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The Violin Maker: Finding a Centuries-Old Tradition in a Brooklyn Workshop

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  202 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
How does a simple piece of wood become a violin, the king of instruments? Watch and find out as Eugene Drucker, a member of the world–renowned Emerson String Quartet, commissions Sam Zygmuntowicz, a Brooklyn craftsman, to make him a new violin. As he tells this extraordinary story, journalist John Marchese shares the rich lore of this beloved instrument and illuminates an ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published March 27th 2007 by Harper (first published January 1st 2007)
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String Instruments on the Cover
9th out of 133 books — 59 voters
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Violin books
97th out of 143 books — 40 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 466)
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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
Mar 14, 2009 Megan rated it really liked it
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
Nov 13, 2014 KennyO rated it it was amazing
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 19, 2014 Nemanja rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 05, 2014 David rated it it was amazing
Beautiful story and well done!
Ronan O'Driscoll
Jan 05, 2015 Ronan O'Driscoll rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 13, 2008 Carissa rated it liked it
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
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
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
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 23, 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
Jun 04, 2015 Sarah rated it liked it
Very good book about how violins are made and the relationship between the musician and the instrument, as well as the constant debate of what makes a truly wonderful instrument.
Dec 15, 2013 Bonnie rated it liked it
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
Chris Robinette
Nov 15, 2015 Chris Robinette rated it it was amazing
Mar 04, 2010 Jimt43 rated it liked it
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.
Nov 05, 2015 BrocheAroe rated it really liked it
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 29, 2012 Carlos Kemeny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 01, 2008 Therese rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 06, 2009 Marion rated it liked it
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
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.
Leonard Jacobs
Mar 11, 2011 Leonard Jacobs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book about craftsmanship and art, or is it the art of craftsmanship? This is an example of how to write a compelling book about what could be a very dry topic. I enjoyed it immensely!
Christina Wong
Aug 06, 2007 Christina Wong rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 09, 2009 Rose rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 13, 2008 Sidney rated it liked it
If you like music or play a string instrument this book is fascinating. I listened to some of the music mentioned on youtube while i read and it really made the book dynamic.
Nov 09, 2007 Marilyn rated it really liked it
Good book about a modern violin maker. The author follows the process from start to finish with a side trip to Cremona, Italy to learn more about the history of fine violins.
Mar 02, 2009 Greg rated it it was ok
Pretty good non-fiction about writer who follows a modern-day violin maker. Learned a lot about violins and the mystique of Stradivarius' that I was curious about.
Dec 31, 2010 Jan rated it it was amazing
If you love violins, you will enjoy this book about the making of violins. You will learn that a Stradivari isn't the best violin in the world after all.
Jun 20, 2008 John rated it liked it
A quick light read - very interesting. I didn't know that the best living violin maker lives within walking distance of me!
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