Kirkland's Henry Bischofberger continues family tradition as maker of violins

It’s not often you get to say you know a real live Violin Maker… unless you live in Kirkland and have met Henry Bischofberger with his wife Debbie at one of the local Arts or Community Events they attend on a frequent basis.  Henry has a fantastic story to tell. “Not many people can call themselves a Violin Maker… how did you get started?”

I come from a long history of Violin Makers, starting with my grandfather in Switzerland. My father was a Violin Maker and opened the family violin shop on Capitol Hill in 1955. I started working there when I was in Jr. High School, as did my brother. After I graduated from high school, instead of going to a “traditional” university, I chose to go to Switzerland and learn from the Masters at the Swiss School of Violin Making in Brienz.

To become a violin maker, one has to study for 4 years to learn how to make the instruments, and then 4 years on how to restore them. I continue to this day studying antique makers and styles – it’s a never ending but still fascinating process.

After returning to the US, and working for my family for several  years, I moved to San Francisco to work and study under a violin and bow master named Frank Passa in his shop. Frank was an amazing man, who had been a student of both Sacconi and Wurlitzer – two of the world’s greatest string instrument masters.

While I loved San Francisco -- after a decade I decided it was time to venture home to Seattle and help run the family business on Capitol Hill. After working with family for over 35 years, my wife and I decided it was time for a change.

After much soul searching we decided to start our own violin business on the Eastside in Kirkland in 2005, and we have been very pleased since making that decision. Debbie handles all of the administrative and marketing responsibilities – a HUGE job!  We believe much of our success comes from our active involvement in the Arts Community, being a home based business and our sincere love of bringing music into the lives of folks of all ages.

“So do currently make the violins?”

No, not anymore – mostly because of the time factor. One violin can take an average of 250 hours to make. Generally my focus is on sales, appraisals, restoration, rentals and repairs.  The majority of my time is at my workbench. A large part of my business is renting violins, violas and cellos, mostly to students from the school district music programs, but we also rent to individual students and adults.  Currently we have about 650 rental instruments out in the community, and that to us is just so rewarding.

“So how often do you play?”

Actually I really don’t play that much. I was in the orchestra all through high school, and the stage band and marching band. I play really for the purposes of tuning and listening to the instrument. I don’t really do it recreationally or professionally at this time.

Recently I participated in the String Jam where we set the record with 400 string musicians at the same time.

“So it seems as though you live breathe and consume violins day in and day out…”

Ha! Actually, we have several passions, the second biggest one being travel.  Debbie and I have created our lives and our business around being able to do just that – in fact we generally travel about 3 months total out of the year.  Our latest trip was to the Dominican Republic – where we had a great time, although we had planned to go to Iceland but had to cancel because of the volcanos. I’ve also been known to try my hand at wine making in the basement, and we are also avid kayakers and bicyclists as well.

In closing I will say though, that after 40 years in this business one of my ultimate life satisfactions is to be able to find the perfect instrument for a new student, or to adjust and tune an instrument for its optimal sound and performance. This is what I find truly gratifying.

Henry Bischofberger Violins www.hkbviolins.com 5807 114th Avenue Northeast Kirkland, WA 98033 (425) 822-0717

Julie Metteer is a guest commentator for Kirkland Views and the author of Connected in Kirkland, a blog about the people in Kirkland. You can read more of Julie's work by visiting www.ConnectedinKirkland.com