This is a bit of a shout-out to Richard Ferguson in Rexburg, ID. He owns a violin shop there. I recently took the Tooele Valley Youth Symphony on tour up to Idaho, and we stopped in at Ferguson Violins for a short visit. (Before our tour, Richard was instrumental in helping us get connected with the professors at BYU-ID, where we had one of the most substantial music days of our entire trip! He also recommended a nearby trail for hiking and even attempted to help us find a new bus when our transportation company bailed on us just over a week before our departure. All this before I ever met him in person. In other words, he went above and beyond to help us, which was so very appreciated!)
His very knowledgeable staff gave helpful, fascinating tours in three segments to our entire group! Our executive artistic director said the whole trip was worth it just for this one stop.
For instance, we learned that it costs roughly $200-300 for a decent block of maple or spruce (the wood choices used for the back and top of the violin, respectively, because of their strength, aesthetic beauty, and flexibility), even before it starts to get carved. Think of that the next time you're tempted to buy a $60 violin off of Amazon! We learned how to clean stringed instruments properly. A little bit of mild soap/detergent on a damp cloth is acceptable for removing grime, and Kleenex can remove excess rosin on the bow. I loved watching the process of rehairing a bow for the first time, learning about different wedges and exactly how many hairs are in a violin bow (200!). I learned that even if you take excellent care of your bow, always loosening the screw when you should, eventually (usually after a few years), you'll have to get it rehaired, simply because with the repeated tightening of the bow when you play, the horsehair will gradually get stretched out over time. Siberian horsehair is a common choice because of it's consistency and steady growth in the cold climates.
Richard demonstrated a passage or two on his violin, and I was impressed with his skill. He also let me play on some of his violins and measured my head so he could create an acoustic aid custom-built for me, which he said would change my life--something he called "egg ears" (pictured). He mentioned to our small group that it's a common mistake for people to try to find a new violin that sounds smooth and silky under their ear, when really, you should be looking for something that, to you at least, sounds like it has a bit of radio interference. When you hear that, you know the instrument is capable of more than just one type of tone, and it won't come across as muddy to your listeners! The "egg ears" let you hear what your audience would hear, which is a smooth, silky tone even when the good violin sounds much more gritty to the one playing it, normally. All in all, it was a great experience. I appreciate meeting people in life who are not just excellent at their craft, but who are good folks who leave you feeling privileged for the chance to interact with them. People who make you want to live life better. Thanks, Richard and crew, for being amazing hosts, and for graciously imparting your expertise!