Where there’s one, there’s two…

The Stainer is great instrument and it is more violin than I probably need right now. It satisfies almost all of my requirements.

1) The violin is definitely European.

2) It’s old – plenty old!

3) It’s whole… but there are some repairs. Granted, they are super hard to see. They are overwhelmed by the beautiful quality of the sound but they are present.

4) The sound is even and balanced. I don’t think one string overwhelms the others.

5) This instrument is definitely functional. Tune it and it stays in tune. Glide your bow across it and it will ring.

Even with the slight ding on number three, this violin is a keeper.

Yet, there was a longing for another. Yes… I am a shopping addict and a collector. One of something is never enough. I need variety in all my possessions of passion and entertainment. Even with the Stainer in hand I was back to eBay. This time I was searching for a French violin! I am extremely fond of France, especially after I had a chance to visit the Rhône-Alps and Provence back in 2007. It had been my dream for many years to ride my bike on the same roads as those covered by the Tour de France. I had the privilege of climbing Les Deux Alpes, l’Alpe d’Huez, the Col de Lauteret, the Col de Galibier, and Mont Ventoux among others. The memories I have of the area, the people, the food, and everything are deep and wonderful. I entered France with dreams and I left enchanted. There is little doubt in my mind that my affection for all things French (among other European cultures) drove me to look for a violin that was made in France. I want to recapture a bit of that romance through the violin itself.

Thankfully, France has a rich history of violin luthiery. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the word luthier comes from the French word lute and Mirecourt is well known as a hub of French violin manufacturing. Look around the internet and you will find plenty of French violins available for sale. I decided to go with a violin made by the Jérôme Thibouville-Lamy company, or JTL for short. Used JTL violins tend to be on the lower end of the price scale but most people seem to have a decent impression of them. There aren’t too many bad reviews of them. I really wanted to know how a JTL violin would sound and I was able to find some Youtube video clips. Here’s a quick list of them.

A French Medio Fino Violin by JTL

JTL demo

JTL Medio Fino II

A French Mirecourt Violin

JTL 3-4 French violin

That sure doesn’t sound bad to a beginner like me!

The JTL company seems to still exist in the present day. They may be a shell of their former selves but they do have a website.

Anyways, onto the violin! The violin I am blogging about today is JTL’s Compagnon III. It is definitely listed in JTL’s 1912 catalog on page 22 (scroll down a bit). Catalogs from other years list a Compagnon but without the III appended to it. We can guess that this violin is somewhere around 100 years old, give or take a few years. Compagnon translates to companion, partner, colleague, sidekick, etc depending on the context of the sentence. So this violin is meant to be your friend in your journey of playing music.

I bought this violin from a Canadian eBay seller. The package arrived in less than a week via Air Mail service. There was no indication of rough handling or damage to the box. I was impressed with the sheer number of stamps on the front. Stamps are always fun to look at even if you don’t collect them. (Please note that I deleted any visible address information in the picture for the sake of what little privacy we have in today’s day and age.)

I opened the box and a gaggle of newspaper, packing peanuts, and bubble wrap greeted me. Shipping a violin without a case makes me a bit shifty but I have to remember that for as fragile as violins are they are also extremely tough instruments. My biggest fear is that the package handlers will crush this package under a large load. The idea of insurance sounds good until you think about the time and money you will spend sending everything back, filing claims, waiting, etc. You might as well take on some risk and just get the package delivered as quickly as possible. Sometimes expedited shipping is better because there could be less days of handling and less chances of damage.

I removed the packing material and unwrapped the bubble wrap. It was like stripping a mummy. Underneath all that was my violin. It was relieving to see it whole. I can’t remember now if the strings were loose or not. Nothing rattled, shook, or made a funny noise when I picked it up. So far, so good!

Time for an examination. From afar the violin looked great but it wasn’t perfect. I sort of knew it ahead of time when I placed my bid. You might want to ask why and all I can is I don’t know. All of us have some missing teeth in our gears that causes thing to slip. I suppose you’re seeing my slippage first hand. 🙂 Anyways, the violin is very light compared to the Soviet boat oar mentioned earlier. Being light doesn’t necessarily mean fragile. I don’t feel like something is going to break or collapse when I handle this violin.

