Handmade Instruments: A Luxury In The Music World

Music is a gift to the world. Author Hans Christian Anderson once said, “When words fail, music speaks.” We turn to music to express ourselves by listening to songs or playing an instrument. Whether you’re a musician or an instrument collector, quality is always valued. But, why is quality so important anyway? Why fixate on the materials used in the production of, say, a handmade violin or a guitar? The truth is, we want what others can’t afford. And that includes exploring the world of luxurious, bespoke instruments, designed exclusively for us.

A luthier sits in his workshop while crafting a handmade violin.
A fine, handmade instrument is a product of excellent craftsmanship with a unique and individualised touch.
Image by aleksandarlittlewolf on Freepik 

The Beauty Of Craftsmanship In Handmade Instruments

Craftsmanship is when an artisan creates fine pieces of work by hand. In today’s modern world of mass production, many have sacrificed real craftsmanship for convenience and cost. Let’s take the violin, for example. Most people buy a factory-made violin as it is more affordable. But for those that seek an exceptional sound quality, a handmade, bespoke violin would fit their needs.

As we speak of handmade violins, a Stradivarius violin remains one of the world’s most famous violins. The name “Stradivarius” comes from a talented, Italian luthier named Antonio Stradivari. Throughout his life, Stradivari built more than 950 violins, with only about 500 of them surviving till this day. A master craftsman in his own right, some of Stradivari’s finest works stood out during the “Golden Period“.

Three violins on display, stored in transparent cases.
The earliest existence of violins can be traced back to the 16th century in Italy.
Image by Calin Draganescu on Unsplash

Why Is the Stradivarius Violin So Expensive? 

A Stradivari creation ages like fine wine, it gets better as time goes by. Like most handmade items, the Stradivarius costs a fortune because of its beauty and quality. Hence, it’s not a surprise that most Stradivarius violins have tripled in value since 1990. In fact, a violin made in the “Golden Period” would cost millions! Currently, the Messiah Stradivarius is the most expensive violin in the world, valued at USD 20 million. Bewitched by its sound brilliance, Joseph Joachim once said that the violin had a charming and powerful tone.

Now, let’s take a look and see why these violins costs so much.

1. Quality Wood 

Scientists say Stradivarius used a specific type of wood from the Little Ice Age period between 1645 to 1750. The wood Stradivari used includes a European spruce for the top. Meanwhile, maple wood was used for the violins’ back, neck, and other parts.

A pile of snow-covered chopped woods stacked on top of another surrounded by pine trees on either side of the picture.
Trees that grow in a colder climate causes the wood to be denser. A denser wood is said to be stronger, firmer, and free from defects. In turn, this boosts the Stradivarius’ acoustics and quality. 
Image by Zach Heiberg on Unsplash

2. A Fashionable And Historical Icon

In the music world, having a Stradivarius is a symbol of status and opulence. With over 300 years of history, the violin has become a valuable and historical icon. To this day, the Stradivarius remains a fashionable musical instrument.

3. The One With A Legendary Tale 

The tale of the Stradivarius violin never gets old. Both musicians and music enthusiasts have heard stories of reputable violins and their extraordinary worth. However, with such an expensive price tag, only few could afford such luxury.

Today, two of Stradivari’s violins belongs to notable violinists such as Anne Akiko Meyers and Joshua Bell

Anne Akiko Meyers takes the stage and performs “Love’s Joy”, or “Liebesfreud” by Kreisler on her Stradivarius made in 1697.

“It’s an amazing thing that a violin used today is still as useful as it was 300 years ago. In fact, there’s nothing better around today.” 

Joshua Bell, American violinist and conductor 

A Modern Day Equivalent To The Stradivarius Violins

You might say, “Well… this is cool and all, but I don’t think I’m a violin type of person… “. As a classically-trained pianist and violinist, I can assure you that we all have different passions and interests. In fact, as time went on, I wanted to learn the guitar. To me, the guitar is a fun way to express my love for singing. At the same time, it’s also a great way to learn new skills. What I like most about the guitar is that it’s versatile. You could strum or pluck the strings, depending on your style of playing. As a matter of fact, you can play a variety of musical genres on the guitar. Some of these include jazz, pop, and rock.

“The thought of having something as valuable as the Stradivarius appeals to me. But I’d rather have a modern alternative, so… what works for me?” The answer is, a bespoke guitar made just for you.

