Violin building started as a hobby for Ralph Scutchfield, but “now it’s a habit.” His passion for lutherie snowballed after he retired. What started as learning to “hair a bow” quickly turned into crafting violin tops and backs, installing sound bars and bridges, shaping fingerboards and scrolls, and applying varnish to finish his creations. Ralph’s new hobby quickly morphed into a desire to “reinvent the wheel” – to continuously make a better instrument than the one that came before it.
Ralph explains that his experience as a sheet metal worker in a pre-automated factory is integral to his craft. He details, “if you can’t look at a print and see the picture finished in your head, you need to go through some more training. When I look at something, I see how it’s built.” In addition to making new fiddles, Ralph restores old instruments to their former glory. There is no shortage of “grandpa’s fiddles” that come to his shop in pieces, held together by their cases, that he brings back to life. “They don't believe it's their instrument, but it is.”
Ralph’s apprentice Jimmie Lyon works at a steel mill near his home in Lakeville, Indiana. His interest in old-time fiddle music drew him into his apprenticeship. The duo spent their Saturdays together in Ralph’s workshop building and repairing violins one piece at a time. For these two makers one of the most rewarding aspects of their craft is hearing their instruments being played. Ralph notes, “they make it come to life, and I get the chills.”