About Graeme

About Graeme

Early years – the start of the passion

Graeme Thatcher was born in New Zealand in 1936. His mother was a concert violinist, and Graeme grew up listening to her play the violin. At the age of eight, Graeme’s brother brought home two records of Isaac Stern playing the theme from Tristan und Isolde.

"The sound of this violin and music so inspired me, that from this young age, I wanted to make a violin and play it just like him. This inspiration has never left me. These were the only two records in our family collection to be completely worn out."

Throughout his school years Graeme played piano, although he often expressed interest in learning the violin. After finishing school Graeme moved into the field of optometry, where he worked as an optician for 33 years.

First violins

From 1968-1970, Graeme made his first four violins, but was not satisfied with the quality of sound they produced.

"I decided not to complete another instrument until my research had widened. I wanted every instrument I made to be of quality. There were too many unanswered questions, myths and theories."

He sent to England for a new set of violin plans, materials and tools from Mr E.J. Bradley, a well-known luthier at the time. They soon became close associates, and it was E.J. Bradley who referred Graeme to Maurice Bouette (1922 – 1992), an English violin maker and Director of the Department of Music and Musical Instrument Technology and School of Violin Making in Nottinghamshire.

On Mr Bradley's retirement he sent Graeme his original parchment copy of a 1742 Guarneri. This violin had previously been declared as 'unequalled' by the Polish violinist Henryk Wieniawski (1835 - 1880), and pronounced 'the finest toned violin in the world' by the Italian virtuoso Camillo Sivori (1815 - 1894).

Between 1972 and 1982, Maurice Bouette gave Graeme tuition in violin making. sending him plans, drawings and notes. Maurice was happy to be contacted at any time both by post and by telephone and a close friendship developed. He supplied Graeme with timber over many years, and also made the offer to come and work alongside him in the UK.

Perfecting the violin making technique

Perfecting the violin making technique

Timber treatment – in the early 1970s, wanting to improve the quality of his instruments, Graeme looked to the timber he was using. He thought that timber treatment would be the secret to instruments playing well in all climate conditions.

A new undercoat – it was at this point of Graeme’s research that he found his education in chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics was invaluable. In 1973 he developed an undercoat which controlled moisture and protected the timber if varnish chipped off.

Perfecting the violin making technique

"I also required a sealer that would stabilise the vibrations without hindering them, no matter what varnish I used – and at the same time accentuate the beauty of the timber grain."

A new sealer – in 1982 Graeme successfully created this sealer.

Not long after he obtained electronic findings from the Cat Gut Society, USA. Founding member, Carleen Hutchins was an American violin maker who pioneered research into development of acoustical testing methods using electronic aids. Graeme began his own testing and built electronic equipment to measure tap tones in the University of Waikato Physics Lab.

Tap toning for great sound – during his sealer research Graeme had spent a large amount of time researching the benefits and methods of tap toning instruments by 1982 he had found three different methods of tap toning and realised there was an unrecognised mode almost as important as the well-known Mode 5.

The opinions of three great players

In 1995 Graeme spent a successful three months in England. There he was introduced to Romanian violinist Eugene Sarbu, lead violist of the London Philharmonic Orchestra Tony Byrne, and violinist of the Covent Garden Orchestra John Brown by his friend Yury Gezentsvey of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

"The reason behind this trip was to ascertain the level my work had reached. I carried with me four instruments; two violins, one small and one large viola."

"The result was beyond all my expectations. In the considered opinion of all three violinists, they agreed that the tone, carrying power and ease of playing would be what would sell my instruments."

While in London, Graeme lent Tony Byrne his large viola, which Tony played while touring with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He also used it for a solo recording with the orchestra, saying he considered it 'one of the finest modern violas he had played'.

After spending the best part of a day with Graeme playing his violins, John Brown, who owned and played a Stradivarius violin, said that Graeme's two violins 'outplayed his own instrument'.

Graeme also spent two days with Eugene Sarbu.

"Eugene was stunned at the performance of my instruments, and when the two violins were placed amongst the master’s work, they looked as if they belonged. He wanted to know how I had made a violin that was only a few months old sound like a 250 year old Italian instrument – and perform with such ease. He found it very difficult to free himself from this violin and stop playing."

Graeme has personal references Eugene Sarbu, Tony Byrne and John Brown.

Ongoing work

Following his trip to London, Graeme continued his work in New Zealand making handcrafted violins, violas and cellos.