Make : Winrich Sturies
Film : Stefan Baumgartner
I am Melanie Belongia, a Violin Maker and musician. I make and restore violins, violas, & cellos from my studio in Norfolk, Virginia.
What made you want to be a maker?
A trip to the symphony in 2nd grade, followed by an outing to a luthier’s shop a few years later, led me to hound my parents for a violin. I was lucky to come from a very supportive musical family. I was always encouraged to explore and think creatively. It was no surprise to anyone when the very first thing I did after finally getting a violin was take it all apart in the car on the ride home! I just had to know how it all went together. Fast forward a few years (and many years of playing violin), and I had the opportunity to learn from some of the finest luthiers around through apprenticeships and completing the Violin Making & Restoration program at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, MA.
Being a violin maker is a culmination of many interests. I love art, science, history, geometry, working with my hands, and, of course, music. It’s a wonderful feeling to bring a musician closer to their instrument – through restoration or tonal adjustments, or by introducing them to an instrument I’ve crafted especially for them. I’m grateful every day that I have the opportunity to do what I love.
Why should people support your business/products?
Contemporary luthiers now have a wealth of knowledge from the classical masters as well as modern developments at our fingertips allowing us to craft exceptional instruments designed for the modern player. A well-made instrument, built by a reputable maker, is a solid investment as the value will only increase over time. You should buy a violin that sounds great and is pleasing to the eye, and of course you can do that with an older instrument, but I work closely with the musician to create an instrument that is the ideal compliment to their individual needs; from the choice of wood and varnish to the sound desired. There is a certain intimacy that evolves as the process unfolds from pieces of wood to become a violin, and then the real relationship between the player and the instrument can begin. It’s beautiful to watch!
I hand select all of the materials in my studio, and I’m committed to using the highest quality materials available. I’m confident that you will value the exceptional quality and 100% guarantee that comes with every repair, restoration, and instrument that comes through my studio.
Buying artisan goods makes a statement. It means making a conscious decision to buy handmade products instead of mass produced ones. Buyers appreciate quality, craftsmanship, and supporting small businesses instead of big retail stores and it gives artisans the support they need to continue their life’s work.
Favorite product that you make?
I enjoy all of the instruments I make, but my favorite is definitely an innovative 5-string violin (a violin/viola hybrid, tuned C|G|D|A|E). At 15” it is a comfortable instrument to play, and has all the warmth and depth of a viola’s low end without compromise to the upper register. You can hear me playing this 5-string violin with my band Solessin.
List five of your favorite tools.
1. Lie Nielson Low Angle Block Plane : How can you go wrong with top-quality hand tools from Maine? It just feels wonderful in your hand, a nice weight and so very useful.
2. Japanese Carving Gouge (Uchimaru) – Kusumi : A gift from a dear friend. Used for roughing out violin tops and backs. Master blacksmith Seji Kusumi hand forges each blade from a combination of soft wrought iron and high carbon blue steel.
3. Bridge Knife : a gift from a mentor and fellow violin maker, probably the most used tool in my studio.
4. Cross-stitched Heart : made for me and reminds me daily that I am loved.
5. Music : Where would I be without out music? It is my inspiration day in and day out. You never know what you’ll hear coming from my studio - it could be be anything from Dvorak to Led Zeppelin, or any one of the amazing musicians I am fortunate enough to have visiting my studio.
(photographs from Melanie Belongia)