Instrument Makers Improvise on the Strings of Tradition

By Behe, Rege | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 4, 2010 | Go to article overview

Instrument Makers Improvise on the Strings of Tradition


Behe, Rege, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Joe Knight is blind in one eye. At 74, he's a bit hunched over from more than 40 years working in residential construction, and his wife's health is a concern.

But, almost every day, he escapes for a few hours to a small building behind his home in Clarion. Outside, there's a warning posted that the premises are watched by a video camera; inside, there are scraps and pieces of wood, sawdust and tools. It's much like any other workshop until Knight invites a visitor into a room that he keeps locked.

"You want to see my violins?" he says.

On two sets of shelves hang hand-crafted violins that gleam in the light. Even though Knight barely plays a few notes, and has not made a profit from this venture he started 14 years ago, this room is his refuge.

"I come down here as much as I can," Knight says.

Knight is a luthier, an artisan who makes or repairs stringed instruments. In an age when violins especially are increasingly being mass produced, notably in China to his dismay, Knight -- and his peers -- are throwbacks to another age.

"You are looking at 400 years of tradition here," says Robert Gordon III as he sits behind a worktable at his studio in Indiana County.

Gordon learned violin making from his father, Robert Gordon Jr. At his Indiana studio (he also has a workshop in his home in nearby Belsano, Indiana County), Gordon repairs and refurbishes stringed instruments, mostly violins and violas, along with the occasional cello or upright bass. Because making a violin by hand is labor- intensive -- Gordon estimates he works more than 200 hours on each instrument -- and because he needs to make a living via the repair work, he produces only two per year.

But his limited production is a point of pride.

"It's functional art," Gordon says, "and it's so wonderful to be a part of that. You have violins that are valuable because of who made them and the fact they are antiques. But that same violin, if it's still functioning well, it's really valuable. Now you have something you can't put a price on."

While Gordon and Knight are following in a tradition set by Italians Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) and the Guarneri family (17th and 18th centuries), Tom Moran is not a typical luthier. Self- described as "disgruntled musician," the 53-year-old spends hours each week in the basement of his Squirrel Hill home crafting instruments that have no precedent. There's a miniature stringed piece with dulcimer fretting that has a cigar-box body. There's an electric oud made from bright, blue Masonite with a poplar frame that uses Danelectro technology from the 1950s. And there's an ant- lyre, a stringed instrument that's more of a conversation piece than anything else.

As a friend told Moran, "you might not be the first guy to make a harp out of deer antlers, but you're probably the first guy in 200 years."

Moran has no clientele, no marketing scheme, nothing but a desire to make instruments that create sounds he hears, but cannot reproduce.

"I'd be listening to West African music and think those ngonis sound great," he says of the small stringed instruments indigenous to that part of the world. "But it's not like you can go to a ngoni center. ... Then I thought, I could make this stuff."

Moran studied with Alex Meleshenko, a luthier and guitar maker from Forest Hills, before he began working on his own six years ago. Knight also had a tutor, of sorts: He learned by studying notes and manuals and using the tools left behind by his great uncle, Robert Knight, a jeweler who lived in Ludlow, McKean County. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Instrument Makers Improvise on the Strings of Tradition
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.