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Huntington’s Luthier Charles Rufino

Charles with one of his handmade violins

To have in your soul the ability to create beautiful music is a heavenly gift. To have the heart, skill and intellect to build an instrument to actualize that music is a talent that is not commonly found among our neighbors today. Charles Rufino, a Half Hollow Hills graduate has traveled the world and come full circle to Huntington where he designs and builds exquisite violins in his shop on Elm Street. Until meeting Charles, my knowledge of violin making was from watching two videos, one was Mr. Rogers visits the violinmaker and the other was The Red Violin. Charles could be a cross between the two. He is a kind, relaxed and proper gentleman like Fred Rogers. Much like the film The Red Violin he is also intelligent and worldly, his path to becoming a luthier running through Germany and England. The Red Violin logline, “A journey of passion and perfection!“ could be used just as well for Mr. Ruffino as the movie.

Back in the 1970’s Charles was attending NYU, studying the classics when he felt that something was lacking in his life, he dropped out and went off to seek his future. He had always enjoyed working with his hands and thought that he’d go to school in Germany where there was a violin making school for $50 a year. His violin playing skills were not up to par when he arrived in Germany and he decided to travel to England, finding his place at Newark University where he had an excellent three-year education with a focus on violin building.

Returning to this country, he worked, studied and learned from the greatest violinmakers living in New York City this past century. Charles believes that it took him about ten years to incorporate all that he learned until he could properly make a violin. He has been making them now for about forty years and says he learns each time he puts together different pieces of hand-selected wood. Recently he finished a violin that was made with a piece of 1950 maple from Germany that Charles purchased back in 1987 and combined it with spruce from a trip he made to Germany in 1996. The violin sells for $18,000.

Luthier at work

It takes roughly 300 to 400 hours to finish a violin. Charles says shaping an instrument requires removing about 10,000 shavings of wood. Violins are made from Maple and Spruce and the best quality is found in Germany where Charles goes to personally select each piece. Every cut of Spruce that he works with has a different feel. For example a piece that has the consistency of a hard cheese will produce a velvety sound where as one that has the feel of granite have will be a dragster with a big immediate sound. He compares being a luthier to being a great chef. You must understand the specific and unique ingredients that you are working with and adjust the recipe as you go along.

David Wong

We asked Charles if being a luthier is as enjoyable as it appears. In addition to watching young musicians grow into beautifully talented artist such as instructor, musician and employee David Wong, he told us of a recent rewarding experience that exemplifies the gratification he receives from his violins. Having just completed the construction of his top of the line, “Ferrari” style violin he asked a professional violinist friend of his to play it during a week of his practices at the Metropolitan Opera. His friend’s pride and joy was his own antique Italian violin worth more than $250,000 and he had no plans of selling it soon.. Charles’ hope was that someone in the Met’s orchestra would hear his violin and want to purchase it. As the story goes, his friend had the Met’s assistant conductor play his own antique violin and Charles’s violin while he stood out in the seating to compare the sounds. He heard one fantastic sounding violin and one not so great. He was sad that he would have to tell his good friend Charles that his freshly made violin was a lemon. As fate would have it, when he returned he discovered that it was Charles’ violin that sounded great. His friend bought the $25,000 violin himself, sold his antique violin, paid off his debts and has a better sound when he plays. Moral of the story: It’s not the price tag but the passion and artistry that went into the instrument that matters most

Performance space

The Long Island Violin Shop sells Charles Rufino’s Huntington-built violins as well as a wider selection of fine violins, electric instruments and basses. Lessons, quality instrument rentals and advice are readily available. Get on their email list if you’d like to be notified when they are hosting their next in-store concert featuring quality local musicians. Their address is 8 Elm Street, Huntington, NY 11743. 631-427-3569.

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