The first thing I noticed is the filth. I don’t know what kind of grime has been cured on here but it doesn’t come off with water. It must be a mixture of dirt, rosin, and dust. Did the violin sit out in the open gathering this yuck or was it from years of being played and never cleaned? I’d like to use my imagination and think of the latter rather than the former. Whatever the case, I want to clean it off but I know I have to be careful not to remove the finish with the soot. There are plenty of threads on various violin forums about this. People have used alcohol, spit, water, polish, dish soap, etc. I will probably start with a gentle polisher and rosin cleaner first.

The strings here are old and need to be replaced. I don’t know what I have on here now but whatever they are I have to say they’re tough. They look like they can pop any instant but so far they haven’t. Does anyone have any suggestions on replacements?

The body has some damage to it. First, it has a small chip in it. It’s not tragic but it’s also not small. Thankfully nothing extra is coming off. I don’t think it’s something urgent that I need to take care of.

The body has some splits and cracks to it in various places. One of the less noticeable places is on the ribs. I say it is less noticeable only because it’s not the first place that most people would look at for a crack.

The back has two major splits forming. I don’t know how deep they are or if they are growing. The first one is in between the two halves of the back and it is only by the neck. There’s a second closer to the middle of the body and off to one side. I can’t even begin to pretend that I know how to fix these.

The neck, scroll, and fingerboard are just fine. There’s nothing unusual to report there. The tailpiece has a missing chip that you can see in one of the pictures above. I wish the tailpiece had some fine tuners on it but I can get the instrument in tune just fine without them too. It looks like the pegs aren’t perfectly fitted into the pegbox but they hold. I assume that the bridge isn’t original. The action on the high E string is a bit high but that can fixed easily enough.

Last, I would like to highlight the label inside the violin. I know that many people say the label inside is not important. What really matters is the tone, form, and fit of the instrument. Although I don’t disagree with that statement I have to counter it. Would you buy a Chevrolet Corvette without it’s emblem? Would you buy a Ford Mustang without its signature galloping horse on the grille? Some would and some would not. I guess you know which camp I am in!

The Compagnon III label is in decent shape with what looks like some sort of glue dropping down its height. For something that was printed close to 100 years ago, I am happy to see it surviving as well as it is. I would be curious to know what kind of printing process was used to create this label. What kind of paper is this too? I wouldn’t be surprised if JTL used just run of the mill paper and cheap ink!

In addition to making the violin “whole”, the label is also something to view and enjoy. The JTL logo, at least this instance, is of a lyre with a violin in front of it. Rays emanate from the assembly. I like the fact that the length of the rays alternate between short and long almost all the way around the entire assembly.

There is also another label that neatly says, “MADE IN FRANCE”. I think it’s interesting that it doesn’t say “Fabrique en France”. Did special models for export have their labels in English?

So how did I do with this violin against my requirements?

1) European: Being made in France it is about as European as you can get!

2) Old: At around 100 years old I would say that’s old enough!

3) Whole: Barely. The violin has a lot of battle scars that I wish weren’t there. They look like they can be easily repaired but not by me.

4) Sound: For all of it’s defects, I have to say that I really like the sound of this violin. Where the Stainer rings, this one sings. It’s bright and loud but smoother and sweeter. fiddlepogo on The Fiddle Hangout used fruits to describe the sound of violins. It sounds like an odd way to think of tone but it works. If the Stainer is a crisp sweet apple then the Compagnon is a smooth nectarine or maybe a peach.

5) Functional: Despite being in a well used condition, this violin is very playable. I haven’t had any problems tuning it, keeping it in, and playing my beginner music with it.

I’ve spent a couple days on this post so I’m going to take a bit of a break. Play lots and play loud! 🙂


Beth Blackerby, holding a bow, and her videos

Diane commented on my last post that I should take a look at violinlab.com. The site is run by a lady named Beth Blackerby. I hope I spelled her name correctly. She offers lots of online videos and resources for the beginning violinist. Not everything on her site is free. Some videos can only be viewed by joining her site. The price is not too bad. If I hadn’t sunk so much money this month into getting some violins and into the start of my lessons then I would join in a heartbeat. For now I have to cool my jets a bit.

