In this episode, Jared interviews respected Luthier Jarek Powichrowski from Princeton Violins about his journey to become a luthier, how to keep your instrument in good shape, and some crazy stories about instruments.
Hey gigging musicians. It's Jared and I'm so excited today we have a very special guest. He is my personal luthier. He's been for many, many years. I'd love to introduce Jareck Powichrowski. He is the owner of Princeton Violins in Princeton, New Jersey. He's been my personal luthier. For several years, he's actually worked on my violin. He sold me my Viola, which I've played at like hundreds of gigs, so I'm very excited to him. And I've also rented an excellent Baroque violin from him when I went to the Madison Early Music Festival. Hey, Jareck, thanks so much for being on the podcast. Alright. Thank you for having me. Great. Great, great website and pleasure being here. Awesome. It's my pleasure to have you. So before we get into violin making, and violin repairing, I'd love to know more about your background as a musician. Well, that's a question that comes very often even from my clients, and it helps a lot being a luthier. And being a musician, that's great much, and this is the way I grew up as a as a luthier. Right now, I started as a musician, when I was 10 years old, I started playing violin back in Poland. And I wanted to play instrument. My parents signed me up for examination to the school that was run by state, it was actually a very high level school, you have to you cannot sign up, you have to audition. And then a very small percentage of kids were admitted. And that was a great beginning. So most of my life actually I was a musician. I was I was violinists I, I graduated from that school from from high school. I went to shopin Academy of Music in one. So then from there, I went to those books that it was Ruggiero Ricci. And then I met Professor Kaplan, he brought me to Manus College of Music in New York to Juilliard School of Music. Then I started my career, kind of like freelancing and gigging, a lot, some concerts, did some recordings, travel around the world. And then I realized that, you know, I would maybe like to stay closer to the family. And I was I was fiddling with instruments filling, meaning like repairing them, setting them up. And I had a friend Rukia he was a great, uh, he still is a great friendship, he's needed Brees depends on the sensor. And he was at Carnegie Hall, the tower in Carnegie Hall, renting their space. And I was begging him for years to teach me how to restore instruments he didn't want but finally he agreed. And I apprenticed to him. And that was how I learned restoration. And that was one of the best people to start restoration due to study restoration. He, he was a maker, he he worked for his action center and morale in New York for four years. And then he started his own shop. So he knew the restoration very, very well. It's too bad. He left New York right now he's back in France. Okay, but but he taught me a lot. And then I was doing that kind of from home and I was still musician, and I was doing restorations and I was, you know, dealing a little bit with instruments that I would restore. And then in 2010, I went to Cremona to Italy. And I studied violin making with Louisa company or in Cremona, one of the best makers and teachers. And that's where I made my violin and I learned it was really like like completion of my violin studies. It opened my eyes because before I was opening the instruments and restoring them, but many things occurred to me only after I made the valley and after that, I opened my my shop, I felt confident that I knew business enough from inside out that I could open the shop and 10 years ago I opened my valley shopping in Kingston where you can first awesome Hey gigging pros! Just a quick interruption if you like the Gigging Musician Podcast, you'll also love the Unstarving Musician Podcast hosted by Robonzo. It features interviews with independent music artists who share their experience and expertise on recording, touring getting gigs, the creative process marketing and more, find it at UnstarvingMusician.com and wherever you get your favorite audio If it's okay with you, I'd like to back up just a little bit because it sounds like you actually studied violin to an extremely high level you know, you attended some of the great institutions of musical study. And it was during that time that you discovered restoration. What What kind of drew you to restoring instruments you know, some people, some people would drive their cars. And other people would say, well, let's see what's under the hood. So that was one of these people. I was just interested in what was under the hood. And I started, you know, digging and, and discovering things and repairing and going into that. And it's a big network of people who do that. And once you start digging deeper than then you discover other people and other aspects of it. And then one day you you're getting better and better in it. Until the point that you're deciding that actually, it's a great thing to do. Yeah, for sure. When you first started, like, aside from just the curiosity of it, did you start like