Philip Ryan is the Head Luthier at Luther Strings.
He had known and worked on Chris's personal instruments through Molzer Violins, ever since Chris was still a student. When Chris began formulating ideas to open Luther Strings, he knew that Philip was the very first person he had to contact and ask to join his team.
Philip Ryan, never thought about making violins, but he happened into it because of an angry girlfriend.
She wasn’t even his girlfriend.
It’s an odd enough profession to arrive at. But here they are, making a living at it in an Aurora basement, building instruments, repairing old ones, outfitting everyone from beginner students to orchestra players.
And as odd as it is, it seems stranger that these two personalities, driven in different ways, would be working together at all. But then again, they did meet at a funeral.
People normally make a weird face when Ryan tells them what he does; then they say something like, “Oh, wow. I’ve never met a violin maker before.”
He thinks maybe people idealize the job.
“Do you realize how out of character it would be to have Philip and me put on big smiles and sit down behind some sheet music and play?” Molzer said. They both laugh. “Why do you think our desks face away from each other?”
In the shop, violins lie over end tables, overlapping each other on couches with necks crossing, hiding in every corner as if they were reproducing each time Molzer turned out the lights and walked upstairs.
“They’re almost living organisms,” Ryan says.
Ryan, 45, is more of the right brain.
Ryan and Molzer sit at their individual workbenches, aprons on, sticking tools that look like they belong to a doctor into small openings in the top of violins.
“Announcing the opening of Molzer Music Company,” declares a news clipping framed on the wall from the Lincoln State Journal, dated Dec. 17, 1926. “New violins: $12; Rare, old violins: $35.” The violins Molzer has worked on today range from what he calls “student” violins — rentals and loners — to instruments that have their own insurance.
Ryan studied violin at the University of Colorado. He never really liked playing. His parents pushed him into it, and he said he fought his lack of natural talent with hours and hours of practice; even now, he would have liked to study the cello or guitar.
Ryan got into violin making after he hired a man to play piano accompaniment for a concert while he was in college. The player was no good — horrible, in fact — and Ryan refused to pay him. He can’t be sure it was the player’s girlfriend who took out their vendetta on his unwitting instrument, but it’s his best guess.
“Whoever did that, whoever smashed my violin, did me the biggest favor of my life — got me out of something my heart wasn’t in.”
He took the damaged violin to a local shop and practically begged for help learning how to work on it. The owner offered Ryan a job. It was a strange twist of fate, and now Ryan says there is almost nothing he would rather do than work on violins.
Fate, God or the angry girlfriend saw that Ryan and Molzer would be able to sit at their opposing desks, arguing about where a sound post should be placed in the violin, with Molzer sipping coffee and Ryan more partial to tea warmed on the same hot plate they use to heat violin glue.
A young girl walked into Molzer’s basement looking for the perfect bow. Molzer said that she would know the right one because she would feel it working harmoniously with the violin. Ryan wanted to test them with her, talking about each one’s individual qualities.
Had the girl not listened to Molzer, she may have settled on a bow she didn’t feel comfortable with. And if it were not for Ryan, who sat with her and tested each bow, then the group never would have come to the conclusion that no bow would work.
The violin was out of whack and needed to be fixed.