Anyhow, one of the free videos that Beth offers is on how to hold the bow. It is available on Youtube as well.

I found this video very helpful. Beth uses good camera angles to capture exactly where her fingers are and how she got them there. Be sure to check out her other videos in her Youtube channel.

My first “real” violin

When I bought my Soviet violin mentioned earlier here I had been e-mailing back and forth with Graham Wickham from chicoviolins.com. I was recommended this shop by a person with a handle of “fiddlepogo” on the Fiddle Hangout forums. Graham was very courteous in each and every one of his e-mails. Sometimes the responses would come with a one or two day delay but I know that he’s busy. He has a brick and mortar store to run as well. I told him where I was at in my skill level (just starting out) and what I was looking for in terms of tone (bright and beautiful). He gave me a list of possibilities and he described each one. We went back and forth a bit trying to clarify things. He sent me many wonderful pictures of his instruments along the way. Eventually we settled on a late 19th century Stainer. It’s a beautiful old violin with a bright and wonderful open string tone. The violin came with a padded case, an entry level bow, and a box of light rosin. He shipped it via USPS Priority Mail. With his excellent packing job it arrived safe and sound.

I mentioned that he sent me some pictures of it ahead of time and I’ll post them here. There’s no need for me to take my own since the violin looks identical to what is shown in these pictures. I can’t take credit for any of these photos.

The violin has a somewhat dark complexion with what I would say is a deep and vivid grain structure. Let there be no doubt that this violin is made of wood! There are some repaired cracks but you have to look long and hard to see them. Graham says he fixed them himself and it looks like he did a great job doing it. The tailpiece looks like it is made of hard plastic and there is one fine tuner on the E string. A plastic chin rest sits to the left of the tailpiece. I don’t know if the fingerboard and tuning pegs are original or not. They look too clean to be over 100 years old.

The scroll and peg box look well finished. There are no cracks or chips in that area. The inside of the pegbox is finished with some sort of flat black paint but it looks relatively smooth. Four wonderful strings stretch across the length of the violin waiting for a bow.

The back of the violin is smooth and creamy. Look carefully and you will see that the back is made of two pieces of wood. One of the corners of the c-ribs was chipped off and repaired. You can see the Stainer named branded at the base of the neck. It’s not a very deep branding but it’s there. You can see how deeply contoured the body is if you look at the reflections.

This violin is very loud, very bright, and very vocal! The sound of the open strings sound like they can pierce through a solid barrier in order to get a message across. It is precisely the sound I wanted. The challenge is controlling that sound. fiddlepogo mentioned to me in an e-mail that this violin will be honest with me. If I make a mistake it will tell me loud and clear! I have played this violin for a few days now and he was right. A lot of people may be turned off by this effect but I relish it. I want to know where I made a mistake so I can go back and practice that stroke or that transition or whatever it was I was doing when the error occurred. Some people may also want a more mellow violin for whatever music they normally play. It could sound shrill in some cases perhaps. That’s all a matter of taste though.

So, the bottom line here is that I take my hat off to Mr. Wickham at chicoviolins.com. He took good care of me and he was very patient with me. I would recommend his shop in a heartbeat!

My first lesson and holding a bow

I had my first lesson on May 15th. It was a thrill! My instructor’s name is John O’Neill from Carson Valley Violins. His wife, Nelle,  is a luthier and she makes high end violins. Both of them have been playing for many many years so they know what they are doing. I told John that I used to play the violin in Jr. High School a long time ago. Some things would be familiar but I know that I would be beyond just a “little rusty”. Maybe “rusted shut” is more like it! He handed me a violin and helped me get into position with the right bow grip, posture, etc. It felt very exciting to be holding a violin again! I think he wanted to figure out what I’m capable of so he challenged me. He told me to play back what he plays. Basically, follow along! Thankfully he picked something simple: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. All I could do is watch his left hand fingers and his bowing. Even though the melody is simple it was hard work keeping up with it after a 25 year absence! By the time our lesson was over my entire back was wet with perspiration.