figuring out that if you made certain tweaks to instruments, it would actually impact your playing. Was it was also that it was kind of difficult to and you probably know that many musicians know that. It's kind of difficult to find a good lutea it always was. Then, then my wife, who is also violin isn't she was teaching and she was teaching in some New York schools. But then she got a problem getting the service for her students. So I tried to help. And I was kind of like, automatically drawn into the game. Oh, yeah. That's awesome. So your wife's also a musician. Tell us a little bit about her and how you guys met? Well, we met first time when when I was playing my graduation recital in high school. And she was an that was her first recital. So she was like, 10 years younger than, than me. And then I went off the world and and she was staying there and studying. And after many, many years, I came back to my hometown and my teacher told me that he's a wonderful student. I shouldn't be. Oh, wow. That was it. Oh, that's awesome. So musical family. And she also kind of drew you into being a luthier. And then, you know, backing to your story where you went to Cremona and studied as an apprentice, what is the process like to learn to be a luthier many people come from different backgrounds, to this profession. And, and the profession is also kind of fractured. It's like, like, there are different kinds of doctors, right? You don't go with when you when you get COVID You don't go to the dentist, right? Because they're completely different professionals. Yes. So. So same thing with with violin, in violin work, being looky looky actually means, you know, this word was developed in in Middle Ages. When when people when people were making loops, and then violin came along much later, but, but people who are making loops are making barleys but at the same time, people still call them leukemia. So but but but going going back to the present situation, people still call me lutea and people still call you to the guy who is in the violin shop, but the guy in the violin shop could be only a restorer. He could only repair instruments, not necessarily making instruments, or he could be making instruments and he doesn't know much about restoration, or the guy could be a musician, term businessman. And, and could you know only be a dealer and he and he just hire some some other people who know about restoration. So it could be very fractured. Wow. Sounds like that word is a little overused. It's not overused, but it's used as a blanket. You know? So luckily for for myself, I have to say that I kind of cover all the angles of this because I do I am musician. I know how to play the violin. I know how to read. I started as a restorer then went to making another was very good. That was very good combination. When I was studying, making my teaching Cremona I was like, oh, you know, Oh, you're very good with knife or you know how to use finally, just kids who go to valley making schooling Cremona for in the first semester would they do they learn how to sharpen tools? You know, so, so it's a it's a different story. I already knew that. And, and I had experience with this and I was dealing with instruments. So I know about a historical instruments I know about the prices. I know how these things work. How the valleys would sell in Tokyo, in New York and in Europe, and how they are manufactured around the world. So so it's a it's a lot of things that you need to cover if you really want to have a complete knowledge of it. Yeah, that's awesome. But it all kind of starts with sharpening your tools. Yeah. Dad, I was taught by that French maker. Well actually, it started with playing violin for me. Yeah, some people, some people starting with with sharpening tools. Some people were starting much earlier with playing actually the instrument. Okay, I actually, I really feel like all my life, I was preparing for what I'm doing right now. I believe that, you know, it sounds like you had the right skill set to know what people look for in a violin because you played one to a very high level. But you also got into restoration before even learning how to make a violin. That's really, really cool story. Many, many good makers, very good makers. In but even a long time ago in Italy, and France, they would start out or stars repair people and that gives gave them very good background to actually start making these toys because they they knew what could go wrong. How they were built. They had very good perspective on the instrument. Yeah, for sure. That's awesome. So now, obviously, you know your your shop has more than violins. When did you start working with other instruments to Viola cello bass. That's actually that actually happened when I when I opened the store. Okay, because once you put the sign out all kinds of people see it and they come with with their problems and different questions. I do have people coming with all other instruments occasionally, especially black instruments, a guitars, banjos, which I refer them to other people. But valleys, violas, cellos and bowls. It's a staple of evaluation. Oh, yeah, for sure. I don't do basis that much. There are also other