As a violin restorer, one of my worst fears is fire.
We are incredibly vigilant, at The Stringed Instrument Company – we take more than the usual precautions and we’re always super-alert for any unusual smells.
One of our fire extinguishers in the workshop
There are so many things that can catch alight in a violin workshop, from wood to varnish to all the unusual solvents used in our special recipes for cleaning instruments.
And we’ve never had any problems. Touch wood. (Oops, wood burns really well…)
It’s not just our own hopes and aspirations we’re worried about, it’s the dreams of our repair customers that would go up in smoke along with their beloved instruments.
So I was utterly shocked when I recently came across a news story about a fire in an Oklahoma violin shop – and it was owned by one of my fiddle-playing heroes, Byron Berline.
Byron is an ace musician who not has only dominated the US fiddle scene for over five decades, but recorded with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Elton John. He judged the Australian Bluegrass Fiddle Championship at Tamworth, the year I won it back in the early 1980’s, and I even got to shake his hand.
His violin shop, which burned down last February, not only contained around 400 violins, but all the memorabilia from Byron’s long career. It’s not hard to see why almost nothing survived.
The Double Stop Fiddle Shop in flames
Even the safes, where more precious instruments were kept, were no protection from the heat of the flames.
That’s Byron on the right, trying to find out whether anything had survived.
The story does have a miraculous finish. The last case Byron pulled out from one of the safes contained his treasured 1923 Lloyd Loar Gibson mandolin. When he opened the case lid, he was stunned to find the instrument almost undamaged. It was even in tune – as you can hear on You Tube.
Following the fire, Byron has had a huge amount of support, from music fans through to Oklahoma City officialdom. While mourning the loss of all his “friends”, he and his supporters are determined to see a new fiddle shop rise – almost literally – from the ashes of the last one.
There are precautions you can take too. Make sure your instrument isn’t close to a heater! And pull the plug of your heater out from the wall, to be doubly sure. And, as we all know, smoke alarms are a wonderful thing – check yours are up-to-date!