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Garth Lee

Garth Lee
It’s also thrilling to make instruments for professional players — and especially to hear them being played first-hand in concert halls. The principal violist in the WSO plays one of my instruments. Making for him was a huge honour, knowing that he can push that instrument to the height of its powers.
Garth Lee
Garth Lee

Making in the heart of the community

Music and woodworking have been part of Garth Lee’s life for as long as he can remember. He played piano and trumpet and wanted to play the violin as a child, but there were no violin teachers where he grew up. So he gravitated to woodworking and stayed involved in music and continues to sing in a choir. “I have always thought of violin making as the ultimate woodworking goal,” Garth says.
He trained at the prestigious Newark School of Violin Making, studying violins, violas, and cellos from the workshops of Stradivari, Guarneri, Amati, and others. After graduating with Distinction, he worked in partnership with his instructors for a few years before establishing Garth Lee Strings in Winnipeg in 2008. There he quickly gained the attention and respect of the community of professional string players and the wider community.

Garth Lee Closeup

Art and craft

Garth views instrument making as a unique combination of art and craft. Making beautiful violins is one thing, but they also have to perform well as a musical instrument. “You have to keep the art in mind while you’re doing the craft. The whole way through I’m tapping and flexing and thinking of the physics that are at play. My intuition of what’s going to work is honed every time I make an instrument,” he says. “It’s very exciting when it all comes together. I love the connection of making something and then giving it to a musician who brings it to life.”
And he’s just as thrilled making an instrument for an up-and-coming student as he is for a member of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO). “It’s amazing when a student comes to my shop and chooses the wood from which their first high-quality instrument is going to be made. They’ve worked so hard to get to where they are and I feel privileged to be a part of their journey.”

Hearing his instruments in concert

His instruments are also played by professional musicians throughout Canada and in England, South Africa, Norway, and New Zealand.
Garth maintains his strong commitment to the community by volunteering his time to do repair work for Sistema Winnipeg, a program that uses music as a tool for social change and delivers musical training at no cost to participating families.