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Once again the garage is warming up enough to work on instruments. Sanity is restored! 

The instrument vice now holds a vintage 1777 Antonius Stradivarius violin in need of attention. The top has separated and has one crack in it and the back has separated enough that the strings are pulling out the side in the rear of the instrument. Looks intimidating, but actually a straight-forward repair. 

Likely — actually, most definitely — this instrument is not an original Stradivarius. It was not unusual for other builders to put the name of a famous builder on their instrument as they were following all the dimensions and style of the first builder. Antonio Stradivari lived in Cremona, Italy, built his first instrument in the late 1600s, and died in 1737. The instrument in my garage was most likely built in what we now call Czechia. 

Still it is a privilege to work on an instrument that is almost 300 years old and a bit of a collector’s item. 

This instrument has been repaired before, not surprising, given its age. Pulling the back off, several crack repairs appear. With violins (and most stringed instruments of that type), a particular type of glue is used so that the instrument can be taken apart without damaging the wood. 

High end instruments like this violin are prone to cracks in the top, the sound board. The general rule of thumb is that thinner is better, meaning cracks are not unusual. The sound board has to carry the sound waves made by the strings through the entire top and resonate in the body of the instrument, the sound box. The thinner this material is, the more vibration the sound waves make and the longer the top can carry the sound waves. 

The sound waves diminish as they travel through wood. The top and back are graduated from the middle to the sides so they can carry the sound waves evenly without fading. A carefully made top graduates evenly from center to sides, allowing the sound waves to maintain their shape and beauty. This little tidbit if information is what distinguishes a high end instrument from an average instrument, the consistency of the graduation. 

On this particular instrument the top measures 4.1 mm in the middle and generally 2.7 on the edge (although where the edge of the sound board is glued to the sides it increases slightly to maintain integrity). 

The other crucial piece inside an instrument is the bracing. On many of the oldest violins there’s one thin piece of bracing which travels from the top of the sound board to the bottom. This helps in two ways; it distributes the sound throughout the top, but also adds some integrity to the top, especially since the builder is making it as thin as possible. 

This is always the balance in a quality instrument like this — structural integrity versus quality of sound. When I build a mandolin, I carve the bracing down until I reach a predetermined tuning when tapped, which according to the masters, is the optimal sound and wave length for a mando. This is a difficult technique with a learning curve that I am still meddling in. 

The type of material used for the tops also makes a difference. The top needs to be a soft wood but with enough integrity to hold up to the beating it gets. Spruce and cedar are the materials of choice. Some of my ukuleles use Engelmann Spruce that my sons and I harvest and mill in Colorado. We are often pleasantly surprised that this material sounds just as good as premium and purchased material. 

My wife and I listened to a podcast the other day where several violins were compared as to the quality of their sound. The violins were played professionally while four other professionals who could not see the instrument listened. The listeners rated the quality of each instrument. Interestingly, the oldest most expensive instruments built by famous builders did not rate any better than the contemporary builders and instruments. In fact one of the least expensive (a relative description) violins rated first. 


One of our pastors preached on Exodus 31 recently. The passage names the two builders of the tabernacle and its furniture — Bezalel, Uri’s son, Hur’s grandson from the tribe of Judah, and Oholiab, Ahisamach’s son from the tribe of Dan. Amazing! These two are significant enough to be recalled by name. They rank right up there with prophets, priests, and kings. Forever their names are carved into the story and into our minds. It reflects, I like to think, God’s own creativity and joy in making stuff and in building a community of builders.

The text goes on to say “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship…” They will be able to  “create designs; do metalwork in gold, silver, and copper; cut stones for setting; carve wood; and do every kind of work.” Again, amazing! They are filled with God’s Spirit to build all kinds of stuff.

Reflect for a moment on how many chapters in the Bible are dedicated to the building of the tabernacle. Only two chapters cover creation compared to how many cover the tabernacle? Is it possible that God recognized that one way to meld these people together as a nation would be to have them build something together? 

We do not regularly spend a lot of time on this part of the Bible. When our pastor had the courage to preach on this passage, it resonated deeply in our church. We are a congregation filled with artists, musicians, leather workers, wood workers. We heard this word from God saying something like, “I see you and your creative work which reflects my image and my purposes in this world.” 

Building stuff can be a part of God’s kingdom here on earth and I can only imagine and hope it reflects “as it is in heaven.” Maybe we will all be building stuff then.

I’m pretty sure we will be playing some pretty fine instruments. Didn’t the Righteous Brothers (sorry, showing my age!) sing, “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”

Can’t wait!

Don Tamminga

Don Tamminga spent 20 years as a counselor at Rehobeth Christian School in Rehobeth, New Mexico. He recently retired as the Leadership Training Coordinator for Classis Red Mesa of the Christian Reformed Church. Don now spends his time wood working, birding, biking, baby sitting, playing music, and helping others with projects. He and his wife live in Gallup, New Mexico.  


  • Marlyn Visser says:

    I being very frutal and concerned about the careless wasting of God’s created resources; I am impressed with your ingenuity and skills. Do you utilize your craftmanship to recondition brass and wind instruments that are played in Kevin Zwiers’ band? I pray that God will continue to bless you by allowing you to enhance the music program at Rehobeth. Praise God!

    • Don Tamminga says:

      No band instruments but our communities charter school has an orchestra program and I am constantly repairing their instruments. T

  • Tom Boogaart says:

    There are a number of believers who point out that “having dominion” in Genesis 1 does not refer to having control over the world but repairing it–in Hebrew tikkun olam. God’s words create the world, and human are called by God to reiterate the words of God and thus to repair the world. These believers see every act of restoration as participation with God, and therefore sacred, even in the smallest things–violins and the windows I repaired yesterday on my aging house.

  • Jon Pott says:

    A lovely Monday morning read. Personal memories of my minister father, whose Mondays of recovery from Sunday were so often happily spent over table saw and workbench, building very refined furniture but also whatever slingshot, racer, or doll cradle he thought his children and grandchildren needed for a full life. For him, not only recovery “from” but, as he got across by instruction and example, recovery “of”—weekly recovery of a part of our creative lives to be loved and deeply respected. One project he never finished, alas, was a violin to be built from scratch!

  • Jim Gould says:

    Hey Don, cool writing. Have you read philosopher Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft? His basic argument is that people have lost touch with manual labor and the skills that it creates, such as independence, creative thinking and pride of accomplishment; instead we work at jobs where we crunch numbers, stare at computer screens and trade ideas.

  • James C Dekker says:

    Thanks so much for this evocative and encouraging article. My grandfather and uncle were excellent carpenters who passed on some genes or inclination that skipped my own dad, who was a clear and present danger with almost any tool. Twenty-eight years ago I started restoring wood-canvas canoes and have finished eight of them. It’s not as exacting work as building or repairing violins, but I have often thought of Oholiab and Bezalel and once also preached a sermon on that chapter. When friends have asked me why I do this work, I always reply, “Because I believe in the Resurrection.” Almost invariably that provokes an interesting conversation. Blessings and thanks again, jcd

  • Dirk Jan Kramer says:

    Refinishing and repairing as necessary antique furniture provides the same sense of fulfillment. Although I have yet to figure out the reason for the tinge of sadness I feel whenever a project is complete.

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