His unusual craft leads him around the world. Now, he’s living his dream in the heart of our neighborhood
Far from our neighborhood, in both time and space, one of the world’s most prized violins was almost lost.
It was 1953, and Sascha Jacobsen, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway when a flood suddenly overtook his car. In a rush, Jacobsen abandoned his vehicle, but not before reaching back to grab his prized instrument, a 1732 Stradivari violin coined “The Red Diamond.” Imagine his horror when he realized the flood currents had already swept it away.
Miraculously, it was found the next day, washed up on a Santa Monica beach three miles away, by an acquaintance of the Philharmonic’s music director, who knew about the loss. Water-logged and already falling apart, the violin was rushed to Hans Weisshaar, the legendary Los Angeles-based luthier, where immediate treatment prevented further warping and loss of varnish. Over the months to follow, a meticulous restoration process brought “The Red Diamond” back to its original splendor.
This is a favorite story ofLakewood resident Georg Eittinger, who also happens to be our neighborhood’s only master luthier. Eittinger and his wife, Ann, were transferred here in 2000 from London, where he worked for J&A Beare. Last year, he quit there and now works from a workshop in the neighborhood home he designed himself.
Eittinger, 38, says though his career is unusual, it was a natural choice for him, given his background and interests.
“Ever since I can remember,” he says, “I have been surrounded by musicians — my dad preparing his music for the choir and orchestra he conducted, both my sisters studying their violin or cello and, later on, studying voice. Today they both are professional singers and teachers, performing in concert and opera.”
Eittinger, who grew up near Munich, played three instruments — recorder, piano and violin — by the time he was 10. And music wasn’t his only interest as a child; he also loved woodworking and fine furniture, he says.
So it was natural that, when the time came for college, Eittinger chose the Mittenwald School of Violin Making.
“Violin making combines the interests of fine woodwork, music and antiques very well,” he says.
There he and about 40 other students spent three and a half years learning the tools of the trade. His first job out of college was at a Munich workshop — when he walked in to ask for work, his eyes alighted on two Stradivaris (Antonius Stradivari, 1644–1737, from Cremona, Italy, is widely recognized to be the most famous violin maker ever).
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is a place I want to work — I’d love to get my hands on those fiddles,’” Eittinger says. “Not everybody has Stradivaris in their shop.”
He impressed the shop’s owner and was hired, quickly “thrown into the high-end world of instrument restoration,” as he puts it.
From there, he worked at shops in Los Angeles (at the same workshop that restored “The Red Diamond”) and London’s J&A Beare, which eventually led to Dallas .
Through the years, with added experience, Eittinger’s interests expanded.
“In addition to seeing clients for sales, giving advice, appraising instruments and bows, servicing instruments and carrying out accident repairs for musicians,” he says, “I have about two or three big restoration projects ongoing. I also find time to make three or four violins a year.”
He works on some of the world’s most valued violins. A recent project was a 1750 French violin, an instrument so valuable that when the restoration is complete — a process that will take from nine months to a year — he will fly to to hand deliver it.
Restoration of high-end violins has fed his ambition; these days, he focuses much of his time crafting replicas of antique Italian masterpieces. Crafting one of these instruments consumes about 200 hours of his time, and he charges up to $18,000 for them.
“It is immensely challenging to do a replica of an old instrument,” he says. “I love the look of old instruments, with all the details and all the wear. I consider it an art form.”
For Eittinger, there’s no question he’s in the right career.
“I love the violin,” he says. “And I still love playing it, but I also love what I’m doing now. I’ve never really questioned it. It was the right thing to do.”
Still, he admits, it didn’t occur to him that his uncommon craft would bring him to Dallas.
“I never thought I’d go to the big city or a foreign country. I thought I’d sit in my little village and make little violins,” he says, laughing.
Dallas, and particularly its summer weather, has been a challenge for Eittinger and his wife, which is why, for two to three months out of every year, they pack up their two young twin sons and head to Georg’s second workshop near his family home in Germany. There he focuses his attention on making new violins.
For now, however, he and wife Ann are happy here. And, according to Ann, they couldn’t have picked a better neighborhood.
“We looked everywhere — from Plano to Oak Cliff,” she says of their hunt for a home. “And at the end of every day searching for a house, we’d come back here. We just loved it. And we’ve met so many nice, friendly and outgoing people here.”
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