I’m sometimes asked about how you train to be a violin maker. These days the old apprenticeship system has all but died out, and instead the training is done in a college setting. The students are typically a hugely mixed bunch of all ages and nationalities. People come from very diverse backgrounds; some are skilled musicians, some can’t play a note. Some already have well developed tool skills and some prior experience of instrument making; for those that don’t, the courses will start them from scratch. The really important factor is a deep desire and commitment to learn the craft and to put in the necessary time and effort to develop the skills of hand and eye coordination, and to learn to listen to instruments analytically.
Newark School of Violin Making
is where I trained, and I maintain strong links with the staff and students. By a historical accident, this small market town in the East Midlands is home to one of the largest schools of violin making in the world, with around 100 students at any one time. The course begins with a foundation year for those with little or no woodworking background. The first year is spent making violins, the second year learning restoration skills, and the third year is open for specialisation in the areas of specific interest to the individual student. The town is also home to courses for guitar making, piano tuning and restoration and woodwind making and repair.
South Thames College
has run violin making and repair courses for years within a broader musical instrument technology department that encompasses guitar and woodwind making and repair. The mix of full-time and part-time places gives the course a disproportionate intake of mature students. The focus tends towards repair rather than making instruments.
West Dean College
is the smallest UK instrument making school with only around nine students. Run by the private Edward James Foundation, the focus is primarily on early stringed instruments, but the students often work on modern strings as well. The college includes departments that make, restore and conserve clocks, furniture and books, providing training for conservators in museums and libraries all over the world, as well as fine art department and countless short courses.