Welcome, In Kyu Hwang!

Photo credit: Cydney Scott

Photo credit: Cydney Scott

In Kyu Hwang is the newest luthier in our workshop at Carriage House Violins of Johnson String Instrument. Hailing from Korea, In Kyu studied in Mittenwald, Germany and holds the Geigenbau Meister (Master Craftsman) certification. He joined us here at Carriage House in October of 2015. We asked him to talk to us about what inspired him to become a luthier, what prompted him to join our company, and what advice he has for aspiring luthiers: 

As a small child I always enjoyed making models, carving things from soap, that sort of thing. When I saw a documentary about the violin making school in Mirecourt, France, that was really a moment of culture shock because at the time I didn’t know such a thing existed in the world. I was very jealous because the individual featured in the documentary was a fourteen-year-old Korean boy. was a fourteen year old Korean boy! But–a foreign country, a foreign language–for me it seemed impossible. So I forgot about it.

When I was nearing the end of high school I realized I didn’t want to do the usual things like go to college and get a regular job. A classmate of mine (now my wife) who played the violin introduced me to a local violin maker who had trained in Japan. He asked me, why did I want to do this job? I would be so poor. He was quite poor actually. But I couldn’t listen to him. I had such a passion to do this. So he accepted me to work with him building an instrument in his shop. After half a year I had to mandatory two year Korean military service. I never finished that violin, but he encouraged me to go to Germany and study at the school in Mittenwald when I finished my military obligation.

As a non English-speaking foreigner, negotiating the school’s entrance process was its own story. Eventually after fulfilling the two year requirement of violin lessons (among many other things) I finally gained admittance in 2003. It was a three and a half year course of study in the heart of Bavaria.

I began official German language studies as soon as I arrived in Germany, but due to a death in my family had to stop after only two months. I was able to continue learning the language with the help of two German families who tutored me privately. I call them my angels. My success would not have been possible without their help and encouragement.

After graduating, I was able to find work at the shop of Anton Pilar in Berlin where I worked for three years before moving to Los Angeles to work for Georg Ettinger, head of the Hans Weisshaar shop.

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

What was your most memorable project?

I remember my first major restoration project. It was a massive undertaking on a Thomas Dodd cello. It required EVERYTHING and I thought, “Will I be able to do all of this?” But it went quite well and I continued [at Hans Weisshaar] working on many fine instruments, memorably a J.B. Vuillaume, Joseph Guarnerius, and another very large restoration on a Dominique Busan viola. I really enjoy such undertakings.

What drew you to Carriage House Violins?

Many different things drew me to work for Johnson String Instrument’s fine instrument division at CHV like the depth and variety of Boston’s arts and cultural scene, the history of the city itself, and the landscape of New England generally. Walking in Cambridge, seeing all the old buildings, I love it.

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

What advice do you have for aspiring luthiers?

I might quote my first teacher in Korea: “Why do you want to work so hard and be so poor?” You must really really love this work.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Summer Programs

Summer Programs

While it may be cold and snowy outside, we have entered the season of summer program applications! We get a lot of questions from parents about summer programs, including what we know or recommend or how to even begin the process of looking for programs. While everyone has different goals when conducting their search, we can give you an idea of how to begin:

What does their teacher recommend?

Your child’s teachers are a valuable resource. They know your child’s musical strengths, and will have a good idea of what programs might be appropriate. They will have suggestions based on your child’s ability, commitment, and interest.

Where do your children want to go?

Don’t forget to consult the person attending the program! Some may have no idea, but others will have something in mind. While their goals may not be realistic for one reason or another (or maybe they are, in which case, jackpot!), it will give you an idea of the type of experience they are looking for. You can frame your search with that in mind.

What kind of program are you looking for?

What is your goal? Programs are centered around different aspects of playing an instrument. For example, some focus exclusively on chamber music, individual practice, or orchestral playing. Others combine them. If the goal is to gain more orchestral experience, going to a chamber music or fiddle program will not serve this purpose. Want to try a new genre of music? An orchestral program focused on standard repertoire is not a likely candidate. Confine your search to what type of experience you are looking for.

What is your budget?

