The Older the Fiddle, the Sweeter the Tune
By Tom Long
Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
Tom Benson does not just repair violins; he breathes new life into them.
Benson is the proprietor of Fiddledogs LLC. His showroom in the Landmark building overlooking Main Street in Nashua contains racks of freshly restored stringed instruments.
“A customer will come in with an old instrument and say, ‘this was my grandfather’s violin,’” said Benson, who became a luthier after a career as a software engineer.
“I have a rack of violins in the shop. When I get to the point that they can actually be played, I can’t help but wonder where they’ve been and what music they’ve made,” he said.
The posting on his website at fiddledogs.com serves as a mission statement: “We’re a small and friendly violin shop specializing in bringing old instruments back to life. …We can perform expert repairs on your violin, or simply ensure it is set up correctly for best sound and playability, or perform whatever repairs are necessary to make it sing again.”
Benson is beginning to build a devoted clientele.
“This is a gem of a violin shop right in downtown Nashua,” Nancy Goodwin of Sinfonietta Strings wrote in a message to the Fiddledogs Facebook page. “Tom has brought a bunch of violins back to life for Sinfonietta Strings. His workmanship is excellent, whether it’s a violin, viola or cello. He even did some bow re-hairs that we were very impressed with. The shop has some beautiful old instruments too that one of our teachers have.”
Freelance violinist and instructor Caterina Yetto wrote, “Fiddledogs does an excellent job in breathing new life into old, battered up instruments. He’s a really easygoing guy and incredibly helpful, upfront, and honest.”
Benson is also a violinist. He described himself as a “dedicated amateur” who has performed with bluegrass Celtic and rock bands as well as the Nashua Chamber Orchestra.
“I really like old violins and was always curious about how they were made,” he said. “I found out about violin repair classes at the Violin Craftsmanship Institute at the University of New Hampshire and began taking classes and accumulating violins that need repair.”
In addition to customers who bring in violins, he locates instruments at flea markets, yard sales and on the Internet.
“They are all in poor repair when I buy them,” he said. “I tend to buy ones that are not playable and that allows me to get them at a good price, so I can make a profit.”
Benson has returned to the institute every summer for five years to refine his craft.
“In the coming year I might start violin-making from scratch, not because I intend to make violins, but just to have the experience,” he said.
So, how’s business?
“I’ve been open for about a year and I think things are starting to pick up,” he said. “It wasn’t until about four or five months ago that I established an online presence and I’ve met a lot of teachers in the area. It’s not the level that you can actually make a living, but maybe next year.”
But it’s not all about the Benjamins.
“I love what I’m doing, and I really enjoy the contact with the customers,” Benson said. “It’s not something I had in my previous job.”