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Letter: Lutherie in Russia

Letter: Lutherie in Russia

by James Flynn

Originally published in American Lutherie #25, 1991

Dear Editor:

I understand that at the recent convention there was some discussion of the changes in east European countries and the effect it was having on instrument import and export conditions. Perhaps our readers would be interested in the situation as it affects the Soviet Union. As you are aware from AL#17, the Balalaika and Domra Association of America has many contacts with musicians and masters (luthiers) in that country. We had a very successful convention in Washington, D.C. last summer. We hosted seven prominent artists and discussed these matters with our guests as well as with many in our Association who have recently visited the Soviet Union.

There is no lack of skilled masters. Before the political changes it was difficult for these masters to establish their own shops on a paying scale and to have the authority to sell direct to musicians through a retailing system. This removed the direct contact between the artist and the instrument maker — a discouraging thing. Several mass-production factories catered to the tourist trade and made instruments such as the balalaika that retailed for about $30. Concert grade instruments could be obtained on a special basis at the Moscow Experimental Factory. Most Russian folk players in western countries have always preferred instruments made by Russian masters because of the prestige so associated with this. Acquisition of instruments in the “old days” was generally done on an individual basis rather than placing an order with a factory for a bunch of instruments.

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