For some, this is the deciding factor. Work within what you and your family are comfortable spending. However, like applying for college, many programs offer scholarships or work/study arrangements, so don’t let price alone make your decision. Cast a wide net when possible and see what kinds of scholarships might be available to you.

Additional Considerations:

Length: Programs range anywhere from one week to eight. Some students can handle the longer sessions, while others are not ready for an eight weeks away from home. This is a personal decision based on your child and your family. Again, your child’s teacher is a great resource if you are not sure whether a longer or shorter session is a better fit.

Distance: How far away are you looking? A program may look amazing but be hundreds of miles or even an ocean away. Consider travel expenses in your budget as well as how comfortable your child is being a long way from home.

Age Range: This is very important. There are programs that cater to both small and wide age ranges. It may be possible to have a high school student in a group with college students, or middle with high school. This can be beneficial, but this is a personal choice. They may have the skills to keep up with someone considerably older, but they may not have the emotional maturity to thrive socially. You want to make sure that your child has a great experience both inside of rehearsal and out.

 

Applications are due soon, so make sure you check out the due dates and materials needed. While geared toward college hopefuls, our post on applying to music school has a lot of great tips that are also relevant to summer program applications.

You can find a list of programs in the US on our website here and a list of international programs here.

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

A Happy New Year!

The new year is almost upon us! Thank you for letting us and this blog be part of your lives in 2015.

Now we want to know what YOU want to see on our blog in this coming year. Do you want to learn more about the company? Get more helpful tips? Find out more about upcoming sales and events? Something completely different? Let us know! Fill out this survey so we can tailor content to what YOU are looking for.

We appreciate your continued business and hope everyone has a safe, joyous new year!

How to Rock Your College Audition

Congratulations, you have successfully applied to music school! Now, you just need to get through the auditions.

Easy, right?

We’ve already talked about how to prepare for an audition, but college auditions are a completely different beast. They come with added pressure, and you can expect to have a lot of them within a short span of time. While the tips in our previous post are invaluable, there are specific things you should keep in mind to set yourself up for success when it comes to college auditions:

Schedule everything from audition times to flights on a calendar. Leave enough time for travel, and note what repertoire you will be playing for each audition.

Secure your travel plans as soon as possible.  Make sure you factor in travel times and possible delays when deciding how to get to an audition. The last thing you’ll want to do the day of the audition is rush to get to the audition site.

-Since most auditions happen during the winter, keep an eye on the weather forecast. Winter can upset travel plans on very short notice, so if possible try to have a plan B. Have contact information for someone at the school who can help you if plans go awry at the last minute.

-If you are still in school, be it high school or undergrad, make sure you talk to your teachers and know your school’s absentee policy. Factor in missed classes and homework when scheduling if possible, and be prepared to be busy.

Have extras of any supplies you would be lost without, especially stringsFor some, this also means traveling with an extra bow. You won’t always be somewhere that has a local string instrument shop–don’t put yourself in a bind because you didn’t bring an extra A string.

Get your instrument checked over now. This will leave time to have any repairs completed as well as to break in anything new such as new strings or rehairs and set you up for success.

Have you done college auditions in the past? Leave a comment below to share your tips and tricks.

Take a deep breath, sleep when you can, and good luck to all preparing for college auditions!

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Best Holiday Gifts: 2015 Edition

The holidays have arrived!

Whether you are celebrating your favorite time of year or waiting for the term “holiday cheer” to disappear, we have what you need to survive gig season and spoil the musician(s) in your life. Here are some of our top recommendations here at Johnson String Instrument from our holiday sale:

 

GALAXY CASES

Galaxy Comet 300SL Shaped Violin Case: ON SALE $337.00

Galaxy Comet 300SL Shaped Violin Case: ON SALE $337.00

Adjustable Galaxy 400SL Viola Case: ON SALE $558.00

Adjustable Galaxy 400SL Viola Case: ON SALE $558.00

These are a JSI exclusive! An economical alternative to the popular BAM, these cases are lightweight, durable, and come in a variety of fun colors. Browse our entire offering of on-sale violin, viola and cello cases.

