The musical world of the violin maker, the luthier, is a fascinating place called a lutherie. Do you know how many luthier tools it takes to make a violin? Discover the art of violin making – and meet luthier Jamie Marie Lazzara in her tiny violin shop where she explains her craft.
My name is Jamie Marie Lazzara and I make violins. I’m a master violin maker here in Italy. When I was 15, I decided to make violins. I’m actually American, but I came here when I was 19, in Italy, to study violin making.
This is my shop. I’m telling you, here are all the tools that I use. I use all the chisels. I cut out the pieces with this saw. I plane all of my wood with planes which can be gigantic. I also finish my work with very tiny planes. These are very precise instruments that I use to do the arching, to carve it out.
This shop is absolutely small – I mean this place is six square metres.
A good collection of resins from all over the world. All kinds of minerals, all kinds of roots. My scales are up there, to be able to make the proportions.
I’m starting a new violin. Right here, I’m preparing the ribs.
I’ve designed and planed the head, which I’ll cut out with my saw up there. And this is going to be the scroll.
Right over here I’ve made the blocks which are on the form. By the way, this is going to be a copy of a Stradivari 1714 – Itzhak Perlman’s violin, like the one I made for him.
I’ve planed the back. This will be the back. I choose wood – I want to show you because this is a huge piece of woodthat comes from a tree – this was the centre of the tree and this is the outside. I quite like this one. So this is going to be the back.
These are going to be the ribs, which are the sides of the violin, which I’m going to bend and they’re going to make up the sides of the violin. So see, this is the piece that will become the ribs here.
I’m calculating the internal form of the sound box. That’s interesting because I’m more interested in the sound that the violin makes. Each violin I make is an entity. Every type of violin gives a certain type of sound. It’s not predetermined. I don’t cut out the shape of the back. This is my form. The blocks are glued onto the form. I shape the blocks. First I do the shape of the c-bouts, which are these, the centre ones.
The shape of the wood was all done by carving with chisels, and then by using little precision hand planes.
I wanted to tell you that the violin is made out of more than 70 pieces. These pieces are all glued together using natural glue. This is the glue when it’s in its solid form. A violin can be conserved for 300 years, and be used every day.
I don’t know how many hundreds of photos they take outside my shop, because strangely enough, it’s a small place but I’ve had the privilege of working for some of the most famous classical music soloists in the world, and plus all of the most famous rock stars here on the Italian scene. For example, I made Itzhak Perlman’s violin in 1993, Arien De Graaf, I made Mischo Moltov’s violin, various recording artists and popstars and rock stars. For the guy who designs The Simpsons – Joe Wack. Ridley Scott actually came by my shop and he came in and wanted to meet me, and they decided to do a scene on the film Hannibal which is part of the special features. There’s a picture of Ridley Scott up there. I’m behind him and Dino De Laurentiis is behind me.
That brings me to this – I had this honour given to me by the Society of St. John the Baptist of Florence, which is an antique society that was founded by Ferdinando de’ Medici if I’m not wrong. And it was sponsored by UNESCO.
This is modelled after the most ancient bowed instrument in Italy, which is from 1415. Santa Caterina di Bologna – she played this instrument. This is a violetta. It’s just interesting, isn’t it? So these are the instruments that they were using 150 years before the violin was invented, here in Italy. This would be a kit violin, which were the instruments that were used by dance masters. It was used to show the rhythm and the type of dance, and then he would show the type of dance.
I wanted to tell you the story about the violin that I made for President Obama. Itzhak Perlman used my violin for Obama’s first inauguration, which was in 2009. This violin is particular because it shines black but it’s transparent and shines through a kind of brownish hue underneath. This phrase was brought to America by an Italian who lived just outside Florence. His name was Philp Mazzei. Tutti gli uomini sono per natura egualmente liberi e indipendenti. And I made the signature of Philip Mazzei. And then underneath the translation by Thomas Jefferson – “all men are by nature equally free and independent”. I’d like to invite you all, when you come to Florence, to come and take a look at my shop. It’s in the shadow of Palazzo Vecchio here in Florence. Bye from Tuscany!