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The Boston Globe
Job Explainer

Violin Maker

Name: Anna Sandys, 31


Globe Photo/Mark Wilson

Employer:
Arthur Toman Violins, a repair shop in Newton; also self-employed in Cambridge.

What does your job entail?
I make violin-family instruments: violins, violas, and cellos. I work three days a week as a shop apprentice for Arthur Toman in Newton doing repair work and some new-violin making. The rest of the week I have the opportunity to either do repair work for my customers or to make violins. I have a very flexible schedule. There aren't any deadlines except the ones I impose on myself.

How did you get started?
As an adult I was learning to play the violin, so I started taking lessons and renting from a shop. I really became interested in the whole process and apprenticed there for awhile. I decided I liked it and went to the North Bennett School for Violin Making, a three-year accredited technical school. It's mostly woodworking and design concepts.

What materials do you work with?
The violin is made out of maple, and the top is made of spruce. I also use ebony, poplar, and occasionally willow.

What is a common repair?
During the winter it's very dry so we have lots of open seams and plates cracking. Those are basic glue cleat repairs.

Is there room to showcase some of your artistic expression when making an instrument?
Yes. Generally people work from a model of older violins, but certainly your personal skills and outside style are apparent. I particularly like the way I finish my archings. Archings are the shapes that you see on the outside of the violin, the complex curves. They can be difficult to execute.

What skill is essential in your field?
You need to like to solve problems because sometimes you're faced with situations where there is no textbook answer. We recently had to repair a dried-out cello where the rib mitres had separated. We had to figure out a clamping method to get them back together. It's a very narrow curved surface and normal clamps wouldn't hang on to it.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Being self-promotional is difficult for a lot of violin makers. Having to sell yourself for repair work or for making new instruments can be intimidating. It's hard when you're used to sitting by yourself and working with your hands. People mainly find out about me through word of mouth.

What is the going rate for your labor and what is a typical salary range?
It's basically comparable to wages that a car mechanic receives, and violin makers in different parts of the country price hourly wages along those lines. For full-time work in a shop, a violin maker would expect to make around $35,000 to $40,000 a year.

-JESSICA LEGNOS

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