Alan Goldblatt attended the North Bennet Street School in Boston, Mass. where he learned to restore and build instruments including the violin, viola, cello and bass. He is a Hartland resident and member of the Hartland-based band Miles To Go. He talked with the Vermont about how he got into the craft:
VS: When did you decide to learn how to build instruments?
AG: After college, I was trying to figure out what to do and I decided that I wanted to get back to doing something with my hands because I was always growing up doing craft projects and art projects and that’s what seems to come naturally to me. I was toying with a bunch of different ideas. I was also living in Boston — there was a great folk music scene at the time — this was the late ’80s. I was thinking of trying to play some music on that, and one of my parent’s friends suggested, “Well, how about you put the two together and do instrument making?” And that clicked right away.
VS: What’s the most challenging part of the building process?
AG: A lot of people get really frustrated when they get to varnishing. You think you’ve almost finished the instrument, got all the woodwork done, and you go to varnish it and it’s all you can do not to just mess everything up.
VS: How do you approach it?
AG: A lot of trial and error. Everyone I know tweaks their formula every time they make an instrument because nobody is ever happy with the final result. So a lot of practice and then just trying different techniques, talking to different people — seeing what they’re willing to talk about in terms of what they do.
It’s this combination of both your own technique and the material and so you have to change your technique if you’re using different material. And so you almost have to figure out what works for the technique that you use.
VS: On your website, it says you also built one for Vermont native Russell McCumber, who just performed here at the Damon Hall in Hartland in January. How did that come about?
AG: It was word of mouth, friends of friend’s kind of thing. That worked out pretty well.
VS: How do you sell the instruments you build?
AG: The instruments that I’ve made I’ve done all just on spec and then I try to find a dealer somewhere who would like to have it in their shop and sell it for me. Which is sometimes more successful than others, depending on whether you can find a dealer that’s excited about your work which is not always easy to do.
I’m working full-time at Dartmouth now, so this is a very backseat business for me at this point. People who really make it — and I used to do this — everybody enters instruments in competitions that happen every so often. If you get a gold medal in a competition, all of the sudden all the dealers are interested in your instrument. Then you can just forget about doing repair work and just concentrate on building instruments. Otherwise, the repair work is much more the bread and butter.