YAMAHA ELECTRIC VIOLIN OUTFIT

Yamaha SV130 Electric ViolinYamaha SV130 Electric ViolinYamaha SV130 Electric Violin

One of our most popular items! This instrument can either be amplified or used with headphones for silent practice, and comes in a variety of colors. A Johnson Artist bow and either a gig bag (red, blue, or grey) or Core case are included in the outfit. Take a look at our complete electric violin sale here.

JSI FOLDING STANDS

JSI Folding Music Stand: ON SALE $12.95

JSI Folding Music Stand: ON SALE $12.95

Possibly one of the most useful products on sale! These stands are light, compact, and come with a stand bag. They are also available in a wide variety of colors from the standard black and the not-so-standard pink. Check out our entire sale selection of music stands and accessories here.

FOLK, FIDDLE, JAZZ, AND POP (AND HOLIDAY!)

Classic Rock Instrumental Solos for cello: ON SALE $11.99

Classic Rock Instrumental Solos for cello: ON SALE $11.99

The Wizard of Oz for cello: ON SALE $11.96

The Wizard of Oz for cello: ON SALE $11.96

All folk, fiddle, jazz, and pop books are 20% off! Yes parents, this includes all Taylor Swift and Frozen sheet music as well as film scores, fiddling styles, jazz real books, and folk compilations. Have holiday gigs coming up? All of our holiday music is also 20% off.

 

Looking for stocking stuffers? Your search is over!

JEWELRY

Sterling Silver Treble Clef Earrings

Necklaces and earrings for all musicians who want to show off their passion for music with style.

ROSIN

Bernadel Rosin: ON SALE $6.95

 

Now’s the time to upgrade your rosin! Select brands on sale now.

SELECTED STRINGS

Jargar Violin Strings ON SALE

 

Whether you need to replace your own strings or they’re for your musician, they will be 100% appreciated. Select brands on sale now.

 

Now through December 10th, take 10% the ENTIRE store (excluding instruments, bows, and strings) as well as online. This means an additional 10% on top of already discounted products. Visit us at 1029 Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls or online to take advantage of holiday savings.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram to stay up to date with all of our sales, promotions, and goings-on. Happy holiday shopping!

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

The War Against Winter

Winter is coming.

The citizens of Westeros are not the only ones who fear the coming season. Musicians can feel its icy claws reaching out in the form of slipping pegs and shrinking string heights. Humidity once again betrays us as it retreats from winter’s advance, leaving our instruments vulnerable. Rapidly changing environments, both outdoors and in, seek to wreak havoc. How can we defend ourselves against the impending storm?

Step 1: Know your enemy.

Winter has many weapons in its arsenal and wields them without mercy. As fellow survivors of Snowpocalypse 2015: Boston Edition, we remember its fury. The two most effective weapons winter possesses are humidity and temperature.

Humidity:  During more temperate times, humidity can be an asset. Wood expands and contracts depending on the humidity level; more humidity means expansion (swelling of the wood), lack of humidity contraction (depression of the wood). Winter is not a humid season in the northeast, which means the wood on your instrument is shrinking. There are a few specific consequences of this:

  1. As the humidity decreases, the belly will get lower. This lowers the bridge height and consequently the string height. This is most apparent on cellos—many cellists have seasonal bridges for this reason.
  2. Ever wonder why your pegs constantly slip when winter comes? It’s probably winter’s fault for driving humidity away. Pegs and the peg box are made from different types of wood that expand and contract at different speeds. This means the peg may suddenly be smaller than the hole.

Temperature: Like you (or unlike you), your instrument does not enjoy rapid temperature changes. This includes going from the frigid outdoors to the well-heated indoors and vice versa. It also includes switching between rooms with very different climates, like from the green room to the stage. Winter is diabolically skilled at making sure this situation materializes on a daily basis.

Step 2: Arm yourself.

Never forget you have your own arsenal with which to fight back.

Common Sense:

This is your most powerful weapon in the war against winter. Do not underestimate its importance! If you aren’t comfortable somewhere, neither is your instrument. Insulate and humidify it like you do yourself. The analogy ends here, because remember how we said rapid temperature changes were a weapon in winter’s arsenal? While we enjoy sitting by a heater or fire, your instrument does not. Don’t fall into winter’s trap—keep your instrument away from direct heat sources.

