In the workshops of some of the region’s finest musical instrument makers
Guitar maker Bill Tippin knows that musicians, like many others, have had more free time during the pandemic. He’s more than happy to get a guitar in these hands, but anyone interested in his handcrafted instruments will have to wait: with a recent spike in business, his waiting list is a year and a half long. .
Located on the Marblehead waterfront, Tippin Guitars (tippinguitars.com, 781-631-5749) has been making custom flat acoustic guitars since 1995. With an emphasis on high-quality wood and custom instruments, Tippin says that he built his clientele without any advertising.
“All of my business comes from word of mouth, and that’s given me a trail of clients all these years,” he says.
CB Fisk Inc.
CB Fisk of Gloucester only builds a few pipe organs each year, and it’s easy to see why.
The company (cbfisk.com, 978-283-1909) is known worldwide for its intricate organs, each of which is one-of-a-kind and custom-made for its new home. Craftsmen use techniques dating from the 15th to 20th centuries to make the organs, ranging from casting their own metal pipe from lead and tin alloys to hand-cutting cow bones to make the surface of the keys. After each organ is built, it takes several months to perfect the sound of the pipes, a process known as harmonization.
“We never build the same instrument twice,” says Dana Sigall, a builder with the company, adding that the organs are operated by mechanical key action and involve little or no electronics.
The company was founded by Charles B. Fisk, a physicist who continued organ building after joining the Manhattan Project. She has made instruments for clients around the world, including Harvard’s Memorial Church and Lausanne Cathedral in Switzerland.
A master of bow making, Benoît Rolland’s curriculum vitae includes a MacArthur “genius scholarship” and training in the French town of Mirecourt, one of the world capitals of violin making. However, the people he made bows for are equally impressive – a who’s who of legends, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Mstislav Rostropovich.
Rolland sees his job as a lifelong quest. “I keep asking myself how the bow can be improved, how to facilitate the interaction between the musician and the bow,” he says. “The instrument makes the sound, the bow makes the music.”
The magic happens in his studio in Watertown (benoitrolland.com, 617-744-0678), bathed in light from the windows. Each bow – for violin, viola or cello – is made from dense and heavy Brazilian Pernambuco wood, prized for the way it transmits the vibrations of the instrument to the player, and the hair of a horse’s tail. It takes about two to three weeks to make a bow, and Rolland’s waiting list is about four years. Given his mastery, it’s worth the wait.
Implements for seed drills
Half of the folk duo Carling & Will, William Seeders Mosheim knows a lot about music. When it comes to his livelihood building instruments, he learned that the more parts you make by hand, the better.
At Seeders Instruments (seedersinstruments.com, 802-768-1215) – nestled on a wooded hillside in Dorset, Vermont – he shares a bright workshop with his father, a fine furniture maker, and his steelworker brother. There he crafts banjos with painstaking care, making almost all the parts himself. “I don’t have to rely on other manufacturers to supply my rims, supply my inlays, supply my hardware,” Mosheim says. “I can really hone all the tunes that go into my instruments.”
He adds, “There’s nothing better than seeing the instruments I create continue to make great music in the hands of other artists.”
William S. Haynes Co.
The William S. Haynes Co., now located in Acton, has many “firsts” to its credit. No wonder he was a leader in his field of flute making.
The company (wmshaynes.com, 978-268-0600) was founded in 1888, after the principal flautist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra asked brothers William and George Haynes to build him an instrument. He is credited with producing the first American-made 18-karat gold flute in 1896; according to the society, George Haynes later invented the standard method for making holes in silver flutes.
Today, the company remains one of the leading flute manufacturers, making silver, platinum and gold instruments for leading orchestral flutists around the world. During the pandemic, many adults who used to play the flute are looking to pick up the instrument, fueling a surge in sales, says sales manager Korinne Smith. “In 2022, we are living a record year.”
Christophe White Violins
Chris White has long known he was destined to be a luthier – and one who constantly looks to the past for inspiration. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” he says.
Educated at North Bennet Street School in Boston – where he had worked as a substitute teacher until three years ago – White is a fixture in the area, crafting bespoke violins, violas and cellos from his home in West Roxbury (christopherwhiteviolins.com, 617-323-8831). He says it’s been a lifelong obsession to imitate the Italian masters; his violins are inspired by the work of famous luthiers such as Antonio Stradivari and Joseph Guarneri.
Paul Mozell (mozellstudios.com) photographs nature and landscapes; environmental, engineering and architectural projects; and lifestyles. He is based in the Boston area. Send your comments to [email protected]