• The violin was made from wood

  • Someone crafted this curvaceous box

  • I desperately wanted to know how it was done

At age 13, my interest and enthusiasm led me to craft my very first instrument – a scaled down violin made in every way like a full-size one.

This was made from plans I copied from my bible at the time, “Violin Making: As it Was and Is by Ed Heron-Allen. On my father’s wise advice, I purchased a 6-inch K-mart grinder with pocket money I had saved. Armed with this – my main asset – I could sharpen all manner of metal, old knives, etc., into useful tools; some of which are still on my bench today.

I hand crafted everything including the fingerboard and tailpiece. My enthusiasm at the time was encouraged by Ron Cragg – a luthier who has been apprenticed to the great Australian violin maker A. E. Smith. Ron gave me pegs and a bridge to fit my violin as well as some tools. He encouraged and arranged for me to visit other violin makers, whom my father gladly drove me all around Sydney to meet. I realise now how important this encouragement was and without doubt it gave me a lot of confidence in my craft: Possibly one of the most important tools to ever have – the confidence to try my own ideas and techniques without having to stick to instructions found in a book.

At the same time, I was given an old Neapolitan mandolin which was missing its headstock. It was my first restoration. I fashioned a new headstock, made a new bridge and had a working mandolin – beginning my career as a restorer.

In 1985, at age 17 I was in my fourth year playing bass in a band with my brothers. I began planning my first bass build. It became a reality the following year, and on its’ success I took my first commission for a custom bass, my second build – which was completed in November 1987. From then making instruments, both guitars and basses, was just part of the overall mix of lutherie that became an integral part of my life – and still is.

Not long prior to these events, following in well-worn family footsteps, at age 15 I became an electrician, studying both the electrical trade and electrical engineering. This led to a career in medical electronics, with 10 years spent in the R&D of implantable heart defibrillators. This was followed by valuable experience in the development and production of sleep apnoea products. It was during these years that I honed my wiring, soldering and electrical skills and knowledge.

In 1998 I had been repairing and building instruments for over a decade, when I decided to turn this side line into my full-time occupation.

Carving out a living from lutherie is a challenging endeavour but I consider myself extremely fortunate to make my passion my livelihood.

Jeff Mallia