Lachlan Rentsch may be the only apprentice luthier in Australia.
Since last year he has been learning the refined art of making and repairing violins and other stringed instruments under the watchful eye of John Ferwerda, Australia's only classically trained luthier.
Both craftsmen are visiting Warrnambool on Wednesday, December 15 and Thursday, December 16 to receive repairs and orders.
Mr Rentsch, 21, grew up in Melbourne but has deep family connections across the south-west and it was moving to Mortlake to help on his grandfather's farm that roused an interest in violins.
He was doing a range of odd jobs in between getting some of the more physical tasks on the farm done, even spending time working as a wool classer.
"Farming wasn't for me," Mr Rentsch said.
But when his grandfather took out an old violin and said he could have it, something clicked.
"I decided pretty quickly that I wanted to do something involving violins," he said.
"My grandfather had loved violins since he was a boy. But growing up on a farm with a bunch of brothers, it wasn't an easy hobby. They would take his violins and break them across their knee.
"I guess he figured he could live his passion vicariously through me."
Mr Rentch started playing the violin seriously in 2017, even playing with the Warrnambool Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20, but last year he decided to focus on making, rather than playing, the instrument.
"I've always been pretty good with my hands. What I love about it is making sure everything is just right. If the slightest thing is off, it won't sound right," Mr Rentsch said.
He said he turned to violin making because of the blend of science and tradition behind it, but he also found the perfect mentor in Mr Ferwerda.
"John learned his craft in Mittenwald, a town in southern Germany famous for its violin making.
"Thousands apply each year to the school he went to, but only a couple get in," Mr Rentsch said.
The veteran luthier, who is approaching 80, doesn't just take on anyone who walks into his workshop. Years ago he advised a keen, but unhandy amateur not to come back for any more lessons. It's a sign Mr Rentsch has a talent worth nurturing.
For the moment, the young apprentice is sticking to repairs, rather than making instruments from scratch.
"Repairing something is a great way to learn, seeing how everything fits together, but most importantly working out how to make it right. Some small part can be slightly too thin, or too thick and it can make all the difference," he said.
The front panel of the violin, called the front "plate", is usually made of spruce, while the back plate, sides and neck are commonly maple. Mr Rentsch said this was partly a matter of tradition, but also science.
"In the places where they were making violins, northern Europe for example, these are the abundant trees. But at the same time, people have tried making violins from other types of timber and they just don't sound as good," he said.
A hard, tight-grained wood is ideal. The harder the wood, the more resonant it will be when the instrument is played.
Mr Rentsch has now spent almost two years learning his new craft. Asked when his apprenticeship would be over, he said it was difficult to know.
"The learning never ends. There is always more to learn.
"Even John is still learning," he said.
John Ferwerda and Lachlan Rentsch will be available by appointment at 65 Raglan Parade, Warrnambool on 15-16 December. Call 0417 037 139 to make an appointment, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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