A sound choice of vocation

23:43, Feb 12 2013
 Hidden Sculpture Garden
BY HAND: Adrian Studer, violin, cello and viola maker, chisels an instrument.

Adrian Studer - viola, violin and cello maker

In a quiet purpose-built studio with views out over Nile St to the Centre of New Zealand, Adrian Studer sits for hours on end, chiselling, scraping, and planing, over and over again. Surrounded by specialist tools hanging on hooks and scattered over his shaving-coated workbench, he crafts violins, cellos and violas by hand, taking more than 250 hours for each instrument.

Swiss-born Adrian is a master craftsman, having learnt his skills first in Switzerland, then by working with masters in France, Holland and finally Germany, where after four years he gained a Master Violin Maker's Diploma at the Mittenwald School of Violin Making.

Adrian came to Nelson more than 30 years ago and works from his studio set in the tranquil grounds of his property off Atmore Tce. Almost like going back in time, the space is full of beautiful things; a set of miniature thumb planes, long clumps of thick white horse hair hanging from a beam, violin bows lined up along a wall, a collection of old and dusty instrument cases in different colours and states of disrepair. It is difficult to stop gazing around this wonderful museum-like room; just a small space but packed with so many intriguing tools and parts of instruments.

Adrian talks enthusiastically about his life and passion for making instruments the old way, the right way.

"I'm a Renaissance man, it's what I believe in," and to this end he is adamant he only uses traditional hand tools, and finishes his instruments using natural pigments, linseed oil and resins. There is no sand paper or commercial varnish in this studio. Everything is done by hand. He does not take shortcuts.


The spruce and maple from which he crafts the instruments is purchased from specialists in Europe known as resonance wood dealers. They know which trees to select and how to cut the wood and store it in the best conditions.

Adrian starts with a flat slab of timber which is then chiselled and shaped, scraped and planed until it has the delicate curved shape of the instrument. All the accessories such as the bridges also come from specialist suppliers. The horse hair is sourced from specialists who sell it in bundles. Adrian says the best horses are reputed to be wild ones eating grasses and herbs which make the hair thicker and stronger.

During his 30-year career Adrian has made an estimated 120 instruments, as well as doing many repair jobs which gives him a balance that supports his lifestyle.

His clients are far flung, as Adrian says the world of violin makers is small and specialised and people hear about the best makers by word of mouth - he never advertises. Musicians, teachers, young professionals, students all contact him for work, some touring with orchestras, others based in Nelson or around New Zealand.

"In a time of throw-away consumerism, I feel privileged and lucky to have a career that I have been able to do all my working life. I love the fact that my instruments are not going to be outdated; they will live long past me," he says, adding that his instruments, like any good art, never lose their value.

ADRIAN'S TIPS Trust yourself and follow your passion. If you love what you do, disciplining yourself is not a problem, the commitment to the client keeps you going.