Stefano Bertoli is a young violin-maker from Milan who earned the diploma of a Master Luthier specialised in the construction of stringed instruments from the Civica Scuola di Liuteria of Milan. After applying successfully to take part in the project ‘A School, a Job. Training to Excellence’, he served his apprenticeship at the Milanese workshop of master instrument-maker Carlo Chiesa. After this experience he decided to open a workshop of his own and this year won the third ‘Artigiano del Cuore’ competition, staged by Wellmade and supported by the Fondazione Cologni.
What training did you receive and why did you decide to become a luthier?
After secondary school I started on a course at university, but it was immediately clear to me that I was not cut out for study not connected with manual work. I had played double bass and piano since I was a child and I’ve always been passionate about music. So I decided to go back to the field of musical instruments, enrolling in the Civica Scuola di Liuteria in Milan.
What was the value of your experience with Fondazione Cologni, under the ‘A School, a Job’ scheme?
After finishing the fourth year of school with an apprenticeship under a great master luthier, Carlo Chiesa, the Foundation allowed me to continue my relationship with him, supporting me with a paid apprenticeship, and to go on learning about the times and methods of a luthier’s workshop in which instruments are both built and repaired. In this way the Foundation gave me the chance to slot directly into a very broad and formative working environment.
In general I love working with my hands: for instance, when I’m doing a repair job, it’s a challenge to succeed in doing what is delicate and precise work.
At a certain point I felt the need to put myself to the test. Initially I made use of another space and then, gathering all my courage, I moved into a workshop that I shared with other professional luthiers.
Then you opened your own workshop... What led you to make this choice? Tell us about your business venture.
At a certain point I felt the need to put myself to the test. Initially I made use of another space and then, gathering all my courage, I moved into a workshop that I shared with other professional luthiers. So my work and my time have been devoted to buying tools, instruments and other objects needed for a workshop and salvaging pieces of second-hand furniture to be recycled. That’s how I started down my own road.
Your workshop is a very unusual space, shared with other young instrument-makers like yourself: what do you do there? What are the advantages and difficulties of working together in the same space?
I wanted to set up a workshop shared with other people because the strength it gives us lies in the sharing of materials and above all of know-how. In addition, different points of view with regard to the same work allows us to have more ideas on how to act, especially when it comes to repairs. Another advantage is being able to share tools and machinery and thus reduce costs (and emit less pollution), allowing us to buy better tools. The main difficulty is choosing the channel on the radio to listen to... We have to learn to meet each other halfway and respect everyone’s needs.
What do you like most about your work?
In general I love working with my hands: for instance, when I’m doing a repair job, it’s a challenge to succeed in doing what is delicate and precise work. But the initial design of the instrument is another of the things I like best. I also really enjoy sculpting the scroll and head of the violin, carving the f-hole and creating the arching with precise curves for the front and back of the instrument.
What would you say to a young man or woman who wants to embark on the same career as you?
Use the first few years of study to learn how to tackle the stages in the construction of a musical instrument as if it were a work-out, a sort of physical training. Then, after having made a few instruments, ask yourself lots of questions and carry on with your own construction with the aim of improving sound and beauty by following what you have learnt and the cues you have received from your teachers, in line with the traditions of your own country or city.