Training of String Instrument Making & Repair

After having learned and worked on Orchestral String Instruments for almost a decade, starting in a South African time (2000) when almost all of the people able and willing to had either emigrated, retired or died it was evident that there is a dire need for more Violin Makers – also known a Luthiers.

One of the biggest problems that the Orchestral Musician was faced with was poor workmanship, limited knowledge to do it well and unrefined technical ability. Each and every time I engaged with European dealers, auctioneers or other I heard all about our inability and please not to touch anything because we don’t know!?!

Having been swamped in things to do with repairs, restorations and trying to find a gap to make a bit it was clear that someone has to take the initiative or we end up with the same on going repeat with the few who do know … leaving, retiring or falling into history.

I then discussed the possibility of creating a sustainable training program with Laurie Wapenaar (the then CEO of the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company. This was an exciting and overwhelming thing to do! The ‘perfect world’ vision was too good to be true and the queue of eager participants long.

We had many positive experiences and overcame a host of difficulties. Unfortunately, the biggest and hardest to overcome was poor administrative capabilities and limited funds to do it with. So, it all ended in November 2010.

Shortly thereafter I was asked by the ECPO – Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra – to come and initiate the same once more.  This time we were armed with hind sight and all of the instruments being learned on in the Eastern Cape that seeded the growing concern.

We have had to close shop on bigger training initiatives for the time being but have it in our scope to continue soonest. We have learned that it will be best done in house, once our manufacture plant is up and running … May 2023 be the year of continued learning and setting this up for good!

Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company Training

Eastern Cape Training Workshop

Private Individuals Who Have Worked on Projects with Us

The first image is of Rob Brislin (now deceased), He was a legal man by day and a violin maker by night. He was learning to make a bow with me. The second image is Roux Wessels (unfortunately also deceased, my daughter’s God father) he was also busy finishing off a cello bow at the same time as Rob, just for the fun and interest of it.

The next seven images are of Simon Hill who today is an independent violin maker in the Northern part of Johannesburg. His lessons were brief, being a carpenter meant that he mainly needed a few guidelines about the practical part of what to and what not to do.

The next five images are Juan Glover, a paramedic in Bloemfontein, who has been passionately working on string instruments as the Svencino backup there:) Over the years the musical community in Bloemfontein have come to appreciate his dedicated work although it has been a hard path for him burning his candle on both ends. Bravo for staying with it!

The last 7 Images are Marike Trousset, rebuilding a cello that she bought that needed to be completely redone. It was a successful finish with a few of her own expressions that worked out well overall:)

Workshops on the Violin Explained for Kids

All of these different experiences have shown us many areas that are necessary and needed for learning about instrument repair, setup and making. The main challenges with starting or continuing this are as follow:

  1. The tool-up for each learner comes at a high price. Depending on the scope and depth of the training it costs between ZAR10 and 35 000.00 per learner.
  2. Each of the learners needs materials and subject matter to work and learn on. Almost everything for a violin comes at a premium.
  3. Overcoming gaps from schooling, especially with mathematics and reading with comprehension in relation and reference to technical understanding is challenging because of the language and exposure barrier.
  4. Cost of Trainers. Anyone able to train in Violin Making is, of course, already able to and busy keeping their own clients and workshop moving. This means that the cost of mot being at the bench needs its fair emolument for time taken.
  5. Each of the learners needs to be able to travel to a fro and sustain life while learning … mostly this is impossible without a stipend for the first year (at least) until they are proficient for billable working.
  6. The ideal scenario is having a collective workshop where larger inventories of instruments – from Schools, Outreach, Universities and Private Studios – come in to be worked on in batches.
  7. Many of the schools, institutions and outreach that have large amounts of instruments are often unable to pay the real cost of having them well serviced and repaired.
  8. There are a limited number of people who can and are willing or able to give training. Also it is better to have different experiences, techniques and perspectives when teaching violin making – Only one trainer is not a fantastic idea.

These are the main challenges, in a nut shell, that we are working on bridging. What we have seen and still working on is setting up a manufacturing plant that adds to South African Import substitution with augmented items which allows for the space needed to sustain it.

Once we get this right we see that this still has a reason and chance of becoming reality.

In the mean time:)

  1. Duduzile Rose Shabangu is being mentored and trained to perfection so that once we resume with adding new intakes she has the insights needed to bridge the language divide with the ability of translating a, largely, Eurocentric concept into something that can be understood in practical terms.
  2. Thabang Mohlaping, who was one of the trainees in the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company session, turned out to have two left thumbs for violin work but he showed a deeper understanding of the language divide and took it upon himself to translate all of our working into Setswana and vernacular. When we are ready to complete the compilation of our training modules, coming soon, his theory translations become invaluable for our future experiences.

All of this is being done so that South Africa will (touch wood or metal) never again be in a position where we have run out of instrument makers!


The ongoing Violin Explained developments here along with training modules to come will be an Everlast resource for any aspiring luthier – sans frontiers!)