Remembering Roger Johnson

Roger Johnson

Roger Johnson, co­-founder of Johnson String Instrument, died on Wednesday, November 10, 2021. He was 84 years old.

Born in 1937 in rural Hillsboro, Ohio, Roger Johnson was the youngest of ten children in a farming family. Roger’s passion for music and the building of stringed instruments began at the age of 11, when he built a guitar that won first prize at the Ohio State Fair.

After completing his bachelor’s degree at Ohio State University, Roger opened the Columbus Folk Music Center, where he continued building and restoring stringed instruments. He was particularly fond of crafting dulcimers and banjos, teaching himself to carve delicate inlays for these instruments. He became widely known as a musician, singer, and instrument maker.


Shortly after moving to the Boston area, Roger, in partnership with his wife Carol, opened Johnson String Instrument (JSI) in 1976, in Newton, Massachusetts. JSI was the first violin shop to use the same quality and care for their rental instruments as instruments for sale. Roger’s vision of providing personalized service and expertly set-up rental instruments to students guides the family business to this day.

Roger always had an eye for quality and was a pioneer in bringing talented European makers to the American market. Roger spent many years traveling to Europe to find exceptional instruments and bows to develop the Karl Mueller line of student instruments. JSI grew rapidly, from a small storefront to its current picturesque location in a historic mill building overlooking the Charles River in Newton Upper Falls. Roger’s son, Adam, is now JSI’s owner.

Roger at his bench

In his later years, Roger pursued a myriad of projects that reflected his boundless creativity and entrepreneurship. He spent his time appraising violins, perfecting his skills as a painter, and exploring other artistic mediums. He also developed simple practice violins for music programs in Haiti, which he was honored to hand deliver in 2018.

Roger lived by principles of kindness, authenticity, trustworthiness, and the pursuit of excellence in all he did. His greatest passions were business, art, music, and most importantly, his family. He is survived by his loving wife, Carol, sons Danny, Adam, and Matt, and six grandchildren. He will be greatly missed.

A memorial service will be held in the spring. Donations may be made in Roger’s memory to No Kid Hungry.

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