Rafael Carrabba Violins is one of the country’s finest violin shops. Musicians from around the globe have brought their instruments to our expert luthiers for repairs, restorations, and valuations. We sell instruments and bows in all price ranges. We also sell cases, strings, and accessories.  

Rafael Carrabba Violins is located on Queen Anne Hill at 405 W Galer Street in beautiful Seattle, Washington.

If you are traveling to Seattle to try one of our instruments, we can help you find a hotel close to the shop. More information? Please call us at 206-283-5566.


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Carrabba Violins

405 W Galer St
Seattle, WA 98119 
206-283-5566             email click here

BUSINESS HOURS

Tues-Fri 9-5
Sat 10-5

Bow repair and rehair by appointment 

 

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Thursday
Nov202008

CRAFTSMAN'S WORK STRIKES THE RIGHT CHORD

Overhead fluorescent lights dance off the rounded edges and resin hues of the 256-year-old cello lying on the bench. The warm, soft glow of wood stands in stark contrast to the brightly lit white walls of the workshop.

With almost studied nonchalance, the workman grabs the instrument by the neck, flips it deftly on its side, and with one quick thrust plunges his blade between ribs and belly.

The instrument responds with a gut-wrenching c-r-a-a-ck that reverberates through the Queen Anne Hill studio. Ancient glue joining top plate to ribs reluctantly gives up its clench in a succession of heart-stopping snaps.

It's an ordeal for the visitor watching in the shop.

The patient is a Stradivarius cello made in 1732 by Francesco Stradivari, and one slip of the knife will damage or destroy one of the world's great string instruments. Conservative estimates place its value at about $500,000.

The owner, a musician in Bellingham, sent the instrument to Seattle last summer for repairs before putting it up for sale. In years past, selling or repairing a cello of this value would have meant carefully packing and shipping it to New York, Chicago or Philadelphia to put the top craftsmen to work on it.

"But there's no one in the world I'd feel more comfortable working on this than Rafael Carrabba," says the musician, who, typical of some owners of rare instruments, wishes to keep his identity private. "He's one of the best craftsmen in the world and a major asset to the Northwest."

Three years ago, Carrabba returned to Seattle from London to set up shop, and now many of these top instruments come to him for repair and restoration. The workers in Carrabba's shop on the top of Queen Anne restore and sell all types of string instruments.

His international reputation as a violin restorer and maker working in some of the world's most famous shops has attracted attention from all over, including a Russian cellist now living in London who came all the way to Seattle last spring to buy one of Carrabba's restored instruments, a 1790 Vincenzo.

His twice-a-year trips to Europe to buy instruments and attend violin auctions and his extensive international network of contacts have enabled him to acquire an evolving collection of rare and valuable instruments - among them Panormos, Gobettis, several English instruments and the Stradivarius.

Carrabba looks like he could have stepped right out of a medieval painting. His straight dark hair cut in an even line across his forehead and a scraggly close-cropped beard frame a face of delicate features dominated by intense brown eyes. Slight of build, he practices martial arts and talks quietly of the discipline of uniting body with mind in his work.

Carrabba is acknowledged by many in the international violin community as one of the best young instrument craftsmen in the world. Born in 1952 in the Rainier Valley area known as "Garlic Gulch," Carrabba got his first job in a violin shop when he was 12, apprenticing with David Saunders, who ran a well- known shop nearby.

He spent time in the shop after school and on weekends sweeping floors, grinding bow rosins and cleaning violins. Saunders recognized early on that his young student had an instinctive feel for instruments, what he called a "gift for the intangibles."

A year later, Carrabba talked himself into a summer job apprenticing with the late Kenneth Warren, a leading instrument maker in Chicago, when he was able to instantly memorize and identify bow types in their cases.

"Warren has a slightly English attitude," said Carrabba. "He taught me how to reconstruct instruments in my mind, really see them, not just look at them. Years later in London, I could walk into a room and recognize a violin from 10 feet away."

Carrabba has worked in some of the most prestigious violin shops in the world.

IN 1972 he landed a job with William Moennig in Philadelphia. "Moennig was tough," said Carrabba. "He would come and scare the hell out of me. He made me work faster and not fuss so much."

After two years, Moennig found Carrabba a job with Charles Beares in London. Beares owns the biggest shop in Europe.

Working in Europe was an eye-opener. European ideas of conservation conflicted with what he had learned about restoration in America.

"Americans approach an instrument with an eye toward making it new again, or at least making it appear new," Carrabba said. "In completing a job, they re-stain areas of natural wear, making the varnish look even - a slick job.

"In England, they consider wear in the varnish a part of the character of the instrument and important that it be preserved. Nothing in London proceeds quickly; they don't do anything to an instrument that can't be removed or corrected."

Carrabba was the youngest worker at Beares. The shop kept up a lively camaraderie playing guessing games to see who could identify newly acquired instruments first. Famous touring artists frequently dropped in, keeping the restorers busy with questions and impromptu concerts as they tried out the stock on hand.

ONE FAMOUS visitor was Pinchas Zukerman, who, as he came down on the final note of his concert the night before, caught the tip of his bow on his $300,000 violin, ripping off a large chunk of it. He nervously stood by as the workshop reconstructed the instrument.

"Actually," said Carrabba, "instruments usually sound better than ever after we repair them. We put them back together, regluing and tightening all the joints, sealing cracks and realigning everything perfectly. The owner usually comes in to find he has a better instrument."

Three years ago, Carrabba returned to Seattle when his first teacher, Saunders, decided to sell his shop and retire. Almost weekly now, he gets calls from shops all over the world inquiring about his stock, and his local clients include members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Northwest Chamber Orchestra, and other musicians from the Northwest and Canada.

Violinist and former Seattle Symphony concertmaster Henry Siegl says Carrabba is "more important to me than my heart doctor. His intensity, curiosity and knowledge - I've watched him work on my Guarnerius. He has the feeling of a craftsman who knows his wood. He knows what I want out of my fiddle, and he can get it for me."

Already, as word has gotten out about the availability of the Stradivarius, musicians have begun lining up for the opportunity to see it. The principal cellist of a major orchestra in the East has been promised a first look, and Carrabba expects little trouble finding a buyer.

Though he has worked on instruments of this caliber before, having the Strad here is a step toward establishing Seattle in the international market.

By Douglas McLennan P-I Music Critic TUESDAY, December 13, 1988

The Article can be found online HERE