With its reputation for slick modernity, Los Angeles has the unfortunate (and inaccurate) reputation as being a place without much history. But L.A.’s story as an official settlement began in 1781, and the city has a strong connection to the centuries-old violin trade. Many of its violin shops show a particular affiliation with the Violin Making School in Mittenwald, Germany, which has been educating students for over a century and a half. The following are several of the most celebrated violin shops that serve the L.A. area, with a little of their own histories.
Hans Weisshaar , est. 1947
627 N. Larchmont Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90004
The Los Angeles shop of Hans Weisshaar was established in 1947, after violin virtuoso Nathan Milstein encouraged the violin maker—then working alongside Simone F. Sacconi at the New York shop of Emil Hermann—to head west. Weisshaar had studied at the Violin Making School in Mittenwald, Germany, and had spent time working for William Lewis & Son in Chicago before his stint in New York. He took Milstein’s advice and set up his workshop in L.A., garnering widespread acclaim for his repair and restoration work, mentoring young makers, and cofounding the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers in 1980. He died in 1991. The shop was then run by Weisshaar’s business partner and protégé Margaret Shipman until violin maker and restorer Georg Eittinger, who was mentored by Weisshaar, bought the company in 2004. Eittinger, who also studied at the Violin Making School in Mittenwald and worked for a time at J & A Beare in London, specializes in restoration and conservation of rare antiques. He also makes instruments on commission, especially replicas of fine Italian instruments. Weisshaar has two locations in the greater Los Angeles area, in Hollywood and San Marino, and also in Berlin, Germany.
Benning Violins, est. 1953
11340 Ventura Blvd.,
Studio City, CA 91604
Paul Toenniges took up instrument making at the suggestion of his brother-in-law, the esteemed violin maker Carl Becker, Sr. Toenniges worked at William Lewis & Son in Chicago, where he became a renowned repairman and bass maker. He moved to Los Angeles in 1945 and worked at the Rudolph Wurlitzer branch, then opened his own shop in 1953, calling it Studio City Music. His daughter Nancy went to Mittenwald to study violin making at the Violin Making School, where she met her future husband Hans Benning. Hans worked for Carl Becker, Sr. in Chicago for a time and eventually Nancy and Hans took over Studio City Music when Paul retired. They renamed the full-service shop Benning Violins. Their son Eric has joined them in the shop; he studied with his father and trained with Carl Becker, Jr. of Chicago.
Thomas Metzler Violin Shop, est. 1979
604 South Central Ave.,
Glendale, CA 91204
Thomas Metzler was a violin major at the University of Iowa when he decided to alter his path and pursue violin making instead. He moved to Mittenwald, learning German until a space opened up for him at the Violin Making School. He graduated in 1976, and apprenticed with Hans Weisshaar for three years before opening his own shop in Los Angeles in 1979. Metzler’s shop sells instruments, bows, accessories, and sheet music, provides repair and restoration services, and houses teaching studios (instrument rentals are also available). Metzler has also begun hosting an annual exhibition for contemporary violin makers, displaying the work of over 50 exhibitors.
Robert Cauer Violins, est. 1980
2242 N. Cahuenga Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90068
Robert Cauer is another graduate of the Violin Making School in Mittenwald, Germany. As is often the case, Cauer was a string player himself, a cellist, before devoting himself to the making of stringed instruments. After his education at Mittenwald was complete, he apprenticed with Simone F. Sacconi at the shop of Rembert A. Wurlitzer in New York, focusing especially on repair and restoration. He established his full-service Los Angeles shop in 1980. Cauer is a member of Entente International, a former president of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, a sought-after lecturer on the subjects of repair and restoration, and frequent jury member in violin-making competitions.
Michael Fischer Violin Shop, est. 1982
1638 Rendall Place,
Los Angeles, CA 90026
J. Michael G. Fischer was born in southern Germany and attended the Violin Making School in Mittenwald. After receiving his degree he moved to London, where he made violas da gamba and Baroque instruments at the Withers shop for Dietrich Kessler, and restored instruments for Charles Beare. Fischer then moved to Los Angeles to work for Hans Weisshaar before opening his own shop in 1984. The shop sells antique and modern instruments, and bespoke copies of fine instruments made by Fischer himself, who also conducts complex repairs and restoration work.
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Strings magazine.