Departments of JSI: Carriage House Violins Workshop

This is the first post of a new series called Departments of JSI. We’re able to run such a large company through the expertise of and collaboration between our different departments. Everyone has a skill that they utilize to accomplish everything from coordinating rental trips to selling instruments to repairing instruments to shipping things on time and safely. This series will help you get to know the variety of people and jobs that are done here at JSI.

If you brought in an instrument or bow you own for repairs, you probably worked with our CHV workshop.  A few of our luthiers agreed to answer some questions about what they do:

How did you become a luthier? 

Adam Kology: I come from a family of woodworkers and artists, so craftsmanship has been at the center of my life since I was very small. I obtained my BFA in sculpture and painting in 2006. During this time I began repair instruments as a side job. By 2009 this had evolved into a home business. In 2012 I took a full time position in the rental department at JSI. Shortly thereafter I moved over to Carriage House Violins where I find myself today.

Jess Fox: I started playing violin at the age of six, studied art and art history in college, and took a job woodworking after college in a high-end picture framing shop. Going to the North Bennet Street School violin making program in 2003 was my way to combine all of the things I love doing into one career.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Jess: On a typical day, I float between hands-on bench work, talking to customers to help diagnose repairs, and occasionally doing adjustments for the sales department.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Adam: Definitely customer reactions to simple repair jobs that I take entirely for granted. The times when I am handed an instrument and moments later I know I made a significant difference in someone’s playing.

Jess: I really enjoy solving problems with customers, helping their instruments to sound and feel better.

What is the most interesting project/instrument you have worked on?

Jess: I have had some unusual instruments come across my bench: five string violins, electric violins and cellos, hardanger fiddles, a rebab, and (less unusual) baroque instruments. I like the challenges that come along with working on unique and non-standard instruments.

What is your main instrument?

Adam: Violin. I play traditional American fiddle music for the most part. I can be found playing at festivals and pubs all over the eastern USA.

Jess: I play the “fiddle,” and also the baritone saxophone.

What advice would you give to someone looking into becoming a luthier?

Adam: Prepare to spend a lot of time reading and researching, throw your ego away, go cut a few thousand bridges, and spend all your extra money on the best tools you can find.

Jess: In my opinion, in order to be a good luthier you need dedication to the craft, an eye for detail, and sure and steady hands. If you have an interest, I would suggest talking to a few of us in the field, taking a short course or even a basic hand tool course to get a feel and see if you have an aptitude for the work, and be well aware of your employment and income prospects on the other end.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Update: The Johnson String Project

JSP Logo

 

For more information on El Sistema, please visit our previous post.

Formed in the spring of 2015, The Johnson String Project is a non-profit organization based on the Johnson String Instrument rental model and designed to offer the same level of service and high-quality instruments to children in under-serviced communities that all JSI customers have come to expect.

The efforts of the Massachusetts Cultural Council are what make this possible. Through their SerHacer initiative, the MCC was able to distribute grants to qualifying El Sistema inspired programs across the Commonwealth. The Johnson String Project received $30,000 through SerHacer as well as generous private donations.  This combination of public and private funding will be used to supply rental instruments for these programs.

Our mission at The Johnson String Project is supporting El Sistema-inspired string programs in under-serviced communities in Massachusetts. One of the largest barriers these programs face is obtaining high-quality instruments. Through the development of our instrument lending library, we strive to ease these financial burdens and provide access to this crucial piece of the musical experience.

To learn more about the Johnson String Project, check out our video

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Flying With Your Cello

Cello Blog

Flying with string instruments can be a stressful experience. With the number of horror stories clogging our news feeds in recent years detailing airline mishaps, it’s no wonder we get nervous taking our instruments with us when we fly. However, things are beginning to look up; under the new Department of Transportation (DOT) ruling that went into effect March 6, 2015, airlines are now required to allow small instruments in the cabin as part of a passenger’s carry-on allowance. Just like any other luggage, as long as it can fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat the airline cannot refuse to carry the instrument. This ruling is a huge victory for musicians, in particular string players, everywhere.

But what about cellos?

While the DOT ruling is very clear in regard to smaller instruments, it is not as definitive when it comes to larger ones. With cellos, standard practice is one of two things: use a flight case and gate check the instrument or purchase another seat in the cabin. Both options have their benefits and disadvantages, so it is up to you to decide what you are most comfortable with.

