Stefan-Peter Greiner creates violins for some of the best musicians in the world. Deutsche Welle visited the violin-maker at his atelier in Bonn to learn how he makes a block of wood sing.
Violin-maker Stefan-Peter Greiner needs two years to craft an instrument
In the mid-nineteenth century, Germany was a center of affordable violins. Today, however, many string instruments are mass produced in China. While the majority of German violin-makers make a living from doing repairs, very few spend their time exclusively producing top-notch violins.
One of these exceptions is Stefan-Peter Greiner in Bonn. His violins are played by internationally renowned musicians and are considered to be on a par with Italian masters like Stradivari or Guarneri.
In order to continually improve his product and even surpass the creations of the 17th and 18th century innovators, Greiner studies the sound of old instruments together with other researchers.
Greiner models his violins after those created by Antonio Stradivari in the 17th century
"The problem with setting the sound is that you can't hear well or objectively for a half hour afterwards," Greiner told Deutsche Welle from his atelier in Bonn. "You have to do it in several stages, ideally twice a day for 15 minutes each. It can take weeks."
All in all, Greiner needs two years to turn a block of wood into a finished violin. His procedure is very similar to that of the Italian masters over 300 years ago.
First he selects a piece of wood, which he then stores for up to 15 years before carving out the pieces of the instrument as well as the bow. Once assembled, the unvarnished body of the violin is hung in the sun for over a year -- to get a tan. Indeed, the wood takes on a darker color from its sunbath.
When the instrument is finally varnished, it may appear finished, but the most important step is yet to come: Stringing it and making it "sing." After all, Greiner wants his violins to sound at least as good as a famous Stradivarius or Guarnerius.
While the originals can cost as much as six million euros ($8 million), a Greiner violin goes for around 25,000 euros ($33,400). Not only are his customers willing to fork out the hefty sum, they're also prepared to wait up to eight years to get their hands on one.
Not just anyone can buy
Greiner won't let just anyone play his violins
"I choose my customers," said Greiner. "It's a really important criterion for me that the violinist is able to strongly identify with this violin. First and foremost, I look at how good the violinist is, whether they'll do justice to my violin and whether they'll be good for advertising."
In the end, only one in two interested customers makes the cut and wins a spot on Greiner's coveted waiting list.
"There's no one -- no one in the world, I think -- who has such prominent musicians among their customers, who actually play the instruments," added Greiner. "I have violinists like Christian Tetzlaff and Isabelle van Keulen."
No need to expand
The violin-maker's wood-scented workshop is small and 30 or so unfinished instruments hang from hooks on the ceiling. The shelves are full of tools, chemicals and a large selection of classical CDs.
Greiner works on five or six instruments at a time, completing up to 15 a year. Considering the large demand for his products, he could raise his prices and expand his workshop. But higher prices mean fewer customers, and Greiner enjoys the luxury of being selective. He's also not interested in producing more violins.
"First of all, I don't have the space right now," he said. "It's also really difficult to train someone to do exactly what I want. You have to have a personal relationship with an assistant and know that they're going to be around for years; I've just started with one trainee."