Wayland Thomas believes you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.
Making violins was the farthest thing from his mind when he moved to Marlow a few years ago. “I needed something to do with my hands for muscle therapy,” Thomas explained. “I decided I wanted a violin but they were expensive so I decided to make one.”
Becoming a luthier, a craftsman who makes violins and other stringed instruments, is not normally a do-it-yourself project. But Wayland Thomas is not a normal do-it-yourselfer. He bought a book and spent hours researching and experimenting. Three years and a great deal of trial and error later, Thomas has made almost two dozen stringed instruments by hand, including a beautiful harp and a couple of pochettes – called a dance master’s fiddle.
He only uses hand tools, except for a band saw to cut the neck and scroll of the violins, and is proud to show off his collection of specialized tools. Most of the hand tools haven’t changed since Stradivarius crafted violins in the 1700’s. Thomas demonstrated a tiny finger violin plane, no bigger than the tip of your finger, used to carve out the curved surface of the instrument.
A handmade violin can bring a worthy price, but Thomas says he hasn’t sold any yet, and he doesn’t make them for the money.
Thomas, who grew up on a farm in Missouri, says his parents always told him “you can do it if you put your mind to it.” He still lives by that philosophy and says he likes a challenge. After teaching himself to make violins, he started taking lessons to learn to play one about six months ago. “It may be an addiction,” he said, with violin music playing in his workshop and musical scores open on a stand while he works.
The process sounds and looks complicated. Thomas draws the violin on paper, makes a mold and bends the edges. The body is made of fine wood such as maple or walnut. Descriptive names such as the scroll, the neck, the fingerboard, the bridge, the sound post and F holes are foreign terms to most of us. He knows them all, and once the violin is complete he begins the process of applying the hand rubbed finish, a sequence which takes at least 14 days.
Thomas says he’s just an ordinary man, not anyone special. “I just want to tell everyone, if you want to do something, you can do it if you put your mind to it.”