Airport

PUTTING YOUR CELLO IN CHECKED BAGGAGE

  1. Make sure you have a sturdy flight case or cover you can use. Covers normally go around a hard case, while dedicated flight cases are heavy-duty and designed to protect the instrument without additional parts. They can be purchased or rented depending on the type you are looking for. Just as you would a package, mark it clearly as FRAGILE, MUSICAL INSTRUMENT, or any other polite message that states it needs to be treated with care.
  2. Make sure your instrument is padded within the case. Use wadded tissue paper, cloth, or old clothes to support the bridge, fingerboard, and tailpiece as well as around the sides of the instrument to prevent any jostling around inside the case. If you are concerned about the tension, tune your strings down by a half step to a third. The safest option, if possible, is to have a luthier take down the entire setup and have another set it back up when you arrive at your destination.
  3. Understand that others will be handling your instrument and plan accordingly. There is a lot of baggage to handle and things are not always treated as delicately as they should be–we’ve all watched luggage being loaded onto a plane. It is also possible that the case may be opened, and non-players do not always know how to safely put everything back. Emphasize nicely that it is a delicate musical instrument, but make sure steps 1 and 2 are in place as well.

Plane Interior

BRINGING YOUR CELLO INTO THE CABIN

  1. When buying your extra ticket (which should always be done), make sure you are not buying a seat where the cello will block any emergency exits or signs. Airlines can make a case to have the instrument checked if it threatens passenger safety, so check sites like Seat Guru to maximize both your comfort and the safety of your cello.
  2. Contact the airline when you buy the ticket to make sure everything follows their safety policies. This will ensure you are in compliance and allow you to confirm you provided advance notice about the cello.
  3. Some cellists have been able to fit their instruments in the overhead compartments of larger planes. This is something that cannot be guaranteed, but if you are thinking of trying it there are a few things to keep in mind:
    • Board early. If you need to pay extra to do so, it may be worth it to ensure that you have enough space to get your instrument in the overhead first. Like the DOT ruling says, if it fits in the overhead compartment and you put it there first, your instrument is entitled to stay there.
    • Some cases work better than others. Most anecdotal evidence of cello cases fitting in these compartments happened with the Accord cases, specifically the Hybrid and the UltraLight.
  4. THE AIRLINE MAY NOT CHARGE YOU MORE THAN THE COST OF THE SEAT FOR THE INSTRUMENT. To quote directly from the final ruling: “…assuming all of the safety requirements are met, carriers cannot charge the passenger more than the price of a ticket for the additional seat….” This doesn’t mean that if you decide to upgrade your seat your cello gets a free bump. It also doesn’t mean that you are exempt from fees that are normally posed on carry-on items or cargo. What it does mean is that they cannot charge you extra just because a cello is occupying the seat instead of a human being.

Plane in Rearview Mirror

GENERAL ADVICE FOR FLYING WITH A CELLO

  1. Check your instrument insurance. There is a limit to an airline’s liability if your cello is lost, damaged, or delayed. In many cases this only covers a fraction of the instrument’s value. Make sure you are covered for air travel by your insurance provider.
  2. Arm yourself with information: bring a copy of the DOT ruling and your airline’s instrument policy with you. Be firm but polite if an issue arises.
  3. Make sure you have a high-quality hard case, such as the ones found in our store or on our website. If you are purchasing a seat for your instrument, make sure it’s a lighter and less bulky case such as Bam, Musilia, Accord, or Galaxy. If you have a flight cover for checking your cello, make sure the case will fit inside the cover.
  4. Check in as early as possible. It may take longer to do so and get through security because of the instrument. Make sure to leave yourself enough time so that you are not running for the gate. If you comfortable doing so, paying for early boarding will also give you a space advantage when getting your instrument situated in the cabin.

Hopefully with these tips in mind, both you and your cello will have a safe flight. Be sure to visit the DOT webpage for more information about traveling with instruments.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

 

JSI vs. Dunn Gaherin’s Softball Game!

In the last game of the season, JSI lost to Dunn Gaherin’s 16-14 despite an incredible 8 run comeback in the final inning. It all began when a representative from Dunn Gaherin’s, an Irish bar across from us on Elliot Street, walked over to challenge us to a game of softball back in July. While we lost to their more established team, we have been giving them a run for their money the past two games with the help of some extra batting practice.

Check out photos from the games below, and be sure to visit our neighbors and softball rivals Dunn Gaherin’s for great food, drinks, and fun!

Johnson String in the field while Dunn's bats during Game 3.

Johnson String in the field while Dunn Gaherin’s bats during Game 3.

 

Someone thought our warm ups were an elaborate game of fetch.

Someone thought our warm ups were an elaborate game of fetch.

 

Luckily that someone was also very friendly.

Luckily that someone was also very friendly.

 

Getting a quick batting practice in before the game.

Getting a quick batting practice in before the game.

 

Luthier Colin Skofield at bat.

Luthier Colin Skofield at bat.

