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James McKean

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~ About James McKean

James McKean | Violin | Viola | Cello

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of my becoming a violinmaker. I left college to join the first group of students at the first violinmaking school of America. After apprenticing with Vahakn Nigogosian in New York City for four years to learn the techniques of fine restoration and setup, I established my own shop in midtown Manhattan. My passion has primarily been making instruments, so while running the shop I made sure that a new instrument was always under construction on the bench. A few years ago, finding that making instruments had become almost my entire business, I decided there was no need to stay in the city, so I moved my shop to my home. I've made well over two hundred fifty instruments, with over a hundred of those being cellos.

There's only one instrument that has a more complex or richer sound than the instruments of the violin family, and that's the human voice. That sound, though, stems entirely from the strings; my job, as a maker, is to build an amplifier -- a resonating chamber that will most fully realize the sound the musician hears in their head. And make it stand out under any circumstances, from a practice room to Carnegie Hall, from a solo recital to soloing in front of a symphony orchestra. My designs begin with the vibrating string, and grow organically out from there; my techniques have developed from a lifetime of studying the work of the finest makers of the Golden Period of violinmaking in the 17th and 18th centuries.

My instruments are all fresh, just as the great Italians were when they left the shop. I've never seen a successful antiquing job; and for both me and the new owner it's much more exciting and satisfying to see it acquire the patina of age naturally, which happens soon enough anyway. I make a point of taking care of all my instruments, if the owners want to bring them to me; as stable and reliable as they are, I like to make sure that they are maintained at their fullest potential. Even so, I almost never see them. I only sell my instruments through another shop when I know that there is someone like Sarah who has the training and the commitment to keep them at that level.

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