people who who specializing in bases, but there's something there's something called valuation and there is a base shop. People refer to the guy who's working on basis as a base shop. And there's something to it. So I refer people with bases, but I can work on the base as well. I mean, it is basically a large file. Yeah, that's awesome. Very large. So what are the kinds of musicians that come to work with you by an instrument or get a repair this is also very broad spectrum. Just two days ago, I I heard about for concert master futures a symphony, who is actually also very, very nice guy and good friend. And the day before, I might have somebody who comes with a three or five years old, and they want to start learning violin. And I would run them a very well set of instrument professionally set up instruments. So the spectrum is large. Also, the area I'm covering is large, I have people, regular clients, who are coming from a guyland from from New York, from upstate New York from Connecticut. The farther the guy drove to me was from Florida. Wow. With JellO. We talked on the phone. And he liked what I said. He says, Okay, so I'm packing my chill. I be there in two days. And he gave, that's amazing. So he must have, you know, heard about you and knew that you were the guy to, to do what you needed. That's what it comes to. That's what it comes to in this business. Yes. Yeah, for sure. When you were telling me about the the young kid who just came to you, it reminds me of my experience coming to your shop and just the feeling of being a young kid and seeing all these instruments and bows, I think I came to you for a bow or, or something. And just seeing all of them there kind of feels like that scene in Harry Potter, where the one chooses the wizard, you know? Yeah. So it is magical, like your story does feel magical. And I I get that. People give that feeling because that's what I'm trying to do. You know, and, and sometimes I do very simple things and feels magical. Like sometimes it's very difficult to be magical, like they're very complicated repairs and situations to add sometimes it's like, people don't change strings for 10 years. You just put new strings on and and they look at you like the hero industry. What sounds great. Well, yeah, for sure. So, that brings us to another good question what what are the basic kinds of things that you do at your shop? That is also very broad range. I call my shop a full service violin shop. So I, I feel very confident about restoration instruments, all kinds of restorations I'm very often popping tops, and taking instruments completely apart. And fixing a lot of internal problems and problems that are kind of external because like, like the neck that is crooked, and you need to reset the neck. So that that really affects playability. Generally, about 90% of professionally used instruments, and I'm saying professionally used instruments, they need some attention. People getting used to bad setup, you know, people would good musicians, they, they know how to get the rounds, like they will have strings that that are not spaced correctly, or they are too high or too low. But they are good musicians so they can learn how to get around it. And then they suffer. They don't know that even because doesn't hurt that much. So so they go and go and go until until something bigger happens. And then, you know, then there is occasion to take care of everything. But those those are big things. And I'm also doing a lot of work on balls, because people need to rehab a house that that that horsehair is very fragile. So sooner or later either stretches or, or breaks. And then people come the fool with a bow for recur. And there is another problem and that tip is broken, and the eyelet is gone. And so there's a lot of work like that. I also stock all accessories. So so people Google me, sometimes they have shoulders, I have strings, I try to have all kinds of strings in stock. That is helpful for musicians. It's not a money making for violin shop, because you know, you can get it always very cheap on on internet. And I imagine those prices too, because you don't make money on it anyway, so so even if I'm losing control our own set of strings doesn't matter. It's more important that actually I was useful to this musician who lives nearby. Hmm, that's interesting. That's cool. I like hearing about that. Because you you'd rather build the relationship with the music. Definitely. Yeah, that makes sense. So you you see a ton of instruments through your store. I'm sure you hear a lot of crazy stories about these instruments. Is there an instrument that you've worked on? that sticks out in your mind as having one of the most interesting stories that you've heard? Well, there was, you know, sometimes people come to me and and they think, Eve. I don't know if they do it consciously or subconsciously, but they think that they know more than I do. And the most funny one was that friend of mine, he was like a jeweler in town. And he calls me that, you know, I have I have an Antonia T violin that I'm buying from this lady and I would like you to look at this valley. So okay. Then next day, I'm getting a phone call from the