Describing himself as “A happy guy--doing what he loves” Richard Biggs told
the Duneland Historical Society about his work with violins and bows at the
society’s meeting November 15 at the Library Service Center.
Early in his career he made telescopes, was an art director and a design
engineer, all the while making violins on the side. Eventually he worked in
Chicago alongside a master luthier (defined as someone who makes or repairs
stringed instruments). On the job training prepared him to go on his own and
his mentor presented him with business cards listing him as a master luthier.
Biggs opened his present shop on Lincoln Street in Porter in 2001 and has
cutomers from beginning musicians to top level professionals. He will work on
any violin to make it sound the best it can.
His website says he makes, repairs, restores and sets up instruments of the
violin family and their bows. He also sells instruments, cases, strings and
The history of violins begins in 1550 when Andrea Amati designed the modern
violin. Biggs says the design has changed very little and the violin is the
only instrument to mimic the human voice.
The value of a violin is based on
good material, good design and age--the older the better.
The bow was invented in 1776 and the best bows are French or English.
Pernambuco wood from Brazil and horse hair from Mongolia are used in the
finest violin bows.
Biggs estimates that he has made fewer that 100 bows, made parts for 1,000
and re-haired more than 10,000. Each bow is one of a kind and must rhyme with
The nature of his business does not usually bring in walk-in trade but he
told of a man who was stopped for a train, found the shop and bought a $2,000
When asked the difference between a fiddle and a violin he said one syllable.
At one time he was asked to restore a fiddle which had hung in a pub in
Ireland for 80 years, a long painstaking project and an example of how he is
He is a member of the Violin Society of America and the British Violin Making
Association. Every year he attends a bowmakers workshop at Oberlin College
with gold medal bowmakers from all over the world.
He displayed tools, bows and historic violins, one dating to 1753, and showed
the stages of preparing the wood used in making a bow.
Duneland Historical Society officers elected for 2008 are president Nancy
Hokanson, vice-presidents Joan Costello and Eva Hopkins, secretary Dorothy
Meyers, treasurer Marilyn Cook and directors Audrey Lipinski, Bill Meyer,
Nancy Vaillancourt, Betty Canright, Ken Keller, Ascher Yates, Rita Newman and
The next meeting will be February 21, 2008.