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nathan slobodkin

Carrying on the tradition

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Having reached the age where I am starting to slow down physically while demand for my instruments and services continue to grow I am considering how to keep up with the work and also the eventual fate of my shop. Have other people had experience with apprentices in the shop? I have had many dilettantes ask to work with me for short periods of time but I would need some one who already had enough skills to be useful and yet be willing to learn, show up for work on time  and stay long enough to make the whole thing worth while . I myself learned through 8 years of subsistence wage apprenticeship but most people today seem to learn at schools and then aspire to careers as restorers in a big city Strad dealership. Due to the need of a large stock of high quality aged wood to make artist quality instruments establishing a violin shop from scratch as I did required decades of work and investment and I would be sad to see it eventually broken up or inherited by people with no interest in the trade. If anyone has experience on either side of the apprentice/teacher relationship or the passing on of a violin business I would value comments.

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I don't have  shop, or a business; but I did have two apprentice toolmakers at work.  They went to school too, so it was just a 4 year or so apprentice, and it finished up just before I retired in June.  The company has more apprentices than journeyman now.  They couldn't find journeyman toolmakers, in an area saturated with machinists, because their wages were below the average, and they wouldn't budge.  

But that's a whole other story.

Both apprentices that I had came with some machining background.  I would think that would be about the same as someone coming out of a violin making school.  Yeah, I know that graduates probably think that they know more than you will ever forget; the apprentices got their journeyman card, and thought that they were equal, (at least)  to everyone) but making a violin a year and maybe a cello doesn't make you a professional.  A hobbyist can do that, although probably not at the same level, unless they have nice violins around them, and are very skilled woodworkers.

In that sense; I would try to get some graduates out of a local school in the Northeast, to work as apprentices.  Let's call it a masters program, and maybe it will be more alluring.

Having apprentices forces you to think.  I know enough about machining that I don't have to think about it very much.  Speeds, feeds, depth of cut, I start somewhere, and change it up as it goes.  The same thing works for violin making.  Things that you do, that you almost do unconsciously, like lifting up a gouge or chisel when it is getting to where the grain shifts, or any number of things from gluing, to roughing, to final graduation, and varnish techniques.

The apprentices would ask questions that made me think.  "Yeah, you could do that, but.." 

They also will teach you how to live in mutual respect.  You respect them, they respect you.  If you don't have that, then it's all over.  If you DO have that, then it is a wonderful thing.  They are the only two from work that gave me their emails.  I don't miss work.  But relationships are better than work.

 

 

 

 

 

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I'm on the apprentice side currently. I'm lucky because I'm one of the lucky few that gets to build violins and make enough to live off of. I'm also learning restoration and general maintenance, now rehairing, sales and whatnot, as those things pay the bills more regularly. 

I can say that it works because both of our life situations allow for this relationship. 

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I am living with the thought that my shop will close when I retire.

Nevertheless, in your situation I would start a long prepared 'headhunt' and eventually look abroad as well. Not all graduates from violin making school get into bigger shops and I am sure you can find someone who is willing invest in his own future.

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On 10/18/2019 at 3:46 AM, nathan slobodkin said:

Having reached the age where I am starting to slow down physically while demand for my instruments and services continue to grow I am considering how to keep up with the work and also the eventual fate of my shop. Have other people had experience with apprentices in the shop? I have had many dilettantes ask to work with me for short periods of time but I would need some one who already had enough skills to be useful and yet be willing to learn, show up for work on time  and stay long enough to make the whole thing worth while . I myself learned through 8 years of subsistence wage apprenticeship but most people today seem to learn at schools and then aspire to careers as restorers in a big city Strad dealership. Due to the need of a large stock of high quality aged wood to make artist quality instruments establishing a violin shop from scratch as I did required decades of work and investment and I would be sad to see it eventually broken up or inherited by people with no interest in the trade. If anyone has experience on either side of the apprentice/teacher relationship or the passing on of a violin business I would value comments.

Is that a job offer, Nathan? 

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My girl is studying Law, and is already working as a trainee in a law office. My boy just started studying medicine. Both are in our top notch State University here, it is in the European style, so free of any charge,  we are not paying for that education anymore. Sometimes my boy  enters in the workshop to do something, but none of them will make violas.

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