Making the World a Better Place, one Violin at a Time

Did you ever wish the shops in Diagon Alley were real? Or that you could visit Gepetto in his shop? There is something appealing about a true master, someone who works for the love of the creation itself. Finding places where that happens is a rare occurrence in our world of Instant Gratification and Online Orders.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that I can find almost anything on Amazon or Ebay and have it shipped directly to my door. I love the convenience of a 24-hour Walmart or CVS when I have to run out and buy something like Immodium AD in the middle of the night. But when I go somewhere like that, while the cashier at the door might say a quick “Hello,” I know that they won’t walk around the store and find everything I need for me. I know that they won’t deliver my medicine to my house for me while I am at work.

I don’t recall when the name “Gainesville Violins” came up first. It may have been when I was Google searching places that sold strings after Lipmann Music closed. The short hours of operation put me off at first. 1-5 Monday through Thursday, or by appointment.

Matthew needed a string for his violin, we went to Hoggtown Music on 43rd Street. It was okay. They sold him the string, and even put them on his violin.

As time went on, he wore out more of his strings, and again bought new ones at Hoggtown Music. But the last set he bought wore out prematurely. It happens sometimes. And his violin teacher recommended a certain brand, and told him he could either order them online or go to Gainesville Violin. Yes, she also happens to work there – she was apprenticed when a teenager, and learned to repair violins and make and repair bows.

I had heard wonderful things about Jan van Rooyen. None of those wonderful things did him justice.

Finding the store was a little tricky, even with GPS, because it is down a dirt road, and dirt roads can be intimidating. (“Are you sure we got the address right? This can’t possibly be right! There can’t be an actual store down this road, and some hillbilly is going to shoot us if we keep driving down this road…”) On our first visit, I actually turned off the road on a little path that lead to a wider dirt road, circling back to the main road, because I was convinced we had the address wrong. If I had only gone another few hundred feet I would have seen the little sign with the violin. It was, in fact, the correct address. But I made poor Matthew look it up again before I would drive back down NW 129th Street.

When you walk through the door, there is a table and chairs in the middle of the room. There are violins and bows on shelves all around the room – many of them beautifully restored (fully functional) antiques worth thousands of dollars. On both of my visits, there were people in the store, sitting at the table, talking with Jan. (Pronounced “Yohn.” It is Dutch for John.) His wife, Anna, came out and introduced herself.

This is not just a store where someone asks you what you are looking for, provides that item, and rushes you out the door with your purchase. You are greeted as a friend. Stories are shared. Matthew’s violin was lovingly examined, and declared to be in pretty good condition, but in need of a mild tune-up: cleaning, adjusting, getting pegs back to where they move as needed. This service was offered free of charge at his convenience for new customers, with the cost of parts only. Matthew only needed the strings, which we bought and brought home and he attempted to put on himself.

He needed my help with the D string, because it didn’t want to hook in properly (my hands are smaller and it was a little easier for me to reach under the bridge) and when he attempted to install the E string, he managed to break it. So Matthew asked me to go ahead and have the tune-up and buy a new string and install it.

I am working from 3-11 pm on Thursdays and Fridays. I went over a little before 2:00 p.m. Jan had learned from Matthew’s teacher that he is learning to play Sarasate’s Carmen. He offered to show Matthew an old recording of an even more challenging Carmen Suite that Jascha Heifitz arranged, when Matthew has time.

I left Matthew’s violin in capable hands, telling Jan that we had a “back up” violin, so no need to rush. Adam bought Matthew a violin in a pawn store one day, a violin that Matthew keeps at school, except when he goes to visit his father. He takes the back-up violin with him, because it is not as nice as his primary violin, and if something were to happen in transit, he would rather risk losing the back-up than the main violin.

Jan said we should bring in the back-up violin for service as well. He would take measurements of Matthew’s better violin, and adjust the back-up violin so that it would match the better violin, so that it will feel the same as Matthew plays it, making it easier for him to maintain consistent intonation.

The violin was ready on Friday, but I was not able to pick it up before work. So Jan kindly drove it over to our house and delivered it to Matthew.

The sense one gets when visiting this shop is that Jan loves the violins he services. He loves the people who come by to look at his violins. Each instrument and each customer is a friend. When someone calls with an emergency, he works all night to get their violin fixed and in their hands for that important concert or “jury” (for students earning doctoral degrees at the University) and has been known on occasion to allow his customers to sleep in his home while the violin is being repaired.

We stumbled into a different time and place when we entered that store. Gainesville Violins is more than a store – it is a place where love and old-world craftsmanship still exist.

The link to their website:

Violin in front of pillows
My son’s violin. Photo taken several years ago.



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