lady and she says, I would like to do an appraisal on very nice violin. And I say isn't Antonius so he has he has How do you know? Well, you know, usually these one acting down. So So she comes with that Antonia to Valley. And she shows me a certificate. But you know, the certificate could be on the certificate. It doesn't say the price because the price is always rising. But but the instrument should be the same. Well, she shows me the certificate from Italian guy who used to live in Long Island and the certificate was done at the times when photography was not that that easily available. So so the certificate was just written in that didn't have any pictures. And she shows me the violin that is underneath the label is not an attractive. Oh, wow. It was a factory German violin for about that period. But it was factory German violin with a similar varnish. I didn't even check measurements I didn't bother because I knew it was a German factory violin. And she is telling me that I should try them appraisal on this violin. And I'm telling her this is not this is not the violin from the from the certificate. But I have the certificate. I say Well, look. It's not gonna work. So, so there are stories like that. Well, I think what's happened was that somebody might even have an original Antonia Tiva. He went to three different appraisers get I mean, certificate cutters, get three different certificates and then was trying to find these two matches, but it's really hilarious. What people think they can By the way, with Oh, wow. Yeah, that's crazy. And even instrument collecting is a whole world that I didn't know some musicians get into. Could you tell us a little bit about your, you mentioned when when we had the phone call the other day that instrument collection is like a big thing that you, you know, you help musicians out with, tell us a little bit about that world? Like, why would somebody get into collecting these instruments? Well, for for, for many reasons, there are some musicians who completely do not care about their instruments, I, you know, there would be like, I would see the violin that was made in Metropolitan Opera, by very good violinist, and the violin was in horrendous condition. It was, it was, it was a workhorse that was treated so badly, that if that was a real horror, she would end up in jail, but was Valley so she did. So, you know, there are animal rights organizations, but there is no rights organization, no, does not exist. So. So there are people like that, but on another spectrum, there are people who are very meticulous about their instruments. And, and when the situation like that occurs, they care about this, or they learn about the instrument, they becoming aficionados, and then they always coming across something that they want to acquire, because it's maybe something that they like better than what they have, but they are attached to what they already have to do that, they don't want to get rid of it. So they building it up. And they sooner or later, they ending up with few instruments. And then once you have few, you tend to get more and more and more. So So those are the people who are collecting as a musician, but there are also people who were playing like I said kids, and and then they went to good colleges, and they they get good jobs. And some of them got very successful and sometimes very rich. And they were even collecting some some paintings and other art. But they realizing that the values are also awesome. And because they know about the value that they're looking for something of very high value. And people like that as well. All these people, they have very often a problem that they are not really experts. They they think they are some of them think they are some of them. But but but many of them still if they think they know a lot, they realizing that they cannot see what's inside there. And what is the real value. And the authenticity is a big problem with with instruments, so so they would they would make phone calls to people like me and they try to get professional advice. And that's what I'm doing as well. Oh, awesome. That sounds amazing. So we're getting close to the end of this episode here. I just have a couple more questions. This one's a little more of a practical question. What are some maintenance tips that you would tell musicians that they need to be doing more? Ah there are some really anecdotal happenings that I came across many times over, but try to find a luthier try to find a luthier who if you're serious musician, you know you don't go to too general music store. You try to find a guy who is a restorer possibly Animaker but at least good restore and and possibly player. So he you know, when you talk to him, you are on the same page. And try to have your value looked over at least once a year, possibly twice a year when the season is changing. Because I think we're talking only about valleys. There is no valleys, cello, viola, this instruments are even more fragile, because they larger they absorb more moisture during summer. The bridge is swinging up and down. And he on the Upper East Coast. Most of the challenges they need Summer and Winter bridge. So there is no reason