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A recession-proof business: Hand-crafted violins

Dan McGee
info@nnbw.biz

Tim Dodd didn’t face the all of the challenges of most startups.

But then, he doesn’t face a lot of competition as a maker of hand-crafted violins.

Dodd Violin Shop, located inside Maytan Music in downtown Reno, allows Dodd to combine his passions for music, the violin and old-school craftsmanship.

Creation of a violin is a time-consuming, painstaking process that demands skill in handling and gluing very thin wood. If he worked only 40-hour weeks, Dodd estimates he would need a month to create a single instrument.

Production begins with creation of a template for the violin to be built.

Next, he creates a mold and begins the slow process of creating the sides of the violin from very thin strips of maple. When the sides are in place, the back is attached.

Then the mold is removed and the top created from spruce — it acts like a piano’s soundboard — is put in place.

The neck, meanwhile, is carved from a single piece of maple.

At every step of the process, Dodd devotes hours to filing and shaping and sanding.

“There is a lot of detail work,” he says — and it’s the detailed work that discourages many would-be competitors.

“It’s not that there’s nobody else doing it, it’s just that you have to take it pretty seriously and you have to try for a long time to get good,” Dodd says. “And not many are willing to put that kind of work into it.”

The hours he put into learning the craft — he began working in his father’s guitar studio in Palo Alto in 1961 — has steadily paid off.

“As you get better, and the more competent you get, the more people will come and find you,” he says.

His fascination with violins developed even as he learned to play many instruments — accordion, trumpet, guitar and others — and Dodd moved to Reno in 1973 to work at a violin-repair shop.

Later, he returned to California for a couple of years to learn more about the creation of violins.

Today, Dodd is slowly handing off more of the repair work to his apprentices, Bruce McBeth and Jake Helfrich, so he can focus more on the creation of new violins.

Even while the violin-making craft grows, repair remains a staple of Dodd Violin Shop.

“School teachers bring things to me, some students will bring things to me because it’s hard for the schools to maintain it,” he says. “They used to keep it at a higher level but for budget reasons they’re really restricted in what they can do.”

The shop also works with musicians to adjust violins to meet their individual needs. No two musicians play the same, and no two violins are the same.

Professional musicians, Dodd says, are particularly focused on personalized adjustments.

“Some want the touch of the strings to be more athletic so the shapes are a little different. So I can make it a little harder to press if they want or easier, it just depends on what the player wants. But for the average player it’s pretty standard,” he says.

Dodd says violins and other stringed instruments continue to grow in popularity, both for classical music as well as pop-oriented groups that use strings in the background.

He’s focused on finding the right violins for those customers.

“Basically I’m sort of obsessive about the whole craft, including buying,” Dodd says. “I get equipment that’s good to begin with. Then I do all the adjustments — the pegs, the bridge, sound posts, put better strings on, shape the fingerboard so it has the right touch or action.”

And that craftsmanship, combined with the high-profile location at Maytan Music, helped Dodd Violin Shop weather the recession.

In fact, Dodd says, “My business has improved quite a bit in spite of the recession.”


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