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Gulfshore Artisans: William Fleischer

Luthier William Fleischer on the art of violin making.

Alex Stafford

William Fleischer

Luthier, The Violin Shop

Age: 69

Years in the business: 46

Got his start: As an apprentice in Cremona, Italy

Years in Naples: Five years in Naples, but this is Fleischer’s third shop in Florida.

 William Fleischer is on the hunt. There’s a “wolf” lurking somewhere in a local teen violinist’s instrument, pouncing when her fingers climb to the D string’s upper limits.

He listens as she plays, his ear finely tuned to the wolf ’s curdling call.

She hands over the instrument, nervously explaining that she has an audition in just a few days. Fleischer cradles it gingerly, inspecting it from every angle. With a tiny tool, he reaches into the body of the violin and makes a Thumbelina-sized adjustment.

In many parts of the country, this teen would be stuck; she’d simply have to face her adjudicators with the wolf still on the prowl. Luthiers—or violin makers—like Fleischer are a rare breed.  For years, musicians in Southwest Florida had no choice but to send their instruments through the mail to be repaired. But since Fleischer, who was trained in Cremona, Italy, opened up shop, local musicians have be humming a new, more joyful tune.

The violin under the bed

“I was like two and a half or three years old—still in diapers, whatever age that is—when my brother, who was eight, started taking violin lessons. He hated it. He hated it to the point where he hid his violin under his bed. I felt like it was calling me. I had to go to that violin, to the point where my mother had to take the violin away so I couldn’t get to it.”

Instrument without change

“With the violin I see this metamorphosis of this very plain instrument, the lute, changing as the needs of music changed. It became louder with the need to accommodate more people in bigger halls. It changed in size and shape and then, at a very early age, it stopped changing. In the 1700s it had reached this point of perfection—its zenith—and it hasn’t continued to change.”

Humble beginnings

“I went to a state-run school in Cremona, Italy, and it was very informal—at least it was back then. You worked with a maestro and you started by sweeping the floors. There was a lot of sawdust.”

Viva Italia

“If you learn in Italy, you learn the Italian method. If you learn in Germany, you learn the German method. What’s funny is the attributes of a violin are very much in touch with that country’s culture. For example, Italian violins, of course, like Italian food and Italian women, are the best.”

Fumbling first steps

“The first violin I ever made, it took me forever. I was very stubborn; I wanted to do it my way because, of course, I knew everything about violin making. What’s funny is that I was so excited to close it up and see what it sounded like that I glued the base bar on the wrong side. I glued it to the treble side, not the base side, so I had to take the whole thing apart.”

No secret sauce

“I don’t believe that there are any secrets; that Stradivarius had a secret varnish or anything like that. I believe that these men, Stradivarius and Amati and Guarneri, were just men who were wonderful craftsmen doing their jobs, trying to make a living for themselves and their families.”

AC Shilton


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