Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Geoffrey Seitz's Magical Violin Shop

St. Louis is kind of a hotbed for string-instrument activity, but no violin shop is as magical to me as Geoffrey Seitz's shop.

I met Mr. Seitz many years ago when he produced, as if by magic, a beautiful violin for our daughter. It apparently passed for a Chanot for about a century, but was in actuality a Bohemian violin with a false label. The quality of the instrument reflected its "life" as a fine fiddle, but the price reflected its humble (yet artful) Bohemian heritage.

My next encounter was with one of Seitz's own instruments, a beautiful violin with a huge sound that a family friend bought for his daughter. Several years later I met a little five-string violin that my friend Ruth, who has known Geoff for several decades, bought from him. I sent one of my violin students to his shop (where I had not yet visited) and she came back to Illinois with four excellent violins that were all reasonably priced. My student told me that going into his shop was one of the greatest experiences of her life (she was 17 at the time) and fell deeply in love with one of the four violins (as did I).

Earlier this year Ruth showed me a gorgeous small viola she was thinking of buying from Geoff, and asked me if I would go to St. Louis with her to try it "against" other similarly-sized instruments at his shop. I brought along my viola d'amore, which needed some cracks repaired, so off we went.

This violin shop is like no other. Most of the violin shops I have visited have elegant sitting rooms and oriental rugs on the floor. Most violin shops are intentionally intimidating. Not Seitz's shop. It is a storefront shop in what could be described as a strip mall that is packed to the gills with instruments of all kinds. There are paths to many of them, but there are areas that are so packed that the instruments seem to be inaccessible. If there were oriental rugs on the floor, they were covered by larger instruments. There were piles of empty cases everywhere (including one with crocodile skin), big cardboard boxes of bows, and instruments on every surface scattered shoulder to neck in seemingly ramshackle order. Seitz also has an impressive backlog of work (my viola d'amore took half a year to repair, but the repair made it sound fantastic, so it was worth the wait), and seems to do it all with just one helper. And of course Geoff knows the back story for every instrument in the shop.

My friend's viola was the best (for her) of the lot, and the price Geoff gave her was amazing considering the high quality of the instrument.

Ruth and I went back to the shop last week with Judy, a friend who was looking for a new violin. We were pretty sure that Geoff would have something special for her, and we were right. We made our choice very easily and then asked to try a few bows. We were all in agreement about the bow that was best.

Geoff asked us if we would like to look at an instrument made in Charleston (the town where Ruth, Judy, and I live). Ruth wondered if it might have been a violin made by her late brother-in-law Garry Harrison, but it turned out to be a violin made in 1989 by my old friend (the second person I met when I moved to Charleston--his wife Barbara was the first) Burton Hardin. I actually recognized the instrument which he gave me to try once I began my switch from flute to violin. I even seem to remember when Burton was making the instrument.

Ruth, Judy, and I all knew Burton Hardin, but Geoff had never met him.

Geoff cut $200 off the price of the bow, and threw in a brand new lovely (and light) case for the violin for free. Then he refigured the cost of my repair, lowering it by $100 or so. When Ruth and I asked about buying rosin, he threw two nice cakes in for free.

You can hear one of Geoff's instruments here (and see his shop in the background):

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