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The Violin Maker: A Search for the Secrets of Craftsmanship, Sound, and Stradivari

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  261 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
How does a simple piece of wood become the king of instruments?

The violin does something remarkable, magical, and evocative. It is capable of bringing to life the mathematical marvels of Bach, the moan of a Gypsy melody, the wounded dignity of Beethoven's Concerto in D Major. No other instrument is steeped in such a rich brew of myth and lore—and yet the making of a violin
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2007)
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(showing 1-30)
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Since Stradivarius and Guarneri died in the early 18th Century, the world has been frustrated: "I wish Strad had left us a little book or something." He didn't, and John Marchese (whose avocation is jazz trumpet), does what dozens have done before him: try to find the secret. He describes with amusement some quack violin builders' (luthiers) claims to have learned the mystery of Strad, or to have uncovered a long buried notebook. But no such thing exists, and no one knows why, not too long after ...more
Feb 24, 2009 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't happen to be any sort of music expert. I listen to classical music when I work. I took piano lessons for 13 years and still have trouble sight-reading. I played the trumpet for almost as long and was just kind of okay. I took blues guitar lessons and promptly forgot everything I ever learned. But I love music nonetheless, and especially the violin. And, I love stories of quiet, passionate people making beautiful things. This is both a history of violin-making (Stradivari) and a chronicli ...more
This is a difficult book to rate. I enjoyed it very much because

-I love violins,
-I love the Emerson Quartet,
-I know of no other book quite like this, and
-I like when knowledgable people who can perform Bach capably refer to their $25,000 instruments as "fiddles"

For all these reasons, I'm tempted to give the book four or five stars, but it just doesn't seem like that kind of book. I think the story is made better by the fact that the author is a trumpet player with very little prior kno
Mar 06, 2014 KennyO rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
I'd recently read Clapton's Guitar (Allen St. John, Free Press) and I later read a mention of John Marchese's The Violin Maker in an online discussion of luthierie. The notion of Old World/New World kinship intrigued me, so I bought the book, poured some wine and settled in with my hopes high. Reading The Violin Maker was as pleasant a journey as I've made through a book. To my mind there is enough technical enlightenment (materials and techniques), enough history (a visit to Cremona, Italy, the ...more
Loved the book from the start! It was engaging and easy to read. It grabbed me and I would have finished it in one day (if I didn't had to sleep and/or work ;) ). John Marchese combines historical facts about violin making and violin makers with his own observations and feelings about his journey into the violin building world and tales about/from Sam Zygmuntowicz (a renowned Brooklyn violin-maker) and Gene Drucker (violinist of the Emerson Quartet who plays a Stradivarius and who commissioned S ...more
Aug 17, 2014 Nemanja rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short, level-headed introduction to the world of violin-making. If you're already familiar with the matter, you might not get much out of this book, as the technical information is quite basic, and anecdotes and trivia that can be found on various online forums are much more amusing. However, I appreciate the author's effort to dispel some prevailing myths, mystifications, and outright lies, and it's certainly worth a read if you haven't come across the subject in the past.
Eugenea Pollock
Oct 26, 2016 Eugenea Pollock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Following the process of making a fine violin was fascinating, and this craftsman is superb. The identity of two of his customers/clients attests to that fact: Joshua Bell and Yo-Yo Ma. Read this and get as close to Stradivarius as possible.
Apr 05, 2014 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful story and well done!
Reagan Brasch
Nov 29, 2016 Reagan Brasch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book made me nostalgic for this book that I read when I was young called the Violin Hunter. I thought it was great to follow the violin making process and get a violin history lesson at the same time! Now I want to get recordings of the Emerson Quartet to hear the violin that was center stage in the story.
Len Knighton
Dec 15, 2016 Len Knighton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
THE VIOLIN MAKER may not sound like a particularly exciting book, but as one who has been involved with music in one way or another for more than fifty years, it caught my attention and imagination. I am in constant awe of those who are among the best at what they do and this book features a number of “the best” including two men who have been dead for over two hundred years. I can tell you that I will never watch a strings player again without thinking of his musical talent and the work and ski ...more
Jun 13, 2008 Carissa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Radiohead fans and classical music lovers
Recommended to Carissa by: the library
Shelves: finished
Having spent lots of time hanging out with my boyfriend in his attic woodworking shop, I enjoyed this reflective exploration of what it means to make a "perfect" violin from scratch. The author spends months following a Brooklyn woodworker as he fulfills a commission to make a violin for Gene Drucker of the Emerson Quartet. Always friendly and never technical, the book affectionately describes all the decisions that go into making a great violin -- selecting the perfect block of wood, aging the ...more
Marchese chronicles the crafting of a new instrument by renowned Brooklyn violin-maker Sam Zygmuntowicz, under commission for Emerson Quartet violinist Eugene Drucker (who plays a Stradivarius, and is extremely sensitive to the inexpressible sonic qualities of the box of wood under his chin). The author travels to Stradivari’s hometown of Cremona (where a modern revival of violin-making has emerged), spends many hours observing the increasingly detailed work at Zygmuntowicz’s studio, and attends ...more
Apr 23, 2007 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another of my favorite genre, obsessively niche nonfiction. It tells the story of contemporary luthier (violin maker) Sam Zygmuntowicz in an industry that so venerates the old. Marchese (a musician himself -- trumpetist) paints a vibrant picture of a maker of new violins -- one of the first to make a modern violin rivalling the old Italians. The book follows Zygmuntowicz during the intensely personal and meticulous process of designing and building a violin commissioned by a noted violinist, whi ...more
Jan 08, 2012 Moe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a violinist I found this book inspiring, uplifting and informative. John Marchese gives a window into a world few, even professional performers ever see, the workshop of a world class luthier. There has been a renaissance in violn making in recent years and one of those leading the way is American luthier Samuel Zygmuntowicz.Charged with the task of creating a violin worthy of internationally acclaimed violinist Eugene Drucker, Zygmuntowicz draws upon a lifetime of study and 300 years of viol ...more
Apr 25, 2012 Bonnie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
An interesting journey following the crafting of a custom violin for Eugene Drucker (Emerson Quartet. Also gives some insights to the history of the Luthier craft. The process is beautiful, but I couldn't help feeling that Marchese had an agenda (to write a book) and wasn't as personally interested in the art. Of course, he's also a trumpet player - and he didn't even try playing a violin instrument, which would have given him more insights into the strings world. Worth a read, but I doubt I'll ...more
Ronan O'Driscoll
Great book. Part practical account of a master fiddle-maker at work. Part travelogue (liked the Cremona chapter). Part insightful documentary on the rarefied world of classical musical instrument production. Part biography of the mysterious Stradivari himself. All written with a light touch. I sensed Sam Zygmuntowicz (the maker) was a little exasperated at times with the author but that shows how well he characterized his subject. Really enjoyed it.
Feb 13, 2010 Jimt43 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting from a 'how violins are made' perspective. Less interesting and compelling from the story telling angle. The author couldn't decide if he was telling a story or chronically history. I would have preferred the former. With all the technical details of violins and violin making I would preferred a bundle more illustrations. A map of Italy might have been nice also. Overall, though I am glad I read it.
Judy E. Barksdale
Observations at a craftsman's elbow.

