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Guy Harrison

Guy Harrison

In the spirit of excellence 

Guy Harrison began working in the violin trade at the age of 13 in Australia. That’s right, 13 years old — an age when many young teens are doing anything but repairing violins. “Well, I played the violin as a youngster, which is a common beginning for luthiers,” says Guy, modestly. “Violins were a mysterious object to me, and I wanted to know what was inside them, how they worked, and how they made these sounds. In my family, there was a tradition of carpenters and tradespeople, so woodworking was part of my upbringing and making things was a normal thing to do.” A few years later, he started making his own violins, with help and encouragement from his parents, who provided him with tools and wood. “I’m still fascinated by sound to this day,” he says. 

Prized instruments 

Guy studied for three years at the Newark School of Violin Making in England, graduating with the highest level of distinction. He continued to make and restore instruments in Europe before opening his own studio in Canada. Today, his instruments are prized by musicians around the world, including members of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Orchestre Symphonique in Montreal, and many other ensembles. 

Despite these accomplishments and winning several awards for violin making, Guy believes his training and learning is ongoing. “I’ve been attending the Oberlin violin making workshops for the past decade or so, which has been a huge help to me. Everyone there is expected to share their insights and expertise. We learn a lot from each other. Part of being a good craftsperson is being observant. All of our work benefits from this culture of sharing.” Guy uses the excellent phrase “spirit of excellence” to refer to this shared purpose of advancing the craft of violin making. 


A renaissance in violin making 

In a profession that was once renowned for its secrecy, this openness and shared purpose is a revelation. “Great instruments, like great art and great music, are not created in isolation,” says Guy. Indeed, he believes that we are experiencing a renaissance in violin making. The quality of making today is very high, says Guy, and the market for new instruments is robust. He thinks the rebirth of the craft began in the 1970s. 

Many of the luthiers working in European shops at that time were getting older. The owners of the major violin shops needed new apprentices who could help repair and restore old instruments. So countries like England, the U.S., France, and Germany started or revamped violin making schools to train young people to – ideally – become apprentices and fill the void. But many of these students went on to become violin makers in their own right.  

Another contributing factor in the renaissance in making was the prohibitive costs for older instruments. Professional musicians eventually want to own their own instruments, but don’t want to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a Stradivarius. So today’s makers have answered the call and new, high-quality violins have become a good option for musicians. 

“They sound great, they work well, they’re reliable, and they’re authentic, as you often buy directly from the makers,” says Guy, who says that most orchestras in North America and Europe now feature a number of new instruments. The future in the craft is bright, and makers like Guy will continue to advance the spirit of excellence.