The University of Idaho Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival brings the community and beyond together to celebrate the talent, artistry and passion of jazz music, but something often overlooked is the craftsmanship that goes into the making of the instruments used to create what we call music.
For the first time, Jazz Fest will offer a workshop called “Making Stringed Instruments: What Kind of Wood (and Why!).” Two Idaho instrument makers will talk about and demonstrate how they choose the wood to make violins, mandolins and acoustic guitars, how these instruments are assembled and the techniques it takes to create a great acoustic sound.
Professor Tom Gorman, associate dean of the College of Natural Resources and host of the workshop, said the workshop will be a unique way for the CNR program to contribute to Jazz Fest, and it will be a good opportunity for visiting high school students who may be interested in the joining program to see a whole different side to the sustainable resource wood.
“The craftsmanship with wood is not just for making doors or framing a house,” Gorman said.
He said the key to producing a good sound in a wooden string instrument is having the right wood and using the correct techniques when crafting the wood into a properly functioning and sounding instrument.
Mike Boeck, a UI alumnus, has been making instruments as a hobby for several years and he uses wood from trees in Idaho, Gorman said. Boeck and his mentor Steve Weill, both of Priest River, Idaho, will be putting on the workshop and bringing instruments they have created to display and demonstrate.
Boeck said he became interested in violin making in the late ‘60s when he was a forestry student attending UI, but he didn’t make his first instrument, an A-5 mandolin, until about 2008 or 2009.
“As a forester and resource manager for a forest products company, I had the good fortune to work with a local logger named Steve Weill,” he said. “Just by chance we happened to be talking about instrument making and I mentioned that I always wanted to make a violin. His response was that since he was also an instrument maker that he would teach me.”
He said Weill specializes in making mandolins, which is why the first instrument he created was the mandolin. Weill also taught him how to make an acoustic guitar.
“My first mandolin turned out beautifully, and to this day is probably my best sounding instrument,” Boeck said. “After I had completed making two mandolins, we decided to make a violin.”
Weill did not have much experience with making violins, so they both got some books on how to build one and began, Boek said.
“It was kind of like the blind leading the blind. After some failures and many long hours, we managed to each make two violins,” he said. “Today, I am in the process of building a double bass. I hope to have that finished by the end of the year. I will then have my complete blue grass band, less perhaps the banjo.”
In the workshop, Boeck said he and Weill will cover the basics of instrument making such as the different woods used in instruments, what each wood brings to the beauty and tone of the instrument, and the different aspects of design that give different qualities to the instrument’s sound and playability.
“If time permits, we will give the students a chance for some hands-on experience in woodworking, and to hear some music from our creations,” he said.
More Information — The workshop will take place from 1:30-2:30 p.m on Friday in CNR 25,and will be open to the community. Learn more about Steve Weill and his work at givenslegacymandolins.com.
Emily Vaartstra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org