 

The two teams celebrating a great Game 1 at Dunn-Gaherin's.

The two teams celebrating a great Game 1 at Dunn-Gaherin’s. Photo credit: Dunn-Gaherin’s

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

Districts are Coming: Preparing for an Audition

Bach has a question for you....

Every student’s worse nightmare: Bach judging your district audition.

Auditions got you worried? Not sure how to prepare? We’ve got you covered! Many of us at Johnson String Instrument have gone through auditions so we’ve been there. We asked our staff to share their tips and tricks to help you do the best that you can. They had some great advice:

1. Relax! Breathe! Try not to get too worked up about it. Every musician (even the judges!) has had to go through auditions, and everyone knows it’s a nerve-wracking experience.

2. Scales! Practice scales! More scales and arpeggios! I missed out on senior districts by bombing the scales because of a combination of nerves and not practicing enough.  Get the format down, make them second nature, and that will help you not only with scales but also with sight-reading.

-Alex Wagner, Product and Inventory Specialist, violinist

1. Be sure to listen to the entire piece. The audition committee can tell if you are hearing how your part interacts with the rest of the ensemble. Hearing the piece as a whole rather than just your part is the difference between a good instrumentalist and a good musician.

2. Perform your audition rep for as many people as possible before the audition. I know it can feel awkward or embarrassing but that’s the point! Better to get all the jitters out in front of friends/family than the audition committee.

-Sara Wilkins, Customer Service Representative, cellist

My biggest piece of advice would be not to practice for several hours on the day of an audition. The truth is that your repertoire is as good as it’s going to get that day. A great alternative to playing through the music over and over is to come up with a ritual that helps you feel calm and focused. A couple methods I’ve used are to play a scale (slowly) with all of its arpeggios or to eat a piece of my favorite chocolate while I warm up.

-Sarah Rogers, Administrative Assistant, violinist

1. Be able to play excerpts in any order presented. Be able to switch from fast and technical to slow and calm.

2. Play for non-string players. If you have rhythm issues play for drummers. Excerpts that have tricky shifts or string crossings, play for flute or other wind players; they are less forgiving about string player-specific issues.

3. Tape and film yourself to look for areas that need improvement.

4. Be ready at least a week before the audition, and relax.

-Jon Crumrine, Bow Maker, violist

Set a box of doughnuts (or preferred favorite treats) in the corner of the audition room. Whenever you get nervous, look at them & feel relieved 🙂
Then treat yourself afterwards!

-Amy Nolan, Store Manager, cellist

1. Get plenty of sleep.

2. Eat well.

3. Live healthily.

4. Play your audition for anybody who will listen, especially if they might have some constructive advice.

5. Read all of these books by Don Greene, and practice the techniques found therein with diligence and devotion.

-Phil Rush, Sales Consultant, violist

Still need to purchase your music for districts? Stop into our store or visit our website, and good luck to all auditioning in the coming months!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Choosing Strings and the Thomastik Back to School Sale!

Choosing the Right Strings

Choosing strings for your instrument is a personal and complicated process. With so many options available on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, we are here to help!

Here are some important factors to keep in mind:

What style of playing do you do? What works for a classical player may not work for a jazz musician or fiddler and vice versa. Different genres call for different types of sound, which can be achieved with different kinds of strings.

How do you characterize your instrument’s sound? Strings have the ability to enhance or stifle the particular qualities of your instrument. In order for them to help rather than hinder, know how to characterize your instrument’s sound. Is it dark or bright? Mellow or piercing? This knowledge will help you work with your instrument rather than against it.

What are you looking for? Do you want to brighten the sound? Tone down the power? Speed up response? Slow it down? Knowing what you are looking for helps make sure your strings accommodate your needs.

 

There are three basic types of strings: gut, steel core, and synthetic core. Keep in mind that the majority of players today use steel or synthetic core strings. The basic differences are:

Gut

Steel

Synthetic

  • Warm, complex sound
  • Softer under the fingers
  • Unstable tuning
  • Long settling period
  • Shorter playable life
  • Sensitive to changes in climate
  • Stable tuning, settle quickly
  • Direct and cutting sound
  • Thinner sounding than gut or synthetic
  • Warmer than steel core strings
  • Stable tuning and settle quickly
  • More subtle tonal colors than steel
  • Most widely-used type of string today
  • Similar tonal qualities to gut

 

**Keep in mind these are generalizations. Each type of string will perform differently for different instruments, and the varying qualities of each will appeal to some and push away others**

Experimenting with strings involves trial and error. Now through October 9th, Thomastik is having their back-to-school sale on select string sets and bundles for all instruments, making this a better time than ever to try something new with your strings. As always, our string prices are up to 55% below list price.

