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Glen, Montana

Bob Curtz - Making Music in Glen
By Perry Backus of The Montana Standard

January, 2003

Bob Curtz - violin craftsman in Glen, MontanaIn a small room at the back of his mobile home, Bob Curtz practices a passion perfected over the past quarter-century. 

With a pair of energetic terriers and a several quiet long-haired cats for company, Curtz whiles away the short winter days carefully crafting violins fashioned in the form of the old masters. Violins in various states of construction fill the room as Curtz adds more wood shavings and sawdust to the already covered carpet. 

"I have violins in the nearly every room in the house," Curtz said, while looking up from his work. "This has been my passion for the last 25 years." 

Curtz learned the craft from men considered among the best in the United States. Working side by side with violin makers, many of whom were graduates of the premier Peter Prier violin making school in Salt Lake City, Curtz uncovered the secrets of creating an instrument that's both light to the touch and sweet to the ear. 

"I've played the violin since I was three-years-old, and I've always been an artist," Curtz said. "I decided long ago that I should be able to learn how to make a violin." 

That desire became a passion. With a boyish enthusiasm, Curtz rushes around his home to pull out huge picture books that display life-size photographs of the violins created centuries ago by the master craftsmen, Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri. 

"Aren't they beautiful?" Curtz says, as he leafs through page after page. "I've spent a fortune on books of course. Anymore, I feel like I know violin making inside and out. 

"Other than the neck angle, violins really haven't changed since the 1600s," he said. 

Back in his shop, Curtz leans over and pulls out blocks of unfinished wood. Each comes with a story. There's European Spruce from Bosnia, red maple from Minnesota and Engelmann Spruce from Montana. 

"Engelmann Spruce is my favorite. It's so nice and light," he said. 

The top of the violin is normally a softwood, like spruce. The bottom is crafted from a hardwood, like maple. Curtz uses a small plane to hollow out the inside and then a fine sandpaper to make the final adjustments to create the tone of each instrument. 

Holding the front of unfinished violin to his ear, he taps on it gently. 

"I like to tap tone each one. There should be a one tone difference between the front and the back," he said. 

Curtz figures he spends a couple hundred hours completing each violin from start to finish. 

"I'm really in no hurry, and I take my time on each one," he said. 

Curtz finds time each day to spend an hour or so playing a concerto or some other favorite piece on one of his hand made violins. He also likes to paint. Off in another corner of his workshop, there's a nearly finished painting of a large buck deer standing in a nearby Big Hole River bottom. 

"I've always loved this area," he said. "I tried moving back to Salt Lake a few years ago, but I couldn't take the crowds and the traffic. So I sold my house there and moved back here. I do make sure I still find some time to go fishing." 

At one time he owned a log home on the banks of the Big Hole near Melrose, but sold it to a doctor. Someday, he plans to replace his mobile home with a new log house and a violin making studio. 

"I really consider this my art," he said. "Each one has its own unique sound and unique look. I'd love to have people come by for a look and maybe even to play a few." 

Copyright Perry Backus and the Montana Standard, reproduced by permission.

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