A front view of the handmade Jumbo Mango 12-String Guitar clad in brown-coloured wood with traces of black patterns on the lower part of the guitar.
A finely built “Jumbo Mango 12-String Guitar” with amazing sustain and resonance. On the left side, a sound port sits at the edge of the guitar, bringing you closer to the sound. The guitar’s beveled armrest also allows you to play comfortably for hours.
Image by Jonathan Woo
A back view of the handmade Jumbo Mango 12-String Guitar clad in brown-coloured wood with traces of black patterns spread throughout the guitar's back.
A back view of the “Jumbo Mango 12-String Guitar”, showing off its perfectly symmetrical pattern. 
Image by Jonathan Woo

What Goes On Behind The Scenes When Crafting A Handmade Guitar? 

How many of us have seen a guitar’s interior? At first glance, you’ll see a finely-shaped guitar body with a finished layout and a neat design. Like a secret cave, the inside of a guitar beholds treasures of groundwork prepared and assembled by a luthier.

Every single detail added to the guitar can either enhance or reduce the overall quality of the sound. As there’s no formula in crafting handmade guitars, the luthier firstly imagines a specific sound in his head. Then, he translates the sound into his creations. In all respects, this is what makes a handcrafted guitar a complex form of art.

A guitar body lies on a workshop table, waiting for the top to be attached to the body.
Just like the human body, a guitar also has a vital organ, such as these back braces. 
Image by Jonathan Woo

Connect With The “Inner Natural Musician” Within You 

Believe it or not, everybody has the gift to make or appreciate music. So, if it’s always been your dream to take up music and learn an instrument, try giving it a shot!

For die-hard guitar fans, you might already have a dream guitar in mind. The next step is to look for a luthier and express your specific needs to them. It helps to know the type of sound you’re after to determine your ideal guitar size, wood, and any customisations. Then, delve into the style of music you play, for the guitar to be voiced to your needs. To deliver the desired tone and sound, the luthier will select the right type of wood for you. Consequently, the luthier decides how much wood to shave or sand off, followed by the guitar bracing part. And get this: even the amount of lacquer applied onto a guitar can affect the overall sound!

The front side of a reddish-brown Mahogany OM-Cutaway handmade guitar.
For those into the rugged look, the “Mahogany OM-Cutaway” has an outstanding playability and response. To top it off, this guitar also has an impressive volume and projection.
Image by Jonathan Woo
Standing upright, a green durian handmade guitar faces the camera.
A “Durian Guitar” purely made out of a durian tree (top, back, and sides). As a tribute to the “King of Fruits” (the durian), this guitar comes in a vivid shade of “green burst”.
Image by Jonathan Woo

Behind Every Handmade Guitar Is A Committed Luthier

Jonathan Woo is a passionate luthier experienced in crafting handmade guitars hailing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A man of many talents with an apt for learning new things, Jonathan remained committed to his craft in guitar making. Now that Jonathan can make a guitar in just two weeks, he still challenges himself to enhance his lutherie expertise.

Lutherie, like everything else, is always a process. It’s a constant search and making tiny improvements over years and years of development.

Jonathan Woo, Malaysian luthier, and sole apprentice to Jeffrey Yong
On the left, Jonathan Woo poses the camera with Bob Taylor standing on the right.
Jonathan Woo, pictured left, with Bob Taylor, a fellow luthier, and co-founder of the American guitar brand, “Taylor Guitars.” 
Image by Jonathan Woo

Keen to have a chat with Jonathan? Simply reach out to him to learn more about him and his handmade guitars.

Positive Affirmations To Keep You Going In Your Music Journey

Whether you’re a musician, or a luthier, you need to practise to excel in your craft. Remain patient in your quest for success, and you’ll soon be able to see the fruits of your hard work. Here are some words of motivation to help you stay on track.

Good things take time, as they should. We shouldn’t expect good things to happen overnight.

John wooden, American basketball coach

Both experienced musicians and luthiers would agree with the saying above. Just like Stradivari, Jonathan went through many years of his life perfecting the art of lutherie. Jonathan’s trademark is creating clean-looking instruments optimised for sound and playability. In fact, this makes his creations as modern equivalents to the Stradivarius violins. Always inspired to create something new, Jonathan’s guitar models are constantly evolving. With Jonathan’s quality work, his guitars will be very valuable in the future. After all, the fact that his guitars comes in limited pieces makes them even more special. 

Do you have a passion for handcrafted instruments, like a bespoke guitar that could one day, be a family heirloom, or a potential museum piece?
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About Geena ROSLYNA

Friendly people-person, Geena has dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur. Public Relations and Management graduate, with a love for singing, acting and writing. Has a knack for picking up languages too.

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