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A Violin Maker Crafts the Perfect Pitch

02/01/2007 01:21PM ● Published by Brandi Barnett

Making Music

February 2007
By Teresa Wilson

Formore than 20 years, award-winning craftsman JohnHarrison has been creating violins inspired by 17th century Italian masters Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù and Antonio Stradivari.

Using only the finest woods from around the world,Harrison builds his instruments with attention to detail. Every piece of the violin is sculpted by hand using traditional tools and then graced with varnishes Harrison formulates from hand-made pigments. Each instrument takes about three months to make and Harrison has shaped more than a hundred in his lifetime.

The true beauty of these masterpieces is in the exceptional tone and clarity of sound. One is lifted to another place when Harrison gently pulls the bow over the strings releasing a melody with absolute purity and perfection.

Harrison imports maple from the CarpathianMountains in central Europe and spruce from Austria and Northern Italy. Some American woods are obtained from Alaska, the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Maple Cascade mountain range in Oregon. Africa and India provide exotic ebony for the fingerboard and chin plate.

Harrison’s violins and cellos have received numerous medals and certificates of merit from The Violin Society of America for their symphonic tone and perfect pitch.With hundreds competing from the United States and other countries, placing in this biennial competition is an honor many artisans could only dream of.

Harrison began his professionalmusic career as an acoustic guitarist in a local band.While in high school, he worked in several music stores repairing guitars and stringed instruments. In 1978, he began studying violins and soon it was clear where his true talent was. What started out as an enthusiasm for guitars has evolved into a passion for Italian violins, violas and cellos.

“The more I studied violins, guitars just became less interesting,” said Harrison. Harrison continues studying the art of handcrafted violins and said one lifetime is not enough to know everything. He is constantly learning and improving his technique.

When Harrison first opened his shop in 1982, he knew he would have to specialize to carve his niche in the industry. Over time, he has created the reputation of a master craftsman and now has three apprentices learning his distinctive style. Harrison’s violins are sold from his shop on Lake Boulevard and at select dealers across the United States. He has also sold to private clients in Europe and the Orient.

Harrison said the art of creating a handcrafted violin is in “capturing the mystic” of the instrument. No two violins are alike and when he begins to build one, he has a specific goal in mind. “It depends on who made them, when they were made, and the quality. All Stradivarius’ are not created equal,” said Harrison.

Whether hand-made or produced on a production line, the maker has significant impact on the artistic tone and workmanship. Harrison maintains that violin makers fall into three basic categories.

The first and least expensive violins are manufactured by a factory on a production line and can range in price from $100 up to around $3,000.

Violins created by an individual artisan or violin shop fall into the second category. Those instruments can be a little more costly, but well worth the price because every piece is done by hand. Violins in this category can range in value from $3,000 to $45,000 depending on the reputation of the maker and quality of the workmanship.

The third category in the violin family is the antique or collectible instrument that is primarily Italian in heritage. These antique violins command a selling price of $15,000 to a million or more depending on their condition and tone.�

For more information, visit Harrison Violins’ website at www.harrisonviolins.com or call 530-243-4400.

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