After 40 Years in the Trade, Luthier Florian Leonhard Finds Himself Exactly Where He Always Wanted to Be

The respected restorer, maker, dealer, and trusted authenticator is also known for his line of True Copy instruments

By Karen Peterson | From the March-April 2024 issue of Strings

As a child in Darmstadt, Germany, Florian Leonhard dreamed of being a surgeon whose specialty was healing broken hands. “In my childlike way, I wanted to make things work again,” he says. Today, building on his early dreams of regeneration—which, by his teen years, had become specific to reconstructing a broken cello—Leonhard is a respected restorer, maker, dealer, and trusted authenticator of new and classic violins, violas, cellos, and bows. He is also known for his line of True Copy instruments, based on years of research and the study of original antiques.

The True Copy line comprises modern reproductions of instruments made by Cremonese masters, crafted by the luthiers at the Florian Leonhard Fine Violins (FLFV) workshop and office in London’s fashionable Hampstead area, all of them based on Leonhard’s research over the span of his 40-year, still-unfolding career. Featured now in the True Copy catalog are models based on a 1731 “Kreutzer” Stradivari; a 1629 Antonius and Hieronymus Amati violin; and the 1742 “Lipinski” violin by Guarneri del Gesù.

Luthier Florian Leonhard inspects a violin top
Courtesy of Florian Leonhard

“I’ve always put time into researching the great masters,” says Leonhard. “So I just began making the instruments. I experimented. I cooked varnish. I read the old [varnish] recipes. I translated old books.” Besides the structural specs, the copies incorporate, as possible, the materials, techniques, and intrinsic characteristics of the maker that only a trained eye can identify.

“Every maker has a different way to create, for example, a corner or a scroll,” Leonhard says, adding that the time spent analyzing those differences “is fun and a process that I have done routinely.” Among the owners of a Leonhard True Copy is Fedor Rudin, concertmaster of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic, who praises the sound of his “Kreutzer” Stradivari copy as “very warm and powerful.”

Leonhard’s attention to detail is in his DNA. Understanding how things work, taking things apart, and then figuring out how to put them back together again were natural pursuits, he says of his youth. The focus on becoming a surgeon—his grandfather was a doctor—shifted to building violins after Leonhard began playing the cello at age 9. “My mother played violin and piano, and we always had house music,” he remembers. He also clearly recalls the day when his cello slipped, fell, and broke its backside. “I was absolutely devastated. My parents were teachers—they didn’t have a lot of money, and I broke the cello,” he says with a whisper of remorse still in his voice as we talk over Zoom. “They never said a thing.” Nonetheless, the accident changed Leonhard’s life.


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The 15-year-old Leonhard followed the broken cello to the violin maker’s shop. “I saw him open the cello, and I smelled this beautiful varnish and also the polishes in the workshop,” says Leonhard. “And I saw all these tools. I was absolutely falling in love. The dealer lent me a book [on violin making], and I devoured it. I was hooked.”

Today, with sales offices in Hong Kong, Seoul, and San Francisco, and 18 employees in Hampstead, FLFV is a success story in a city known for its music, musicians, and makers. And instruments. With historic notables such as J & A Beare and W. E. Hill & Sons, and international auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, London is a violin hub. “You either make it or die in this place,” says Leonhard, who founded FLFV in 1995 and moved to Hampstead in 2000.

Luthier Florian Leonhard inspects a cello
Courtesy of Florian Leonhard

Initially, Leonhard planned for a career in lutherie, and, like other young people seeking a prestigious college, he was dead set on one institution: the musical instrument making school in Mittenwald, for nearly four centuries the center of violin making in Germany. “I had to get into this school. I was so determined,” says Leonhard, who at the time thought his chances were slim. He was wrong; Leonhard, 19, was one of the ten (out of 1,200 applicants) accepted. 

“I’m a planner; I always like to know where I’ll be going in the next two or three years,” says Leonhard, so with one year of studies left at Mittenwald, he applied to work at W.E. Hill & Sons. At the interview, Leonhard displayed a violin he had made in the evenings after classes. “They were very impressed, and they said, ‘If you want to work here, you can start any time.’ I didn’t believe them, and I was so nervous [afterward] that I didn’t share [the news] with anyone other than my parents and my girlfriend.”

Still not sure of his chances, he wrote letters, carefully penned in cursive, to remind them of his interest. “I sent a letter to Mr. Andrew Hill, and said, ‘I’m still here—don’t forget about this job. Don’t give it away.’ And I got a beautiful answer that they were looking forward to welcoming me there.


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“I’ve never forgotten that letter and how exciting it was for me, who was nowhere in life. Not yet earning money. Still reliant on parents. And to have contact with the Hills, who were to me the bible of expertise, it was incredible.”

Joining W.E. Hill & Sons in 1985, Leonhard rose quickly to shop manager—”the best position in the world”—and soon became enamored with restoration work. From there, it was a natural hop and skip to reproduction work and the launch of his True Copy line.

Luthier Florian Leonhard with others in the workshop
Courtesy of Florian Leonhard

One method of attracting the notice of others in the trade was his meticulously antiqued copy of a Stradivari scroll. “I kept the scroll in my jacket pocket when I went to auctions or any meetings with violin makers, and I always pulled it out and showed it to people who understood what it represented,” he says. “They noticed me for the scroll because they couldn’t believe that it was not an original.”


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After four decades of building and learning, Leonhard does not consider himself an overnight success; he’s worked hard to solidify his company’s reputation and reach. “I believe you need to have a routine and be in continuous movement,” says Leonhard, “but I don’t believe in rushing. Better to be slow and steady, even if I have to work through the night.”

His pace has paid off over the years in sales, high-end clients, and relationships with emerging musicians. FLFV is the official luthier for stringed instruments at the Royal College of Music, London, and for the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Leonhard has established a fellowship for young players. He says his authentication work develops trust and gives musicians advanced assurance that their instruments have provenance and measured value. In his spare time, Leonhard writes andpublishes coffee table art books. His latest, The Archetypal Violins of Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, follows The Makers of Tuscany, and The Makers of Central Italy.

Married in 2019 to violinist Elly Suh, and with no plans to retire or change direction, Leonhard is a contented man—so it doesn’t take him long to answer the question, “Are you happy with where you’ve landed in life?”

“If you had asked me 20 years ago where I hoped to be in another 20 years, I probably would have described where I am now,” he answers. In other words, yes.