Chesterton Tribune

Community's violinmaker tells joys and history of his craft to Historical Society

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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 accessories.

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 violin.

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 bow.

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 known internationally.

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.

Officers Elected

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 Jane Walsh-Brown.

The next meeting will be February 21, 2008.


Posted 11/21/2007