Positive Thinking Led Amanda Ewing to a History-Making Career in Lutherie

Ironically, the search for a custom-made violin is what brought Ewing to the lutherie trade in the first place.

By Greg Cahill | From the May-June 2024 issue of Strings Magazine

“During the Covid shutdown, Amanda came into my awareness via the Instagram algorithm. I was scrolling through my feed, when all of a sudden I saw this beautiful, Black woman luthier, holding a violin she’d made, and I was so intrigued,” says fiddler Anne Harris when asked about her initial encounter with Nashville luthier Amanda Ewing, whose build for Harris is the first known instance of a Black female luthier constructing a violin for a Black female musician. 

“I had been looking for a new violin for a few years and I never really considered commissioning someone,” Harris continues. “But as soon as I began digging deeper into Amanda’s story, I felt compelled to reach out to her. Being the first officially recognized Black woman luthier in the United States placed Amanda in a historically important context. I had never seen a luthier who looked like me in my entire life, and I had never considered that the hands of the maker could be powerfully carving a new chapter of diversity and inclusion for the instrument. But that is exactly what she’s doing. And I wanted to support her work and be a part of that story.”

At press time, Harris’ fiddle remains a work-in-progress, paid for through a crowdfunding campaign. “I’ve taken my time with it to ensure that my very best work is achieved,” says Ewing, who radiates joy when she speaks. “She will choose between two models, a Strad ‘Glennie’ or a John E. Betts. I currently do not have a model preference, because eventually the shaping will happen intuitively, and my uniqueness will inevitably shine through in the carving.” 

Ironically, the search for a custom-made violin is what brought Ewing to the lutherie trade in the first place. In 2017, Ewing had left a longtime position as a hospitality worker at Opryland USA, the Nashville-based country-music theme park. Her severance provided the opportunity to explore various interests. After dusting off her student violin to encourage her young daughter to practice piano, Ewing began performing in a local band program. Two months after leaving her job of 16 years, a fortuitous meeting with Nashville luthier Ray DeMeo led Ewing to a work bench. 

“Once I began to practice violin with my student instrument, I was quickly reminded that I wasn’t too fond of its sound,” she says. “I began asking other players about their instruments and where they attained them. A couple of participants responded that there was a luthier in the mix of players in the program who made their fiddles. Me: ‘Say what?!?’ Three weeks later, Ray joined us for a Saturday practice session, and I questioned him for 30 minutes about the details of the process of instrument making and commissioning a violin. As we were nearing the end of our chat, I asked if I could be a part of the process in some way. I was fascinated by his responses and knew I wanted to take part in it. 


“My journey did not begin with an interest in lutherie specifically. However, the thought of learning something new, the power of saying ‘yes’ to whatever sparks joy in the moment, led me to this path.”

Anne Harris and Amanda Ewing with violins
Anne Harris and Amanda Ewing. Photo: Mike Belleme.

Ewing credits her success to DeMeo’s supportive role in guiding and advising her throughout what eventually became a four-year apprenticeship. “Now I see that it is borderline rare for a person in this industry to consistently and freely share knowledge to help newcomers navigate challenges and opportunities associated with the craft,” she says. “As a sounding board, he offered experience, perspective, and encouragement, while also fostering independence and self-confidence. Overall, what I learned from Ray was an invaluable gift, and I am grateful to have his continued support today.” 

How was Ewing able to get a toehold in the industry? 

“Making inroads into a field dominated by men and historically closed to Black artisans requires a combination of determination and dedication to skill, opportunity, and resilience,” she says. “Overcoming systemic barriers and biases, particularly in fields where representation is lacking, demands exceptional perseverance. Additionally, support networks, mentorship, and access to resources play crucial roles in facilitating success. Challenging conventional norms can pave the way for marginalized individuals to establish their presence and thrive in previously inaccessible domains. It’s a testament to the power of an unwavering desire and opportunity converging to overcome systemic obstacles and create pathways for underrepresented groups to contribute their unique perspectives and skills to the field.” 


Under DeMeo’s tutelage, Ewing began building her first instrument with a very specific sound in mind—she wanted a fiddle that sounded like a grandmother. “The truth is that the day my first violin was complete was a bit unceremonious for various reasons,” she says. “However, ‘she’ did sing that day and by my hand. The moment was surreal. I was proud of myself, and I allowed myself to simmer in the accomplishment and personal growth. Building a violin from scratch with support was no small thing. My self-confidence, self-esteem, and resilience were heightened because of it. I allowed myself to freely feel a sense of pride in my accomplishments while reminding myself that I am deserving of happiness and success. At times, we can do the complete opposite, so I decided to go for it and ‘feel all the feels.’” 

These days, Ewing endeavors to create instruments imbued with texture and depth. “What I know now is that there are many factors that affect the sound of an instrument,” she says. “I suppose that my greatest hope is that my instrument’s sound resonates with a part of the hearer’s soul. I’ve been emotionally moved by my music before. I think everyone should experience that at least once in their lifetime.”

That sentiment is what has brought her together with Harris, a professional fiddler who has been playing the same violin her parents purchased for her when she was a child. In the winter of 2022, Ewing and Harris met in person in Chicago, and Harris had the opportunity to play Willow, the first violin Ewing ever built. “Not only was I immediately captivated by its rich, warm, deep tone, but I was also struck by Amanda’s beautiful soul, and I felt I had reconnected with a dear old friend,” Harris says. “It was as if our ancestors had made this connection, and I left knowing that we would make not only powerful sound together, but history as well.”


Harris went on to send Ewing a list of practical, tangible items, such as preferred wood, and gave the luthier a complete description of her current violin. The note read: “The source of the wood is really important for me to know,” Harris says, “for it has a story all its own to tell. So, if it isn’t something that’s feasible, for whatever reason, I would still like to know the origin of the wood you will be using, to the best of your knowledge.

“I ended with: ‘My expectation is for you to create what you are called to create. I trust your heart and soul.’”

Ewing is happy to oblige. “The ability to follow your passion is a gift,” she says. “Instrument making came into my life after years of longing for something more meaningful and impactful in my career. What’s interesting is that I never set out to be an instrument maker. In the beginning, I accepted an opportunity to learn more about making a violin by hand. However, I wasn’t thinking about it as a career at that time. In that moment, I set an intention to ‘say yes’ to anything and everything that sparked joy. And because I was on hiatus from a traditional nine-to-five job, I just decided to go for it. The ‘it’ being saying ‘yes’ to something new, exciting, and unknown.”