to suffer. When your strings are going so high at summer you just you just go to a good look. Yeah, and he be able to help you. So just just keep an eye on it that that's the best advice I can give you keep an eye on it and and check it check it out. Like people would would never would never neglect the car to the point that they don't see the mechanic for five years. Right? But they do that with valleys all the time. Until they stop you can stop on the road to you know with a violin on with a cello. For sure. I mean, especially if you're using it as a money making device you know you're exactly That's awesome. And then speaking of music as a money making device, what are just some general pieces of advice that you can give to gigging musicians or those who want to make a living playing? I did that when, when, since I was very young given in high school. Back in Poland, in high school I was making like, like, especially at some seasons, like summer, spring, summer, in the fall, I was making almost like a like a, like a good monthly wage, by playing at weddings in the church. I would play that Ave Maria, maybe 1000 times in my lifetime, and it was great. But it comes what we were talking before, from from some, a little bit of a marketing but but mainly relationships, develop good relationships with other musicians. Your website is a great resource, what can I say? I mean, back then we didn't have tools like that. Back then there was nothing like that. So today is much easier if if a young musician having problem getting gigs, it's, you know, he or she should be looking or maybe reading a good book, but that's also a good idea. Yeah, like Gigging Secrets. Yeah, that's right. That's right. I mean, there is no, there is no secrets today, by the way, you know, the, the secrets today are only for people who don't know how to read their libraries. There's internet, there are books, there are bookstores. You can go to Barnes and Noble, and then an acquire a wealth of information, without even paying anything just by browsing. Yeah, for sure. What is available today for two young people to everybody? Yeah. And we were talking about that on the phone, you know, last week, because he said, the same is true about the whole world of luthier is that there are no secrets to it. I forget what you had said about it, you could find out everything you need to know about being a luthier by reading, but it's a little bit more difficult. But you have to do reading as well. Yeah, for sure. That's why you kind of shortcut things by studying at Cremona and getting the hands on experience restoring these instruments. Yes, that's true. But But But going back to musicians who want to play gigs, it's well get the word around. I mean, even even sticking out posters in the local grocery store. There is so many ways they can get gigs. And teaching too. Especially for for young for young musicians. I think teaching could be wonderful gig as well. For sure. I mean, it's always great to pass on music to the younger generation, the younger generation and and if you are i There were many things that I learned as a violinist by teaching to other people. Yeah, that's so true. You're really you you kind of have to stand next to yourself and look at yourself while while you're trying to explain it to other people. And a lot of good ideas comes from that. Awesome. Well, Eric, I cannot thank you enough for coming on the gigging musician, podcast. This was my pleasure, super interesting. I learned a lot. And you know, it just brought back so much memories of when I would go into your shop and just look in wonderment at all of the different instruments and bows. So I want to thank you again. And I want to ask you, How could our listeners interact with you and your store further? I have their website. It's very simple name PrincetonViolins.com by Elise plural with us, and sending me an email to info at Princeton violins is the easiest way to contact me. You can also Google me I am very well plugged in on on the web. So if they Google violin shop, Princeton University of New Jersey they can they can find me very easily. But I also want to thank you very much. This is This is wonderful what you're doing and and it's great. I you know, using technology. Nothing wrong with that. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Eric and to our listeners of the Gigging Musician Podcast. Thanks for tuning in again. Hope you got some good information about keeping your instrument in good shape and make sure you see a professional for this at least once a year you heard Jareck's advice. And remember, you are just one gig away. Thank you for listening to the Gigging Musician Podcast. If you love this episode, then please take a screenshot on your phone and post it to Facebook, Instagram or wherever you post up and be sure to tag me and let me know what you liked about this episode and what you'd like to hear in the future. That'll help me know what to create for you. Also, I would love to give you the most incredible free gift ever designed to help you book gigs and make a living doing what you love you can get a copy of my Gigging Secrets Book just go to GiggingSecrets.com Right now