The violin has mostly stayed the same since the 16th century, when the likes of Antonio Stradivari began designing his own instruments out of maple and spruce wood.
A violin creates a unique silhouette due to its rounded body and curved features that give it – along with violas, cellos and basses – an elegant look. All of this amounts to about one pound of wood.
“You could make a violin out of a two by four, but it wouldn’t sound very good,” Brian Jindra said.
He said if it wasn’t for the violin’s rounded body, it would make repairing instruments a lot easier.
“You want the instrument to be easy to play,” Jindra said. “A proper setup on an instrument will allow you to play the instrument rapidly and delicately.”
Jindra has been involved in carpentry for about 40 years and has been repairing stringed instruments for about 20 years in his basement workshop in Beaver Dam.
At the moment, Jindra is repairing a bass. The bass lies on its back with the front removed. The interior complexion is cracked and browned with age. Wooden studs dot the walls and help hold cracks together that have formed over time.
He is currently securing the ebony neck to the body of the bass and mending various cracks.
Due to the curved body of the bass and minute repairs that need to be attended to, Jinda has to take special care when handling the thin wood. The workshop has tools hanging on the walls and scattered on tables, each with a purpose.
Jindra said it looks like a mess, but there is a method to the chaos.
Part of the method, Jindra said, is finding unique ways to tackle the delicate repairs.
“The attraction of doing this is to create solutions to these round problems,” he said.
Jindra works inside the corpus – the body of the instrument. When it comes to repairing a violin, the space available is minimal in comparison to a bass.
Due to the miniature cracks and issues that can arise with a violin, Jindra has rigged a collection of his own tools to accomplish the work.
Jindra said some of the most important tools he owns and has constructed are clamps. A portion of one wall in his workshop and about three full tool drawers, are packed with more than 100 clamps.
Clamps are essential to hold studs, which help to mend cracks, which are also due to Wisconsin’s ever changing weather conditions.
He said the wood warps easily. Owners will often carry an instrument from winter cold conditions, into a dry, heated building. This will open seams in the instrument.
Jindra said many of his repairs are to instruments owned by students in the Beaver Dam area. Sometimes instruments are misused or the children lack the knowledge to properly protect the instrument. He said about 75 percent of the people he sees for repairs reside in Dodge County.
“At one time it was safe to say there was a violin repairer in just about every little town,” Jindra said.
Jindra admitted that he isn’t an accomplished string player. His main interest is in the repair and setup.
As a carpenter, Jindra didn’t start working with stringed instruments. He used to focus on making furniture.
Years ago, Jindra picked up a violin at a rummage sale and took it apart just to see how it works. Soon after, he took four weeks worth of training under a master restorer to gain more knowledge about the setup and repair.
Jindra said it started as a hobby and grew the more he learned about the history and craft. Now that he is retired, he can spend as much time as he wants in the shop.
“The nice thing about instrument repairs is that it could be snowing, cold or a blizzard and I can spend all day in my shop,” he said. “As far as a winter activity, it’s super.”
He said he has no plans to leave Beaver Dam. He doesn’t advertise his skills and said most people that come to him for repairs learn about him through word-of-mouth.
“It’s fun to be a part of the music scene in Beaver Dam,” he said.
With a multitude of tools and experience, Jindra doesn’t plan to slow down now that he is retired. He said woodworking gives him the creative freedom to solve new problems.
Though the design of the instruments he works with have remained unchanged since the 1600s, Jindra’s craft continues to evolve with each new repair.