The hardest part of the lesson was getting a good bow grip. Even now, many a couple days afterwards, I am having a hard time holding the bow. Maybe I couldn’t understand John’s instructions but I could not make my hands and fingers bend into the shape he described. I found something in between “totally wrong” and “totally right” that was somewhat comfortable and seemingly stable.

Here are some pictures of my bow grip. I used my bathroom mirror to take the first few pictures. There’s a funny reflection because the camera didn’t know if it should focus on the front surface of the mirror or the back surface that is reflective. Then I just sat down on the floor and faced the camera.

First, the front. You can see the funny reflections from the mirror. If you think this looks backward then you’re right. Remember, it’s a reflection in a mirror. I put my pinky on the screw and I push down on it to help counterbalance the weight of the bow.My two middle fingers go on the frog and I try to cover up the decorative dot with at least one of them. Sometimes I come close to putting my middle finger into the curved notch. My forefinger rests on the padded grip. I remember from Todd Ehle’s videos that I should aim to make the inside of my knuckles the contact points. My thumb is a whole different story. I cannot arch or curve it. It comes straight out and sits in the inside of the curved notch.

Here’s another shot of the front. Now I am sitting on the floor of my bathroom. The perspective is correct since this shot is a head-on view of my right hand. Hopefully this shot is more clear. If my fingertips look like white it’s because I’ve been squeezing the bow for about 10 minutes with no support from a violin. They usually aren’t this tense. You can sort of see the thumb but now lets look at the back.

Getting a picture of the rear of kind of hard. How do you capture the angle of your hand and fingers? You can see my thumb is almost straight and the tip of it is right in the curved notch of the frog. I read and seen in some places that the thumb needs to be turned and curved such that the knuckle is in the strings. Other places say the knuckle should be in the notch. Beginners can “cheat” and hold it under the frog all together. So where the heck does it go? Some of me wants to say I am over thinking things. Just put it where it works for you.

So, is this right enough?

I “sorta” bought a violin

I have to confess that I got caught up in a little bit of impulse shopping before I started this blog. A couple weeks ago I bought a violin from a seller on eBay. To be more precise, I “sort of” bought a violin. What I bought resembles a violin but it doesn’t seem to function as one… at least not very well. It meets almost all of my criteria from my previous post though.

1) European: The violin is a Soviet made instrument in a Moscow furniture factory. I count Moscow as a European city. Plus, being made in Moscow it scratches my Russophilia itch. I am always looking for something from my birthplace.

2) “Old”: I compromised on this one. It is has a date stamp of May 1989 which makes it only 22 years old. I would have wanted it to be older but we can’t win ’em all.

3) Whole: There are no cracks, dings, holes, or splits. It is solid which is what one would expect coming from a furniture factory.

4) Even: I wish I could answer this one but I can’t play it! Gaaah! This makes me want to add a 5th criteria which would be “Functional”.

So what doesn’t work? Specifically, it can’t hold it’s tuning. The tuning pegs slip pretty bad. As soon as I tune a second string, the first one pops out from its tuning! It’s like rolling a rock uphill only to have it roll down. I discovered this phenomena when I took it to a local luthier. It took him no more than 5 minutes before he asked, “Can you get your money back?”

Honestly, I’m not upset or frustrated. I knew I was taking a risk when I bought this violin and in this case my gamble didn’t pay off completely. Besides, this kind of stuff makes the adventure more interesting! I posted a little bit about this on the Fiddle Hangout forum. Here’s the whole story on receiving the violin.

The violin was decently packed by the seller. He charged me around $24 through eBay’s system and the USPS shipping stamp said $26. The box was big and of sufficient strength. I wouldn’t say it was pretty but it didn’t need to be. Thankfully it was shipped via USPS. I am a big fan of the USPS. They seem to put more care into the handling of packages.

The box was filled with packing peanuts from top to bottom. I hope this seller works for a company that throws these away like mine does. Packing peanuts are not alway cheap. I appreciated seeing so many of them here.

The violin came with a case. Personally, I would be very afraid of buying a violin online without one. What if the shipping box was crushed? What if it got drenched with some fluid that leaked?  I am always surprised at eBay auctions that say the violin doesn’t come with a case. Having a case is like a form of insurance. What’s the point on skimping on a case to save a few bucks only to lose a lot more money on a damaged violin?

