Posted on

Dissolving the Mysteries

Dissolving the Mysteries

by Graham Caldersmith

previously published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly Volume 10, #4, 1982 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2001

We live in confusing times where progress in understanding the natural world, and in manipulating nature to our advantage has spawned an ever-changing technological environment that seems beyond our own control, and even beyond our comprehension in its scale and complexity. We are beginning to see organized reaction against technological excess, and movements towards simpler ways of living. Most luthiers are aware that the practical and traditional practice of lutherie is being analyzed and even supplemented by scientific methods, and some feel that the dignity and integrity of the traditions are therefore threatened as we redefine and dissolve the mysteries of lutherie.

I would argue that the greatest system of lutherie to date, the Renaissance-Baroque school of violin making emerged in times of devastating plague and recurring war, when the orthodoxy of creation and nature was being challenged by Galileo and Copernicus in centers not far from Brescia, Cremona, and southern Germany. In fact we know that because the centers of Baroque violin making lay on the trade routes through which the latest news in science, art, and technology flowed with trade merchandise. The great masters of lutherie would have been exposed to new concepts in vibration, pitch, and wave motion which they would find difficult to ignore in their experience of wood vibration at the workbench. How they dealt with it is not recorded, but that they produced unsurpassed masterpieces in bowed instruments is undisputed.

Contemporary luthiers live in times of social upheaval, war, and pollution, but also with a growing body of knowledge about the function of the instruments they make. It remains to be seen how we will react to this environment, but already we have seen a variety of new designs for the guitar, and the vital interaction of luthiers with pioneering guitarists.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.