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Secrets Of A Simple Melody

DID you know that a hand-made concertina contains 3,000 parts, and, of the five people in the world making them, two are in Australia? Or that amber off-cuts from the Baltic cost $300 a kilogram and are used for varnish on string instruments?

Or that a violin has 71 separate pieces of wood?

Probably you did not know, unless you visited the first national exhibition by the Australian Association of Musical Instrument Makers in Epping last weekend.

The association was formed in 1980 and has 100 members.

The guest speaker was Professor Felix Skowroneck, Professor of Flute at the University of Washington State, Seattle.

Wood is a common denominator for instrument makers. Violins are made with European maple for the back and spruce for the belly; that is what they used to do in Cremona, and look where it got Stradivarius! But local makers experiment with Australian timbers — King William pine for the belly, Tasmanian blackwood or myrtle for the back. Harpsichords use sitka, varieties of mulga, pines and blackwood, casuarina, huon pine and Australian cedar. Woodwinds need hard, dense timbers. What about gut for strings? Australian sheep-gut takes a lot of beating, and is used widely overseas. It could be our next sunrise industry.

Australia has some top makers, internationally respected, like Fred Morgan and Howard Oberg for recorders, William Bright for harpsichords, Carey Beebe for various keyboard instruments, Rex Thompson for violins, Ian Watchorn for guitars.

The exhibition catalogue listed 37 exhibitors and about 130 instruments. Some were professionally demonstrated at a concert on Saturday evening.

But not all is brightness and light in the industry. Makers whose gross income exceeds $12,000 have to add 20 per cent sales tax to their products, which penalises them severely against imported instruments, which often do not stand up well to local temperature and humidity. They want the income ceiling raised or the tax lowered.

Article by Fred Blanks
Sydney Morning Herald October 26 1988

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