Last modified Wednesday, June 22, 2005 12:22 AM PDT

San Marcos man crafts award-winning violins

    Doug Lawrence of San Marcos stands next to his model of a 1714 Stradivari that he made, which won first place in the musical instrument division at the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar on Tuesday.
    Hayne Palmour IV

DEL MAR ---- Once employed as a computer specialist, Doug Lawrence began his new career as a violin maker a few years ago by teaching himself.

Lawrence took a few woodworking courses at Palomar College, found a couple of instructional books, and made his first violin in 2001.

"I had dabbled in making furniture as an amateur for the last 20 years," he said. "But I got into violin making because I realized that you didn't need that many complicated tools."

Now he's winning prizes for woodworking at the San Diego County Fair. He has won first prize in the musical instrument category for the last three years, this year for his violin made in the style of Italian legend Antonio Stradivari.

Small children and grown men stood transfixed Tuesday at the fair, as Lawrence demonstrated how he shaved the parts that would form his next violin with a thumb-sized plane.

He and Kevin Smith, past president of the Southern California Association of Violin Makers, explain their craft every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

"Violin making is the pinnacle of woodworking," Smith said Tuesday. "If made properly, a violin should last for hundreds of years."

Violin makers in Southern California stick together because there is no formal academy for violin making in the area; the nearest is in Salt Lake City, according to Smith.

Lawrence, a San Marcos resident, said that although he plays guitar but not violin, he became a violin maker partly because violin making used mostly hand tools. Also, his brother plays violin professionally, and his brother helped reassure him that his efforts were worthwhile.

"If it sounded like a cigar box with strings, I would have been a little discouraged," he said.

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