The case is somewhat unusual because it is almost triangular in nature. All the corners are sharp. It makes it possible to stand up the case but it also means that the corners will be the first areas that will get worn or damaged. The case also has an unusual texture. It is covered in little squares with lines running through them. The squares are offset from each other and the lines inside follow the offset. In the right light the squares produce a weird polarized reflection pattern of light and dark. You can almost see it in the picture but it is much more dramatic in person.

Crack open the case and you will be greeted with a plush and fuzzy blue interior. It’s a bit overwhelming to see because it has a reflective quality to it. You almost forget that there’s a violin inside. Oh, wait! The violin! Yes, it’s in there. The seller placed a thin foam sheet under the strings and over the neck. There was also a piece of foam sheeting under the tailpiece. Finally, the violin was wrapped in a thin sheet of plastic bubble wrap and some cardboard. It sounds kind of flimsy but it worked out OK. The violin wasn’t shaking around or going anywhere.

It’s a full size 4/4 violin. I don’t know what the finish is but it looks like a thick, bumpy, yellow lacquer. This finish seemed to be pretty popular in the late 80s for the Soviet Union. My mother’s aunt mailed me a chess set in the mid-80s and it was covered in the same stuff. Maybe it was just cheap to make and easy to apply. Remember, this is Soviet Union we’re talking about here. They make violins in a furniture factory. You have to think about synergies here between building a kitchen table and violin. Using the same lacquer seems logical enough to me.

I don’t know what kind of wood it is made of but I imagine it’s nothing traditional or fancy. Everything is cut very rough and there appears to be very little work put into smoothing out the surface. You can see the roughness around the c-rib. My  local luthier says that these are signs of a machine made violin. Again, you have to remember this violin came out of the Soviet Union in 1989. Whatever machines they had were probably nothing more than big template tracers with rough milling bits on them. There were probably plenty of manual operations involved (like fixing whatever bandsaw was being used). The f-hole is also pretty bad. It almost looks like it was punched out instead of cut out. The notches in the middle don’t even go all the way through.

Continuing the Tour de Roughness, we look next at the scroll. You have to take the tuning pegs out to really appreciate just how rough it is inside. The entry point of the milling bit is obvious. What isn’t obvious to me is how the ramp up to the nut is so rough. It’s as if the milling bit was manually raised and then lowered to different points along the ramp to get the bulk of the wood out. Then the worker took a chisel and just hacked away at the resulting staircase. Yikes! Really? In some ways, this violin is so rough that it’s almost amazing and fun to look for all these features.

The last stop in our Journey of Roughness is the nut. It looks like something that was hand whittled with a pocket knife. Quite honestly, that could be exactly what happened. Someone needed employment and they were placed in this factory. This someone had no idea how to run any of the machines but they knew what the output should be. Being of little skill but of plentiful spirit they put this highly intoxicated person to work. A couple incorrect cuts were made “here” and “there” but there’s still plenty of room to make more.


The fingerboard is not made of ebony or some other dark wood. It is definitely some kind of light wood that was heavily painted. The same goes with the tuners. The fingerboard has a chip on its underside and the chip exposes the natural wood color. Looking at the tuning pegs you can see the natural wood in the holes for the strings. You can also see how the tuner pegs have been radially compressed from the holes in the peg box and from the tension of the strings. This seems to indicate that they are made of some sort of soft wood. I would say that the wood is soft and porous. Being porous would help the wood absorb the black pigment better. It’s less likely to rub off that way.

One thing I didn’t mention much of is the documentation. It comes with a little booklet that is traditionally known as a “product passport”. Every official Soviet product had one. It signified that you are buying an official and legal product (vs. grey market or black market). It usually indicated the government set price, the government issued article (or product) number, which factory it was made in, etc. The document sounds fancy but it’s nothing more than cheap paperwork that someone stamps off on because they have to and not because they want to. I love the opening page. Here’s how I translated it.


The Republican Industrial

Association of the Production of Musical


Followed by the logo… then, in bold caps…

“The Moscow Factory for

the Production of Musical

Instruments and Furniture”

The address and telephone number of the factory is given next and the word “passport” is drawn in beautiful cyrillic letters below the address. It begins the sentence below. All together it would say:


for Bowed Musical


It sounds so formal, so serious, and so industrious. I can imagine a bureaucrat with a thousand medals on his chest reading these words slowly and thoughtfully in a deep and meaningful voice as he fights a hangover from the night before.

