Reporting back. Luthier Josh Beyer in conversation. SoundBox 25 10 18

Posted on October 25th, 2018 by

In the Autumn of 2017, I met the Pittsburgh-based violin maker, Josh Beyer, at the first of my Preludes & Vollenteries concerts. I was immediately fascinated by his approach and his interest a much more varied notion of the instrument than is common. In order to see his work, go to his website at

Josh Beyer examines a piccolo violin Manchester 2018

A conversation began, and we have been able to spend time swapping ideas about violin making old and new, and the dialogue between the great school of American lutherie and the European approaches.

Today, Josh came and talked at my SoundBox session in the String Gallery of the RAM, surrounded by violins, violas and cellos by Amati, Stradiarivari, Rugeri, and Guarnerius del Gesu. With him, he brought two brand new violins, both based on a model of Peter Guarneri. Fascinating ideas flowed around the room, about working with wood, definitions of symmetry and balance, the questions of antiquing and much more.

It is always amazing to hear a luthier talk, but what was most moving with Josh was the immediacy of his connection with all the influences that flow into his artistry, whether it’s his sense of the great makers of the 17th century, talking about them as if they were friends, his finely honed sensibility that every aspect of his art is linked to the minutiae of their lives, or the wonder of the wood that he uses, sourced from the Vlach mountain range in Bosnia.

I played Bach on both the new instruments and it was fascinating to hear the reaction of the Soundbox community to the comparison between the two. ‘Bright’, ‘Clear’, ‘Rich’, ‘Deep’, were some of the responses to the first of the instruments. ‘Woody’, ‘Intimate’, ‘Oboe-like’ to the second. There were also some fascinating questions. One young man, clearly coming to classical music for the first time, was surprised to hear maker and player talk about the notion of ‘agonising’ over what we do. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. This was very useful: we take it so much for granted, that we spend decades thinking about perfect arching, or how to play a line of Bach.

A new violin buy Josh Beyer based on a Peter of Mantua 1710 model. Photo by Josh Beyer

For me, the most fascinating part of Josh’s presentation was his demonstration of the differing stiffness or flexibility, of wood cut on the slab or the quarter. I have always felt this in the tonal qualities and responses of different instruments. It was inspiring to be offered insight into why instruments ‘push back’ in different ways.