Artisanal Lutherie? Artisanal Violin Making? What Now?!?

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“Artisanal Violin Making!”

Until recent years, I had never even heard the word “artisanal.”

For 23 years, I naively thought I was “just a violin maker!”  But then, I began hearing about “artisanal bread,” and “artisanal cheese,” and “artisanal restaurants.” And then someone sent me a satirical video about artisanal firewood! It was very tongue-in-cheek: definitely making a joke of the whole idea.

So, I looked the word up on the internet, hoping for a clear definition. There was a whole interesting article on Wikipedia about the term, giving the history, and all.

It turns out that I qualify! (So does every traditional luthier, but this is news to me!)

It reminds me of an old joke:

(“Last week I couldn’t spell [insert professional title] and now I are one!”)

Does it Really Matter?

It turns out that possibly part of the reason people are beginning to call me for “bespoke, custom-made, commissioned” violins and five string fiddles (yes, I know those terms amount to redundancy) is just because I do “make them one by one and almost entirely by hand.” But, so do most makers. (I use a bandsaw to cut out the rough billets. I also use a drill press to make parallel 1/8″ pilot-holes for the tuning pegs. But mostly hand tools.)

Possibly part of the reason they come to me is that I can tell them exactly where the wood came from: I can even show them the actual stump from which it was cut, in some cases.

(That particular Oregon Big Leaf Maple stump was the source of a small stash of wood I salvaged when the tree was removed because it was becoming dangerously rotten.) It was a sad day, when they removed the tree, as my wife and her siblings had played there, and climbed in its branches, during their growing-up years. But it was the source for a few instruments like this one:

Possibly it is because they enjoy the step-by-step continual progress reports, which I send them, every few days, and they get to see their instrument “being born.” They get to choose the overall “flavor” of the look and feel of their fiddle. Some have particular expectations in terms of color, texture, etc.

It is all rather strange, as, to me, that is “just how I make violins.” I had never applied the word “artisanal” to myself before. I just made things, and I did business the “old way.”

But that’s fine: it doesn’t change anything, really. It is just a new perspective for me.

“Artisanal Lutherie!”

It does have a certain ring to it!


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