Humidity Control: We’ll say it one more time: lack of humidity is bad for your instrument. Humidify the case, just like you do your home or individual rooms. Ideally, you want to keep the humidity around 40%. There are many types of humidifiers you can use, but our recommendation is to stick to an in-case model rather than one that goes inside the instrument. Both work well, however in-case keeps direct moisture away from the instrument and requires less maintenance. If it goes in the instrument, it means drying it thoroughly, keeping track of it when it’s not in the instrument, and daily maintenance. You need to decide what’s best for you and your instrument.

Valuable assets to your armory:

Case covers

Case humidifiers and hygrometers

Peg Compound

Step 3: Find allies.

A luthier can be your greatest ally against winter. Despite your own preparations, winter can be a cunning adversary. Be on the lookout for these common battle wounds:

Open Seams: This is by far the most common issue seen during the winter. Thankfully, it is also relatively easy to fix. Keep an eye on the seams–even if you can’t see them, a tell-tale buzzing, pop, or sudden change in sound will usually let you know something is amiss. Again, this is something that a luthier can take care of relatively easily but DO NOT REPAIR THIS YOURSELF.  Any variety of glue you find at the hardware store should be nowhere near your instrument. Luthiers use hide glue as well as well-placed clamps to ensure everything is set correctly and have a trained eye to check for any other problems. Home repairs can mean more money spent in the future to undo damage. Don’t give winter the satisfaction—go see a luthier.

Cracks: Humidifying your case and protecting your instrument against rapid temperature/climate changes should minimize your risk of cracks, but sometimes winter wins and cracks appear. These should be seen by a luthier as soon as possible because they are more difficult to repair than open seams.

Now is the time to prepare for winter’s onslaught! Check out our newly re-vamped website at www.johnsonstring.com to find out more about the products mentioned here or visit us in person at 1029 Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls.

 

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

 

Upcoming Dates at JSI

We have a lot of exciting things happening in our shop during this upcoming holiday season! Be sure to mark your calendars for the following dates:

 

November 21st-January 2nd: Our annual Holiday Sale is back! Keep an eye out for flyers arriving soon with more information. The sale begins this Saturday and runs through the first Saturday of 2016. Deals can be found both in store and online, so be sure to keep us in mind when shopping for the musician in your life this holiday season!

November 28th: Small Business Saturday is back and nationally recognized by Congress! Come in or visit us online to support local business.

 

Please also note will have abbreviated hours coming up as the holidays approach:

November 25th: Open 10-4pm

November 26th: CLOSED

December 24th: Open 10-4pm

December 25th: CLOSED

December 31st: Open 10-4pm

January 1st: CLOSED

 

Those of you who’ve visited our shop in the past few months may have noticed our new cello case decor. We’ve switched up in honor of Thanksgiving:

Ghost Cellos!

20151116_124840

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop by to snap a picture with our current turkey cello!

 

 

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Departments of JSI: Rental Workshop

Departments of JSI is back! This is a series that highlights the different people that work within our company. We’re able to run such a large business 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 have ever rented an instrument from JSI, you’ve reaped the benefits of our in-house rental workshop.  Our head luthier, Sef Gray, agreed to answer some questions about what he does:

How did you become a luthier?

I played violin growing up and when it became time to go to college I was looking at woodworking/sculpture. My violin teacher’s husband made her violin and he helped me find a bunch of local luthiers to talk to. They all seemed like they did the sort of work I could see myself doing. I decided to I wanted to make/repair instruments because of the hands on nature of the craft and I also found it very interesting to do work that would support musicians. I applied to 2 violin making schools and went to North Bennet Street School. While studying at NBSS I built 8 instruments and learned some repair techniques.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I find it rewarding that the work I do helps musicians do their job and bring music to their communities. I build instruments outside of my job at JSI and I am always amazed that I can make a tool for musicians to play. It is so exciting to hear an instrument for the first time after all the work you have put into it.

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

I would encourage someone  interested in becoming a luthier to reach out to local makers or repair people to see what the work environment is like and what the work is like. It is challenging work and takes a long time to get comfortable working with the level of detail and patience that is required to be a luthier. Go to a violin making school and take a tour.

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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

 

 

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