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What Does a Cello Luthier Do?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 13 December 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A cello luthier repairs cellos by hand, often with rudimentary woodworking tools. He may also design and make the instruments. Many luthiers are cellists and develop an interest in handcrafting or repairing cellos and other stringed instruments, but whether he is an accomplished cellist or not, the luthier has a great appreciation for and understanding of the instrument. The craft requires a large number of skills, including woodworking.

The term luthier comes a French word that means "lute." The craft originated during medieval times, long before the invention of assembly line factories. Musicians or woodcrafters invented an instrument, and others soon learned to replicate or modify the design, often adding personal touches. Luthier became a general term that applied to the craftsmen who made and repaired stringed instruments.

Makers of stringed instruments eventually became divided into two categories. One kind of luthier makes instruments that are played by plucking or strumming, such as guitars, harps, and lutes. The other sort make or repair instruments that are played with stringed bows. Cellos, violas, and violins fall into this category. Though some craftsmen prefer the term luthier, others use names that describe the instrument they make, such as guitar maker, lute maker, or instrument maker.

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Being a cello luthier requires patience, as one instrument may take months to build from start to completion. Schools and academies around the world teach the craft, but the first luthier school taught the art of violin making in Cremona, Italy, where it continues to train luthiers. Other potential cello luthiers study under experienced and skilled masters. After obtaining elementary skills, students usually work as an apprentice under a master craftsmen, where they acquire advanced knowledge about the instrument and the skills required to make it.

A luthier understands how all the materials used in manufacturing the instrument affect the acoustics of the cello. He generally prefers to use seasoned woods that come from different trees, including spruce for the back, sides, and top of the instrument. Maple may be used for the neck, pedbox, and scroll, which are carved from a single piece of wood. Luthiers know how the wood grain and pattern affect construction and affect the resonance required to produce the correct sound.

Precise calculations are required in designing cello components. A cello luthier learns the to use chisels, knives, and files to create everything from the basic shape to the delicate arches and curves of the instrument. The artisan requires a bit of chemistry knowledge when deciding what adhesives to use on particular areas of the instrument or with different types of wood. This knowledge extends to the types of finishes and varnishes used to protect the wood without altering the sound.

The cello luthier also uses his skills for various types of instrument repair. He might mend a crack in the wood or replace an entire piece of the instrument. Luthiers work closely with the instrument owner to understand the musician's requirements and any particular problems with the cello and to explain any necessary repairs.

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