Monday, January 14, 2013

John Craft 1975 violin

John Craft was a local maker, local being Nampa, Idaho.  This instrument came in for a little repair and set-up work.  Here's his 'label' seen through the f-hole.

In spite of some of their eccentricities, violins made back in out-of-the-way places before much information was readily available interest me.  I never met John Craft, but I do hear stories of him.

The front of the instrument, showing the general outline.  Black-white-black purfling, somewhat pinched corners.

The back was really astounding.  A very dynamic finish, it changed readily with the view angle.  Here are two shots at different light angles.

Note that unlike the front, the purfling is a single black strip.

The pegbox was somewhat oversized, larger and bulkier than normal.  Poorly fit pegs shown here were replaced and the nut was cleaned up.  It was too high and had gobs of glue extending out all sides.  I don't know whether this was the original set-up or if it had been redone at some time.

Curves of the scroll are a bit clunky.  Considering that in 1975 Nampa he probably didn't have much to model it on -- no Internet, no Strad magazine posters -- you do what you do.

The fluting was quite shallow, particularly on the back, with the center ridge nearly disappearing at the heel of the pegbox.

The top seam appeared somewhat open from the outside, though solid.  Looking in through the endpin, we could see many diamond-shaped cleats.


  1. Thanks for the blog, and am glad to see them more frequent of late. I appreciate your documentation of the details of the craft. I'd appreciate more discussion on the relative quality of "amateur" makers that you've seen and some of the places where inexperience and/or lack of knowledge shows.

    I am not a instrument maker but certainly appreciate the craft, and have thought about making an Art Nouveau influenced violin someday, based on my interest in the style and its influence in my woodworking (and my daughter playing the violin)

  2. Thank you, Jeremy. I got relatively swamped with work during the late summer and fall, and my blog suffered.

    One problem with violin making is that it takes so darn long to simply get the basics. In my experience, you have to build a couple before you can even begin to see what one looks like. And then you need access to good instruments, in your hands, to see how others before you solved the problems -- those problems you didn't know existed until you built a couple. Nowadays we at least have easy access to photos of fine instruments, often from many angles. Once you've seen a few in person, the photos make more sense.

    I am reluctant to assign relative quality to amateur instruments because the very quirks that make them amateur also make them interesting. I will say that typically amateur instruments have very little monetary value in the violin trade. This does not mean they sound bad or that they are not loved and valued by their owners. It does, however, mean that if they are to be sold or appraised, the owners may not enjoy the cold statistics.

    If you are interested in violin-making with alternate designs, you might look at the Savart violin. A quick google search on "Savart violin" will bring up information. I've been tempted to build one just for the experience. And there are many things to be learned, such as the set-up work, which would carry over into general violin work.

    I've also been interested in building a kit (aka pochette or Dance Master's fiddle) -- mostly neck, bridge, and tailpiece with a little body. Meant to be a more portable design back in the 1700s.

  3. John was a friend of my family. My brother was a concert violinist and a cousin was a national fiddle champ. So John Craft was a great resource.

    In about 1972 my mom wanted me to learn to play the mandolin, but there were just out of our budget (she loved that country gospel music). John heard about it, and so he adapted what he knew and made a nice little mandolin.

    I have the mandolin, but have never learned to play well. I know 4-5 chords, but it is still fun ... and loads of memories of his workshop area ... What a funny, nice, gentle man!

    1. I have aquired one of John's violins and am wondering about value. It is not for sale as it was my Dad's but would like to know if it is worth anything. Mr. Craft copied a Straverius design for the violin that I have and it still has a good sound to it. Anything you can do to help me would be appreciated. my email is

    2. Hello mtleo,

      I cannot really assess any value sight unseen. These handmade instruments vary considerably. Monetary value fluctuates and depends on what similar instruments are going for in your area. As in other handcrafted items, if two (or more) different people want your instrument, the value goes up.

      My best advice would be to take it to a violin shop in your area (I don't know where you live) and get an informal estimate to give you a ballpark idea.

  4. Thank you for writing. Details like that add to the interest of the instrument.

    Do you have any photos of the mandolin you'd be willing to share?

  5. Excellent! Great article with fabulous photos. I appreciate your post.

  6. Thank you. Glad you liked it, Jennifer.

  7. I knew John from my days learning bluegrass guitar. I visited John many times in his homey dirt floor residence. One day I asked John how he went about crafting his violins. After spitting some of his chew on his dirt floor, he scratched his head then said, "Well, I take a piece of wood and cut away everything that doesn't look like a fiddle." Rest in peace my friend.