Luthier Peter Reid makes a whole quartet of instruments from one tree

Off we went to Wagga for a week of music. Seven days of rehearsals; student mid-day concerts; angst at hearing nine-year-olds who play better than us adult learners ever will; music gossip with the luthier at lunchtime; a choice of playing Scottish or Classical; and an end of week concert that was such a blast to be part of. It was unanimous amongst the Innominato-ees who attended, that the Riverina Summer School for Strings (RSSS), held in January, was worth battling the scorching heat and the drive from Sydney. And after all, Wagga is in such a pretty part of NSW.

Peter Reid loves Australian timbers

One of the people we chatted with at RSSS was Peter Reid who came down from Orange. Peter is a luthier which means he is a maker of string instruments. We’ve bumped into Peter at several other music weekends where he has a table set up to be available for instant repairs to your instrument. He also brings instruments he has made, for you to play and be inspired by. So you play the viola that Peter has handcrafted and you chat. “What kind of wood is this made from?” It turns out that the viola is made from Australian timber and it took more than two months to make.

Peter loves to talk about making violins and violas and cellos. We had a conversation about where Peter started from. He was first introduced to violin making and repairing in 1988 by a Czech luthier, Denny Kutzena. This was followed by years of study and experience repairing instruments, then Peter began making his own in 2007. In 2011, he and his wife, Francine, formed the company Sophia’s Strings, named after their first granddaughter. Since then, Peter has become the go-to man when it comes to the world of quality string instruments.

Peter Reid luthier at RRSS in 2017

Luthier says Australian timbers have superb tonal quality

All the instruments he makes are hand crafted from woods such as European Spruce and German Maple or native timbers. Peter says “It’s not exaggerating to say that the Australian timbers like Tasmanian Blackwood, King William and Celery Top Pines have absolutely superb tonal quality.” When us Innominato-ees had a go with playing a couple of his instruments we agree! Not that we are experts at all but they sound glorious. Lush and rich.

Peter Reid luthier carving the wood

A unique quartet of instruments made from the same tree

One of the most interesting topics that Peter was keen to chat about is his quartet of instruments. In December 2012, while visiting a Tasmanian wood supplier, Peter was shown a 1000 year old quarter sawn slab of King William Pine. He realised he could make the belly plates for a quartet (cello, viola and two violins) from this single irreplaceable piece of wood. This tree was killed in a bush fire in 1890 and brought out of the forest in the mid 1950’s. Put into perspective, Charlemagne was the King of the Franks when this tree was a baby.

Later, he found slabs from two 500 year old Tasmanian Blackwood trees which would make the backs, sides and necks. Through careful selection and carving the grain, the properties of these beautiful timbers are highlighted. Jarrah fingerboards and Rosewood fittings complete this unique set of instruments, which together project a large, dynamic and special quality of sound.

Peter-Reid-luther's-violin

There is no other known modern quartet of instruments to compare – hand made by traditional methods, from extremely rare Australian native timbers. The set will stay together (almost unheard of for a set of matched instruments) in the Central West, NSW and be played by Central Western students, talented local amateurs, and professionals. The Mitchell Conservatorium, has ownership of this quartet set of instruments, and it is the focal point of the MitCon Chamber Music Academy. This was made possible due to a generous gift from Bathurst music enthusiasts – Drs Ben Ami and Martha Morrison Gelin. In Mitchell Conservatorium and Sophia’s Strings circles, the set has become known as “The Family.”

In conclusion, we all look forward to chatting with Peter Reid again at future Riverina Summer School for Strings.

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