Striking the right balance in life and music
Passionate about music and drawn to woodwork and handiwork, Charles Arsenault began his career as a violin maker at the young age of 17. “I made electric guitars and started playing the cello at age 7. My dad had a little workshop, and we were always given free rein to try things and make things,” says Charles. “But visiting a violin shop and taking in the atmosphere is what really struck me,” he says.
Doing things his way
Smell is one of our oldest senses, and for Charles, the scent of freshly cut wood shavings, varnish, and glue made a lasting impression. Charles admits school wasn’t his thing as a youngster, and he was looking to do something a little different. So when his sister, who was studying the violin at a Conservatory in Florida, told him that a local violin maker was looking for an apprentice, Charles jumped at the chance.
His sister was on scholarship and had an apartment in Florida, so it all came together for Charles. “I liked the shop and being part of Conservatory life, living next to musicians and being around music, so I took full advantage of what life gave me.” With that experience under his belt, he then went to work at a shop in Romania for a few years. After a stint in Quebec, he took a position with a large shop in Toronto, where he developed skills in violin restoration, setups, and fine adjustments, attending courses and workshops to sharpen his expertise.
Though Charles wasn’t interested in school earlier in life, he came to love it and in 2010 returned to full-time studies with Jean-Jacques Fasnacht at the Swiss School of Violin Making. It was during this period that he renewed his interest in making instruments. During the day, he would attend school and make violins, and at night work on a year-long restoration project he took on. In 2011 he established himself in Montréal, where he worked for Wilder & Davis and shared a private workshop with André Lavoye, Pascal Béland, David Widmer and Zacharie Rodrigue.
Making instruments enjoyable to play
Striking that balance between making instruments, taking on restoration projects, and doing the daily work of repairs and adjustments has stayed with him, and it’s how he has fashioned his life. “There are two things I really enjoy,” says Charles. “One is working with musicians. It’s very rewarding and one of the best parts of my job. The other is making instruments. There’s something physically satisfying about choosing the wood, and then working it to make an instrument. This is why we do the work we do. So musicians can pick up and play our instruments. A big part of my job now is now making instruments more enjoyable for people to play.”
In 2020, Charles moved to the west coast of Canada, and now divides his time between his workshop on Quadra Island and Wilder & Davis’ Vancouver shop.