Tony Made A Violin – May 30, 2012
Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – Several years ago, Arcata photographer, craftsman and socialite Tony Gonsalves decided he wanted to make a violin. Seven years later, he had done just that. And unlike most people’s first attempt at almost anything, the resulting product is not just well made, experienced musicians say it sounds great.
An immigrant from the Azore Islands in 1966, Gonsalves comes from a line of carpenters, and working with wood is natural for him. He ran the wood shop at now-defunct Redwoods United, and has mastered the range of skills required for complex projects like making musical instruments.
“I cut the wood, I carved it, I sanded it and did the inlay,” Gonsalves said. “It comes in my blood.”
Which is not to say he was alone in his violin-making quest. Wood for the project was donated by Arcata instrument fabricators Wildwood Manufacturing, and major assistance in terms of tips and tools was provided by Jeff and Bob Daugherty of Eureka’s Daugherty Violin Shop. Jeff said that between Tony’s charm and determination, he couldn’t say no to helping out.
“He’s a sweetheart,” Daugherty said. “He comes blowing in the door saying ‘Jeff, I want to make a fiddle.’” Over the months, Gonsalves used the shop’s tools and did most, but not all of the work. “I fitted some things with him watching,” Daugherty said. But he downplays his and his father Bob’s contribution. “We helped a fair amount,” he said.
“He’s a genius in skills,” said longtime friend Linda Swinney. “Real meticulous.”
Gonsalves isn’t new to instrument making. He previously built a mandolin, and even had it played by David Grisman.
That came about when one day at Wildwood Music, Grisman walked in and was introduced to Tony by Brooks Otis. Never shy, the enterprising Gonsalves showed up that night with the mandolin before Grisman’s CenterArts show at the Van Duzer Theatre. After playing and praising the instrument, Grisman invited Gonsalves to stay and see the show, and performed on the mandolin. “This is great,” he told Tony of the instrument.
The violin earned similar rave reviews from famed Bay Area fiddler Tom Rigney. He’s had a “certain amount of trepidation” on hearing of the violin, and was prepared to politely try it and find something nice to say. That wasn’t necessary.
“It’s shockingly good,” Rigney said. “I was extremely pleasantly surprised. It plays very well, with an assertive, bright tone. There are many ways a violin can sound bad, but this doesn’t have any of those bad qualities. It’s nice looking and well built.”
So while the violin wasn’t Gonsalves first instrument, it will be his last. “It’s too hard,” he said of the construction ordeal.
Tony’s next violin initiative will focus on playing the instrument. “I’m going to learn,” he said.