Greg Allison of Braintree has been learning how to make violins while attending the North Bennet Street School in Boston’s North End neighborhood.
Greg Allison is developing a unique talent. Since February, the 24-year-old from Braintree has been learning how to make violins while attending the North Bennet Street School in Boston’s North End.
Allison, a 2004 graduate of the Rivers School, a private, coeducational college preparatory school in Weston, has some experience in making stringed instruments. He has crafted guitars in the past, and he plays them for his own enjoyment.
“It’s a great place,” Allison said about the North Bennet Street School. “The work is very therapeutic. You work at your bench and it’s very quiet. There are only 12 people in the course.”
While he was in high school, and after he graduated, Allison served as an apprentice for world-renowned guitar builder Julius Borges.
“I worked with him for a couple of summers. From him I caught the bug (to make instruments). It was something I really enjoyed doing.”
The youngest of four siblings, Allison enrolled in the University of Vermont with the idea of eventually becoming an entrepreneur.
But when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he wanted to be closer to home, so he left college after three years.
“After my mother became ill, I didn’t know what direction I was going,” he said.
Allison got a job at the Music Emporium in Lexington, a high-end music store that has been selling handcrafted acoustic guitars, banjos, mandolins and ukuleles since 1968. He currently works there as a sales associate.
Allison said he had been aware of the North Bennet Street School for a couple of years.
“I decided to go a different avenue, which was building violins,” he said. “I thought, ‘Here is an opportunity.’”
The school was incorporated in 1885 as the North Bennet Street Industrial School. Its initial mission was to help immigrants adjust to being in a new country by giving them skills they could use to get jobs.
Since 1984, the school has offered a course in making and restoring violins.
Allison is in his first semester. Before he finishes the three-year program, he will make several violins, a cello and an instrument of his choice. He’ll be able to keep the instruments or sell them.
“The first one I think I’ll keep,” he said.
After graduation, the school provides job listings. There are opportunities for students to become apprentices, work in repair shops and even land positions with museums.
“I’m open to all sorts of opportunities,” Allison said.
Allison plans to return to college to obtain a degree in economics.
“My mother’s illness showed me that life is short and you should do what makes you happy,” Allison said.
Patriot Ledger writer Dennis Tatz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Theviolinsite.com lists the following steps for making a violin:
1. Blocks of wood, typically made out of spruce, poplar, or willow, are placed in “hourglass” violin molds made of walnut.
2. Ribs for two concave C-bouts at the “waist” are bent into shape using a special iron.
3. The C-bouts are attached with glue to the violin mold and clamped into place.
4. After the C-bouts are in place, the rest of the ribbing is attached to the blocks.
5. A thin wooden lining is placed inside the ribbing to serve as reinforcement after the mold is removed.
6. Wood is chosen for the top, back (spruce) and scroll (maple) of the violin. The top and back can be made out of one piece of wood or two pieces glued together.
7. The wood is “arched” or carved into the correct shape. A channel is cut on the perimeter of the violin’s top to accommodate an ornamental border.
8. The ornamental border is put into the channel and more arching is done to smooth the shape of the instrument’s top and bottom.
9. A bass bar is added to the underside of the top.
10. The body is now complete.
11. The scroll is carefully sized. An error as small as a millimeter can completely change the feel of a violin.
12. The scroll is carved into the desired shape.
13. The fingerboard, made of ebony, is carefully shaved into shape.
14. Once the pieces of the violin have been finished, they are carefully assembled with glue. Clamps are used to hold them in place until the glue has dried.
Price of perfection
The highest selling price for a violin was the $3.9 million a Russian lawyer and businessman paid for one Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu made in 1741.
The previous record was the $3.54 million paid for a 1708 Stradivarius in 2006.