A Fiddler’s Gallery
by Alyssa Rabun | Photographs by Ryan Roth
What began twenty-five years ago as a tiny counter kiosk in the back of a guitar store is now an iconic gallery space lined with spruce-top and maple violins that date back to the 1700s. The shop—that boasts buying, selling, repairing, and showcasing violins, violas, and bows—is attracting musicians and music lovers from across the country. Ask any fiddler in town if they’ve heard of The Violin Shop and they will dive into a story about a violin they bought, a bow they had re-haired, or a show they played with one of its owners, Fred Carpenter, Ian Panton, or Brandon Godman. While the shop’s motto “fine fiddles, fine music” rings true, it does little to underscore The Violin Shop’s far reach within Nashville’s string community.
Fred Carpenter, founder of The Violin Shop, came to Nashville to play music in 1984. He started out as a road musician, but while he was knee-deep in tours with The Dillards, he took up an apprenticeship in a local violin store where he learned to repair and restore violins and bows. For three years he blended touring with rigorous study, and in 1988 he started a shop of his own.
“Fiddling brings you to Nashville,” said Carpenter, who moved from San Francisco. “I started out playing and slowly incorporated buying and selling. When violins started to take over my house, I opened a corner fiddle cart and later moved to the shop in Bellevue where we thrived for nineteen years. We moved to the new shop on 8th Avenue [Franklin Pike] in August because we wanted to be in the center of town to be more accessible to clients.”
Carpenter works alongside co-owners Godman and Panton. Both long-term fiddlers, they met Carpenter as customers, shopping for fiddles of their own, but transitioned into co-owners due to deep-rooted expertise and palpable passion for the industry.
The new shop breathes like a gallery, with high ceilings, open spaces, glossed hardwood, and clusters of violins lining the walls. The front rooms are divided into new violins and older ones, ranging from old Italian and French to new German, English, Chinese, and American instruments.
In the back workshop, violins in need of repair are stacked on the shelves, and bows to be re-haired are hung as far as the eye can see. Polish, glue, and restoration tools are scattered across wooden workbenches, and worn aprons attest to a steady labor force.
“Most nights I stay until midnight re-hairing bows,” said Carpenter. “I am often thirty bows deep in repairs in the midst of working on full restorations, which can take anywhere from one month to two years. We stress accurate, quality work.”
In the lobby, in black and white, photographs pay tribute to fiddlers of yesteryear, including Vassar Clements, Kenny Baker, and Benny Martin. On the ceiling, an art piece crafted with decades-old violin cases offsets the clean photography. The clientele are also a fresh mix of old and new, with regulars varying from beginner violinists to celebrity musicians like Alison Krauss.
In addition to retail, The Violin Shop stays heavily involved with the fiddling community by hosting events. During the summer, for example, the shop hosts a concert series called “fiddle tastings” in collaboration with neighboring Craft Brewed. The event blends live music with wine and beer tastings.
“One of our main goals is to see the Nashville string community grow,” said Godman. “We are excited to offer events where the string community can get together, network, and play music.”
The Violin Shop is located at 2504 Franklin Pike. For more information visit www.theviolinshop.com.