From concept to concert, the evolution of a great musical instrument is a process of continuing refinement...
On a four-horse farm in rural, Loudoun County Virginia, my shop continues a long tradition of artisanal craft.
I apprenticed in Vienna, Austria, in the late 70's and early 80's learned the basic skills of an old-world "Musikinstrumentenbauer."
I studied many, many old instruments, learned from them, and developed my craft.
Today, in a steady pursuit of artistry, I continue drawing upon those experiences.
I've learned that a good musical instrument is an invitation to make music. A great instrument invokes artistry.
For as long as I can remember I've been making, listening to, or playing one sort of musical instrument or another. And singing.
From my first real guitar at age ten to piano lessons and high school jazz-band, and on to music in college, conducting and composition at conservatory in Vienna, Austria, I pursued my many passions, also apprenticing for five years with Peter Kukelka at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. With him I not only learned basic museum conservation, but also learned and honed traditional woodworking skills, making clavichords and virginals. I once spent six hours a day for a week re-sawing soundboard planks with a bow saw, by hand. "Now, Herr O'Brien, you know how to saw straight," my mentor said, and he was right. Nowadays I use a bandsaw for resawing, but I have only refined those basic skills.
Later, I made harpsichords and fortepianos with Thomas and Barbara Wolf, two of the finest craftsmen I've ever known. That plus running my own shop led me to working as a conservator for the Smithsonian, earning a Fulbright Fellowship and a Ph.D. in Music History, all the while performing when I could, and making instruments.
Now, more than fifty years after that first guitar, I'm back to my first love. It's been a richly rewarding career, if circuitous, but if I ever have a second life, I'd probably take the same path again.