For more detailed information about the different kinds of strings we offer and their differences, please visit our website.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Switching From Violin to Viola

If you are a violinist, you have probably been asked this question at some point during your musical career:

Can you play viola?

For some, the answer is a resounding “NO.” For others, this question leads to them taking on the viola as a secondary or primary instrument. This can happen at any point, but many students are asked around middle or high school in an effort to even out the sections in school programs. Since the violin is more well-known and recognizable, many students or families initially choose it over the unknown viola. Whenever or whatever reason the switch is happening, here are some important things keep in mind:

Be careful when choosing a viola size.

The viola is unique in that there is no “full size,” unlike other string instruments. The viola began as two separate instruments: alto viola and tenor viola. Technically, in order to achieve an ideal tone the viola should be much longer than it is now–upwards of 19 inches. That length would make it impossible to play. The tenor viola was the closest solution to this issue; however it was still so long that unless you had very long arms and fingers, it was too painful to play for an extended period of time. Modern violas fall closer to the size of the alto violas, with makers striving to recreate the sound found in the tenor violas of the past.

Today, the viola typically ranges in size from 15” to 17”, with most players falling between the 15.5”-16.5” range. Some 14” violas do exist (the same length as a full-size violin), but they do not have the same sound quality/depth. For new players, your best course of action would be to start by trying a 15-15.5” instrument and adjusting up or down from there. You do not want to feel like you are straining to play. It will feel larger, but should still be comfortable.

Learn to read or transpose the clef.

This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to rely on your ears to tell you exactly what you should be playing, especially if you are working on familiar repertoire. Violists primarily read alto clef and it is one of the only instruments that does so. It lies between treble and bass, with the middle line being middle C. This accommodates the instrument’s range well. Like learning another language, practice and immersing yourself will help you learn faster and more completely. Your treble clef skills will still come in handy, as viola music sometimes switches between the two. There are books that can help you make the transition into reading alto clef, which can be found on our website.

Your position will need to change.

It may look like a violin. It may still be held on your shoulder. It may even feel the same.

It isn’t.

Keep in mind that violas and their bows are heavier than violins and this will change how you support the instrument. Your arms will be more extended and the finger-spacing of your left hand will be more spread out, which will necessitate changes in your overall position and posture to prevent tension. The best way to discover what you will need to change is:

Find a teacher who plays viola.

Find a teacher who really plays and works as a violist. Even with only one or two lessons, they can be an invaluable asset in finding a position without tension. Many violists are former violinists and will be able to help  you with the transition.

 

Keep your eye on the Johnson String Instrument blog for more posts, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Tips for Instrument Care

First time player or parent of a first time player? Here are some tips on caring for your instrument:

Clean your instrument with a soft cloth, as well as the stick of the bow.

This is something that should be done every time you finish playing in order to prevent rosin buildup. Make sure to wipe down the strings, fingerboard, wherever you see rosin on the body of the instrument, and the stick of the bow. If you want to polish or clean your instrument, only use a compound made for string instruments such as our JSI Cleaner and Polish.  A complete list of our instrument cleaning products can be found here.

Keep your instrument’s environment consistent.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to keep your instrument away from extreme temperatures. This means storing it in an insulated room away from vents, heating or air conditioning units, and windows. Do not leave your instrument in an unattended car, especially during the height of winter or summer.

Another factor to keep in mind is that string instruments are sensitive to humidity. Too much will cause the wood to expand, causing problems like immobile pegs. Conversely, too little humidity will cause the wood to contract, increasing the risk of open seams and cracks. Consider monitoring the humidity levels with an in-case humidification system to prevent damage.

Store your instrument properly.

When you are done playing, make sure to take off all shoulder rests/sponges and store them safely. Strap or tie down the neck and make sure any accessories like rosin or pencils are in an accessory pocket. Loosen the bow every time you put it away to prevent the stick from warping and to extend the life of your bow hair.

Do not attempt your own repairs.

It may be tempting to glue an open seam back together or straighten a warped bridge yourself, but performing your own repairs can become more damaging and costly than the initial issue. Particular methods and materials are used to fix stringed instruments; when you use a material that is not normally found on a string instrument, this can harm it. If you suspect something is out of place, please pay a visit to our workshop and let our luthiers assess the instrument.
Use your eyes and ears.

Your powers of observation are your best asset when it comes to taking care of your instrument. If something does not sound or look right, it most likely is not. If you hear an unexplained buzzing or rattling, see an open seam or a crack, or notice anything else out of place about your instrument, bring it to your luthier to have it checked out. If problems are ignored, they can easily get worse and more costly to correct. A little preventative care will allow your instrument to remain in good working order.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons