The creation of high-quality violins, violas and cellos is a slow, patient, calming craft that has largely remained unchanged since the 1800s. And it is an art being performed right here, in East Lothian.
Customers are often surprised when Colin Adamson answers the door to his workshop. There are stereotypes associated with those engaged with violin-making as a profession. One imagines an elderly professor type with a beard and a Slavic accent.
In fact, Colin is youthful and clean shaven. His workshop, however, meets the conventional expectations of what it should be. Comprising of a main workshop, loft area for varnishing, storing wood and housing reference books and literature, plus a reception area where players can play new and existing instruments. All the hand-tools look familiar, mainly because they’re part of a centuries-old tradition. Colin wears an apron, and works hunched over a bench by the windows, which look out over the rooftops of North Berwick and the West Beach which provides a great source of inspiration for his work. Colin says “I feel incredibly inspired living and working in North Berwick. I enjoy a lot of thinking time whilst walking on the beach with my dog, and can see why artists and crafts-people love the light and landscape of this beautiful place.”
Edinburgh-born Colin, as a young man, was interested in woodwork, art and architecture. However, it wasn’t until Colin spoke to a local violin maker, who suggested he go to a violin making school, that his career path was set. For Colin, his making and repairing journey is one that has taken him from the prestigious Newark School of Violin Making through Canada, Finland and Germany, working on and handling many Italian and French instruments, which helped him develop into one the the UK’s finest violin makers.
He’s been carving wood into instruments for many years and has made instruments for players in the RSNO, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Liverpool Philharmonic and orchestras in London, and several instruments for freelance musicians around the world. He recently moved to North Berwick to concentrate on developing his making of handmade bespoke instruments for clients, alongside the business of repair work and restoration. Colin explains “The rail link to Edinburgh and surrounding areas is a big advantage, and many customers like to drop off or pick up an instrument and then spend the day in North Berwick.”
For Colin, it’s not just about a beautiful handmade, bespoke instrument for his clients, it’s also about the relationship he develops with them. From the initial meeting where they choose the wood for the instrument (maple for the back, ribs and scroll, and Italian spruce for the front), he uses an updated photo library to keep the customer in the loop. And they’re always welcome to pop in and see what progress is being made at any time. Colin says “It’s a real buzz when the client comes to pick up the instrument and play it for the first time.”
An old craft it may be, but there is a huge demand for the instruments and Colin has a long waiting list for his work. When we met, Colin was making two Guarneri del Gesu copies; one in the varnish process, the other at the beginning of its journey. The next order is for a customer in Australia and then towards the end of the year he will begin making a copy of a Stradivarius cello. Colin explains “I feel the long-held dream to move to North Berwick will inspire me to make the best instruments of my life and I’m looking forward to working with my existing client base as well as developing a new one”.