Easily accessible read into the craftsmanship of building a violin. Without jeopardizing the trade secrets of Sam, it would have been great to have some pictures or a link to an online video of the process. I am now going to look inside my violin and as a novice will be more observant of the sound under the ear.
Aug 13, 2007 BrocheAroe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Shane
This book is a wonderful story about the art form of violin making. Though the writing itself often seems like it has two authors - the lyrical dreamer sometimes gets overwritten by the research historian - the story is a delightful mix of an ancient craft practiced in a modern era. If you have an ounce of musical interest, this book is a fascinating read.
Carlos Kemeny
Feb 08, 2012 Carlos Kemeny rated it really liked it
As a violinist, I appreciated the journalistic approach of Marchese. While the reporting of the violin making process is a little slow at times, the author does a great job at combining historical fact with the creation of a new instrument. I would certainly recommend this book to violinists and classical music lovers.
Nov 05, 2016 Alan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Non-fiction story about violin making and violin makers. Marchese, who is a trombonist, became fascinated with the violin and arranged to spend time with a violin maker who was beginning a new project making a modern violin copied after the style of Guarneri for Emerson Quartet violinist Eugene Drucker. Well worth reading if you are a string player or are just interested.
Dec 01, 2008 Therese rated it really liked it
As a violinist I loved the story of the author's journey into the world of the violin maker Samual Zygmuntowicz who made a violin for Eugene Drucker of the Emerson String Quartet. Its very down to earth and explains clearly many things that were a mystery to me in the past.
Caroline Stagg
Enjoyed reading, esp. Since i made a dulcimer, and could hear the wood and smell the wood. I liked the was the new old master napped in the drying room, and had a polar bear blanket. Smooth interesting musical reading
Author's adventure of spending time with Sam Zygmuntowicz while he is creating a violin for Eugene Drucker of the Emerson String Quartet. Gives a not often seen side of musicians and others in the field. One will have a different view of blocks of wood after reading this.
Melanie Garrett
Aug 15, 2010 Melanie Garrett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given my obsession with all things violin, I thoroughly enjoyed this little gem of a book. It rips along like a novel, but is full of wisdom on all manner of creative angst.
Apr 01, 2008 Lora rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marchese's charming narrative of violin-making and its history reminded me of the movie The Red Violin. Even though I don't play, I found myself turning these pages obsessively. It's a gem of a book.
Dec 05, 2008 Holly rated it liked it
good read
Jan 07, 2009 Rose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book about current violin maker Sam Zygmuntowicz. It's pretty short, and easy to read. Interesting look into the world of one of today's top violin makers.
Christina Wong
Aug 06, 2007 Christina Wong rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i'm still in the process of reading this, but so far it's been fascinating. maybe a little unfamiliar to non musicians, but a great tool in learning more about instruments and how they're made.
Mar 30, 2008 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really fascinating if you are interested in music or how violins are made this is the book for you.
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