For as rough as this violin is, I don’t want to give up on it. This instrument wants to be a violin and I want to help it along. Maybe I’m just getting a spark in my head because I see a fun and interesting challenge ahead: making this instrument stable and playable. I have no idea what it really sounds like. If I’m going to consciously toss something aside then I’d like to do it knowing that I did all I could to make it right.

Shopping for a violin

I have been shopping for the past couple of weeks for a violin. There are lots and lots of violins for sale on the internet. eBay, craigslist, Amazon, online shops, etc etc etc. There are more brands and names and labels than you can shake a stick at. I suppose I can get any decent violin of whatever brand name that was made out of who knows what in who knows what factory. No matter what violin I get I’m still going to sound like me (i.e. awful!). But, the character of the instrument adds (or subtracts) from the overall experience so I want to make sure I get something that I am proud to own and want to lovingly maintain. The instrument must draw me in as much as I am drawn to it as well.

First… it has to be European. I have always felt that if you wanted to get the “original” sound then you need to get as close to the “original” instrument as possible. If you want the tone of a Fender Stratocaster then get a Fender Stratocaster. If you want the warmth of a Gibson Les Paul then get a Gibson Les Paul. If you want the shred and grind of Steve Vai then get an Ibanez. Each guitar is unique in its design, heritage, and tone. I know that I will want to starting practicing and learning European and European influenced music. To that end, I want a European instrument. Obviously, I’m not going to get an original Stradivarius. I’d be lucky to get a European copy of a European copy of a Stradivarius. Getting a Chinese copy of a European copy of a European copy of a Stradivarius just adds another level of separation that I’d rather not have.

Second… it has to be “old”. Every instrument has a story to tell. Some stories are sad like being cased in a closet for decades. Other stories are happy with scenes of beautiful music and dancing. A few are dramatic with people struggling through something whether it be the music specifically or something in their lives. I feel like those stories come out of the instrument when you play it. Maybe it’s just my imagination going wild with make-believe stories. If it helps me play more then so be it. The downside is that the instrument may require some technical work to it before it can be played. I don’t want a full blown restoration project but a little setup work could be fun. Learning something about the setup can bring you closer to the instrument and the music you play with it.

Third… it has to be whole. That means no cracks, splits, holes, or breaks. If there’s to be any of that then it ought to come from me. It’s not that I don’t admire the scars of past owners. The scars could have very interesting stories behind them. I just want something reliable that isn’t going to fall apart on me. If I did the damage then at least I know what to expect in terms of life, tone, and durability. The last thing I want to do is get something that is so fragile I can’t play it. I don’t want an “art violin” that is nothing more than a museum piece of gawk at. It should be something that can be played.

Fourth… the sound has to be even across the range. Sometimes “warm” violins lack the edge that can cut through a diamond. A “full” violin can sound boomy as if someone were shouting through a barrel. A “bright” violin sometimes misses out on the depth that a “warm” violin has in spades. So, the violin needs to be “even”. It’s the tone that you hear when someone plays the violin with long slow strokes across the entire range of pitch and someone says, “Wow, that was really beautiful… what was that?”

I know it’s a tall order but I know it exists. To get one point I’m sure I’ll have to buckle on two. The hunt is on!

Coming back to old orchards

Music has always been an important part of my life. If I didn’t hear something I liked then I would hum something to myself that I did. When I got bored with humming I tried playing an instrument. The first instrument I ever tried to seriously learn was the violin. I took lessons at my junior high school for a year or two. That’s me on the left in the bottom lefthand picture. The journey was short lived because when I got to high school the music program was officially gone. There was an unofficial band that officially met and performed but it received no funding. Directors would float in an out. Some lasted longer than others. The players all stayed constant and they were pretty advanced. They were also all brass and woodwinds. It was a marching band that sat down to play. There was no room for me as a beginning violinist and, honestly, I didn’t mind. It wasn’t the right environment for me. I was dorky and nerdy kid that couldn’t keep up with the in-crowd. That was over 22 years ago.

