you very much for your responses! I think what spurred me to think romatically about violin making is Chemistry! Just had some mid semester thinking that it would be so nice to live working with my hands, instead of worrying about atomic molecules. There are a lot of great insights by many of you, what really made me think is David's response. Let me recap the suggestions in this thread.

1. There are better jobs that provide more security (objective) as well as just as fun (subjective).

"Violinmaking has been a blessing and a real hoot, but I think there are equally fun and challenging jobs which can generate much better money and job security." - David Burgess

2. Anyone wishing to become a Violin Maker or repairer should know that it's a tough market that could be unpredictable in the years to come with low cost foreign instruments being made.

"This is a tough market. The learning curve is very slow. Competition is tough too." - Manfio

3. Your success as a Violin Maker will rely on your reputation of skill and integrity.

"Without a very good reputation, people won't trust you with thier instruments." -FiddleDoug

4. When considering to become a Violin Maker first consult and consider those that your choice would effect.

5. Overall, if you want to become a Violin Maker you will need; Determination, hard work, optimism, being able to branch out to clients and maintain your integrity, supporting spouse or family members, and many other aspects. If it really is what you want to do and you know it is for you,do not let the naysayers put you down or any cynicists. But it also is important to get down from a cloud to really take a look as one of you put it sobering, to have a realistic outlook on what you are getting yourself into.

Thank you so much for all of your input and the support of this community. I really appreciate it and I hope that other Violin maker enthusiasts may see before making any final decision to read this thread. I made it this far in school and with the recommendations I might as well finish, my current path is leading me to Medical school. I am still going to be attempting to make a violin over the years as opportunity presents itself. Hopefully fulfilling my love for the violin as well as violin making!

Aaron Towarak

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