Lutherie in the US: An American Dream

Becker workshop

Violin making in the US was built on the aspirations of a few woodworkers with talent – and in two centuries it has evolved into a multimillion-dollar industry. Ahead of the publication of a new book, The American Violin, co-author Philip Kass traces the advancement of American lutherie and shows ...

Many countries regard themselves as being, in one way or another, exceptional. The United States of America has ample justification for making such a claim. From its very origins it has been a ‘land of opportunity’, a place where anyone could make a fresh start and lead the lives they chose without the restrictions of their native lands. The vast majority of Americans are immigrants or their descendants, and they are drawn from every corner of the planet.

They brought with them their habits and customs from their homelands and then adapted them to their new surroundings, creating something familiar but also often remarkably different. Music was important to the early settlers, and they soon started importing both music and instruments. The newspapers of every port city carried numerous advertisements for music teachers and concerts, and a steady stream of merchant ships arrived from London and elsewhere, carrying in their manifests musical instruments and supplies. It did not take long before violin makers began to appear. They too were immigrants, and often not from traditions of lutherie. In the Northeast, there was James Juhan, a French-born violinist and composer who was recorded as having made the instruments used in the concerts he promoted during the 1760s. None of his instruments are known today.

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