After high school I saw my first U2 performance and I was mesmerized by it. There was something different about this show than all the others that I had seen. I remember watching The Edge create deep multilayered textures with a handful of notes and some simple effects. How could someone do something like that and look so cool doing it? I just had to follow suit! The guitar became the center of my humanist universe and it was something I wanted to conquer it and bend it to my will. Of course, I had to look like a bad-ass doing it. Whatever teen angst I didn’t work out during high school came out during college. There were cigarettes to smoke, liquor to swallow, and girls to chase after. Fast times were here.

I stuck with it all for about 7 or 8 years. Musical progress was slow-fast-slow but that was OK. It wasn’t something to enjoy – just something to be satisfied with. I worked through a lot of personal issues during that time and I think having the guitar helped me keep my sanity. Playing it was a challenging outlet as I worked my way down a spiral of self destruction. Soon there would be nothing left of me as I consumed everything that I was.

I hit bottom and that was when I met the girl who would become my wife. She was my counter balance. It was perfect. She was soothing where I was angry and vengeful, calming where I was chaotic, and steady when I was choppy. I rebuilt myself with her help. The cigarettes were snuffed out, the liquor was cut off, and the chase was over. Yes, I was home now.

When I started rebuilding myself I made the mistake of taking all the musical pieces out of my life. I think I was just too tired of the burden of it. That’s an odd way to describe it but that’s how it felt. I grew up in a Soviet household that was transplanted to America. Yes, I am a Russian-Jewish emigrant. My parents were very industrious. Everything we did we did for the purpose of technical advancement. There was nothing frivolous. Art was taken very seriously. It was the foundation of thought. My parents thought that without art humanity would lose its creative streak that was necessary for the required technical advancement. Society needed artists to remind us how to put together something very complex that was beyond words.

My parents were very proud of me when I studied the violin. It was all part of that required advancement. They were much less thrilled about me learning the guitar. The guitar was a toy to make rhythm and nothing else. What majestic piece of classical and established music was ever written for the guitar that could compare to something “serious” like the piano or violin? Obviously that didn’t stop me from diving headfirst into a world of six strings but I did it very industriously. It was almost a competitive endeavor. If The Edge did something then I had to try to outdo him in my head. When Mick Mars bent those strings like cheap rubber bands I had to bend them harder.

Then I had another influential moment. Believe it or not, it came in last few minutes of Spinal Tap. Viv Savage was asked during the rolling of the credits what his philosophy to live by is and he said, “Have a good time, all the time.” Wait! Where’s the industriousness? Where’s the seriousness? You can’t have a good time! There’s work to be done!

Wait… is there? Maybe we could “have a good time all the time”. I pulled the cork out of my ass and just exhaled. What a relief! My music slowed down. The gain knobs were turned back. I plucked instead of played. At that moment in time I finally began to really enjoy playing the guitar instead of fighting it.

A new problem arose in that I discovered I could have a good time in so many other ways. I became distracted by other hobbies, other activities, and just life in general. Music was such an overwhelming factor in my life that I couldn’t sustain it along with all the other things I wanted to do in life. It was a burden of maintenance. Practicing, developing new sound, and learning new music took time and that was time away from other things in life that I wanted to do. The guitar started to feel like “work” and not a “good time”. My musical endeavor ended in the complete opposite fashion that it started in. What began as a captivation of the mind ended in a boring yawn.

That was almost 10 years ago.

Now, for whatever reason, I got an urge to come back to playing the violin. I wish I had some dramatic story of hearing a specific piece of music or seeing a performance that moved me but I don’t. All I have instead is an almost uncontrollable compulsion to scratch an itch that I may have ignored for too long. Perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind I feel like I have some unfinished business with the violin. It’s like coming back to an old orchard that hasn’t had all of its apples pulled. Maybe now I can do it “right” this time. Maybe now I can have that “good time all the time” without feeling like it is a “duty”, a “responsibility”, or a “burden”. I have no idea how this new adventure will go. Maybe it will spark and then fizzle like so many others I have had after the guitar. I might finish this long winded post and not make another again. We’ll see. 🙂