A long workbench, wooden parts, screw clamps, a few chisels and small planes. 300 years ago it must have looked similar in cremona as it does today in the workshop of gunter lobe in bubenreuth (district of erlangen-hochstadt). "Nothing has changed in the way of working. We work like centuries ago. With the same tools", says lobe.
Machines, industrialization, conveyor belts – none of this plays a role in the world of luthiers. Why also? The best instruments have always been made by hand, especially in cremona, the home of the italian master antonio stradivari. His violins are traded for many millions of euros.
Gunter lobe's sound bodies are available from 6000 euros, price open upwards. On average, an instrument made by the master violin maker from bubenreuth costs between 10.000 and 15.000 euros. For those interested there is a waiting list. Lobe puts about 150 hours of work into such a violin. It takes a quarter of a year to complete the glue and varnish work. Ten instruments a year – that is its production volume. Mainly violins, now and then a viola or even a cello. "I don't have to calculate like a bricklayer or a painter", says lobe. "In this price category, it is uninteresting how long you need to work. Only the result pays."
Two violins for the sultan
Lobes customers are often thrilled with the result. Especially the japanese. "There are people who would like to buy my entire annual production, he tells. There are traders who, according to lobe, then in their home country for the instruments demand three times the amount. Since a few years the chinese have also become aware of him. On a map of the world in his workshop are flags showing past business relationships. In asia and america they pile up. 70 percent of the instruments now go to asia. Lobe has also delivered two of his masterpieces to the sultan of oman.
In the professional world, the 4500-inhabitant community of bubenreuth near erlangen is considered the center of stringed and plucked instrument making in germany. Only the upper bavarian mittenwald has a similar sounding name. It was refugees from the egerland who started this tradition after the second world war in the 1950s. More than 2000 musical instrument makers, including specialists such as peg-turners, bow makers and bridge carvers, have settled with their families in bubenreuth.
A rough order that has long been a thing of the past. The number of violin makers has decreased. Clearly. Gunter lobe is the head of the erlangen guild, the largest in germany. 55 businesses still number in his guild, including guitar makers or bow makers. There are no precise statistics on how many violin makers there still are in germany. Around 240 companies are voluntarily organized in the association of german violin and bow makers (VDG), reports thomas uphoff from mannheim, member of the board of the VDG.
"It has become clear that only quality can last", says lobe. The 51-year-old speaks of "honest violin making". Whether all colleagues can make a living from it? Lobe weighs in. "Already difficult", he says. "You have to have a name."
Successful in competitions
He himself has achieved this. With a mixture of skill and a quantum of luck, lobe won a silver medal at an international competition in mittenwald in 1989, just two years after his master's degree. Also at the "world championship of violin makers in the italian cremona, two instruments submitted by him have already made it to the top ranks. "If someone is new, they don't get noticed if they don't stand out in some way", lobes' experience.
It's small subtleties, nuances, that ultimately lead to a top-notch instrument. The exchange of ideas with musicians is important. "I have to respond to wishes, concerns and notes in a targeted way", says lobe. In the meantime, the demand for copies of important violins is rough. And so the master craftsman from bubenreuth also reproduces the instruments of the italian models. Stradivari or guarneri – under 15.Even a copy of the old masters cannot be bought for 000 euro.
New is not necessarily a qualitative criterion. "A violin gets better with age, provided it is played", says Lobe.
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