Comfortably nestled in the character-filled surroundings of their via della Dogana workshop, the extraordinary Vettori family are weaving a sonorous tale of their inceptive ties to violin making. “Our grandfather Dario was a violinist and guitar player, band director and player of wind instruments. He had the idea of making a violin by himself, so he opened his own violin to see how it was built inside and he tried to make a copy of it. He wasn’t happy with the first violin he made, so he burned it. We are lucky to have his second violin with us!”
Some 82 years after Nonno Dario first embarked on his experimental violin-making missions—the likes of which include once fashioning a 3/4 violin from his wife’s chopping board, and repurposing the durable springs of American Jeeps into C-shaped clamps—his son Paolo and, by extension, grandchildren Dario, Lapo and Sofia have carved out a thoroughly unique positioning as multi-generational luthiers.
A key strong suit of the Vettori family lies in their seamless embracing of present-day technology (evidenced by the easily accessible digital presence, with a beautiful website brought to life by Sofia) whilst keeping their physical craft entirely rooted in masterful traditional techniques. Such a striking combination instantly sets them apart from more inconspicuous artisan businesses and has also allowed them to nurture a continually expanding consumer base across the globe.
The family’s abundance of colourful anecdotes span decades, many of which are fond tales of grandfather Dario’s formative years making string instruments. Paolo gestures to one black-and-white photo from the late 1940s, full to the brim with Florentine luthiers. This community of violin makers proved an invaluable resource to Dario, a Firenzuola native who was affectionately referred to as “il luttaio della montagna” by his Florence-based contemporaries. He would spend Saturdays and Sundays immersing himself in the workshops of various luthiers, honing his craft through attentive observation and hands-on experience (a stint at Cremona’s internationally recognised school of luthiers followed thereafter, as it didn’t officially open its doors until the 1950s). It is little wonder that Paolo was instinctively drawn to following in his father’s footsteps, and for his three children their progression was equally as natural, for Paolo remained adamant to let them pave their own paths organically rather than force them into continuing the family legacy.
A considerable percentage of the workshop’s annual output (which typically comes in at around 30 to 40 instruments) is commission-based with requests hailing from all four corners of the earth. As I perused the atmospheric downstairs bottega, accessible through a gorgeously ornate spiral staircase that connects all levels, I locked eyes with upcoming projects that, upon completion, will be shipped off to Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Tokyo, with one violin heading to a Florentine address. Given the vast quantity of visiting requests the Vettoris receive on a daily basis, their ability to get through a hard day’s work is even more impressive, though such visits have resulted in some entertaining stories, such as the time when a travelling choir from the U.S. broke into song on the workshop’s street to pay thanks for their informative visit. The most exceptional story of them all, however, begins when, on the cusp of World War II, grandfather Dario buried his prized possessions (i.e. his hand-crafted violins) in a hard-wearing iron case and dug them up several years later. He exchanged some of his creations with patrolling American soldiers for butter, sugar and milk, setting his violins off on a stateside journey that most likely had its first stopover in New York.
Fast forwarding to about four years ago, Lapo arrived in Singapore for one of the family’s many overseas trips to retail clients, making a stop at the most important music shop in the city. The owner mentioned a Vettori violin he had procured that needed a little repairing, but when he passed on the instrument to Lapo he instantly noticed how markedly different the violin was from his family’s usual creations, even down to where its insignia was positioned. He then discovered the owner had bought the instrument in San Francisco in the 1980s, meaning that the violin predated himself and his two siblings, yet was evidently not the work of his father’s. Looking into a small hole at the bottom of the violin, he was amazed to see his grandfather’s name and stamp staring back at him. An experience made all the more poignant by the fact that Lapo had never had the chance to meet his nonno in person. Getting to hold one of his grandfather’s violins and make some fine-tuned repairs, knowing the remarkable journey it had undertaken from Tuscany to Singapore—with both US coastlines in between—was an undeniably special moment in the Vettori’s eventful timeline.
While the heritage-filled craft of violin making may, thankfully, not be facing extinction anytime soon, there is no question that the deep-rooted integrity and mastery imbued in the Vettori bottega makes it nothing less than a crown jewel among Florence’s contemporary artisans.