Discussing a life between workbench and music with violin maker Eva Lämmle.
Eva Lämmle heaves a large block of maple wood onto her workbench. It's a good ten centimetres thick, about a metre wide, and at least as long – the future cello. It's still hard to imagine that this solid block of wood will become a delicate instrument in the hands of the petite Eva. But some 400 hours of work and numerous processes later, Eva will coax the first sounds out of the instrument. Eva Lämmle is a violin maker with her own workshop in Munich. After years working for somebody else, she took the plunge and set up her own business. Her courage was rewarded. In addition to numerous customers from Munich and Germany, more and more international clients from Pakistan, South Africa and the USA are also coming to her workshop to purchase a hand-made German violin, cello or viola. We visited Eva Lämmle in her workshop to talk to her about working with her hands, the balancing act between creativity and craftsmanship, and the challenges of working together with musicians.
How did you become a violin maker?
I come from an artistic family. My father was a painter, my mother a musician. This means I was surrounded by creativity from a very young age. I started playing the cello when I was just eight years old. As I got older and started to think about a career, I found myself in a quandary. On the one hand, I wanted to do something creative, work with my hands, and create things. On the other hand, however, I was just as keen to be involved in music. Violin maker is therefore the perfect job for me.
What characteristic traits does a violin maker need?
You definitely need a lot of patience and sensitivity, both for the musicians and for the materials with which you work. It helps if you can play the violin or cello yourself, of course. In fact, I think it's a must. As well as making instruments, I also repair and restore a lot of them. When a musician comes to me with a sound problem, for example, I must be able to hear it on the one hand and detect the cause of the problem on the other, of course.
What do you love about your job?
What's fascinating about my job is that I create something that is both enduring and personal. The oldest violins are 450 years old, and the violins I make likewise have the quality to outlast both myself and the generations after me. It's wonderful to think that, in one or two hundred years' time, somebody could be playing a violin that I made. As far as the personal aspect is concerned – each musician has their own special relationship with their instrument. It's not just another disposable item, it's something unique. One particularly special moment, of course, is the first time you hear a violin or a cello that you've made. You don't just see what you've worked on, you can also hear it.
More men than women choose a job that involves working with their hands. What attracts them to this?
That's not quite true in the case of violin making. The ratio of men to women at violin-making school is actually around 50/50. But fewer women than men take the plunge and start their own business, unfortunately. Whereas men often open their own workshops, the majority of women choose to work for somebody else. I really don't know why that is. Maybe it's a fear of uncertainty or a fear of not being able to combine the responsibility of having your own workshop with family life. I worked for somebody else for a long time, too, where I learned a great deal. The decision to start my own business was the best one I ever made, though! What appeals to me about working with my hands is handling living materials like wood. Each piece of wood is different. You have to immerse yourself in the material every time, discover it afresh. So there's never a dull moment. For varnishing, too, I only use natural resins, and these can be unpredictable. The resin reacts differently every time, so you always have to react differently, too.
I create something that is both enduring and personal.
What challenges does somebody with their own business face in this industry?
The biggest challenge is asserting oneself in the market. There are forty violin makers in Munich alone. It's unusual to advertise in this industry. You get business through recommendations, contacts, and word of mouth. Since I still play the cello myself, I luckily have good contacts in the music scene and have been able to slowly expand my clientèle. I really did start out at home in my apartment and then gradually expanded until I had my own workshop. Unfortunately, many musicians believe in the rumour that old violins are better than new ones. As I said, it's only a rumour, and there's nothing in it. But it does mean that people prefer to buy old instruments.